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4/17/2015 - Senate Passes Compromise Bill Increasing Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only Sex Education

The Senate overwhelmingly approved of HR 2 on Tuesday, a $200 billion package that included an enormous increase of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) curricula.

The US Senate voted 92-8 to pass HR 2, which has been known as the "doc fix" for Medicaid reimbursement rates, as well as many other health care provisions. HR 2 includes an alarmingly high increase in funding for the AOUM program, bringing its annual funding to $75 million. President Obama has already agreed to sign the bill, saying in a statement that he "would be proud to sign it into law."

This compromise bill, however, also includes a two-year extension of Title V abstinence-only education, allocating significant federal funding to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Many CPCs lie to women about abortion and birth control and target women who are facing unplanned pregnancies and provide them with medical misinformation. AOUM curriculums rely heavily on shame and stigma, and have been proven to be unsuccessful at preventing unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STIs.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) wrote of the expansion of AOUM, stating that SIECUS is "incredibly disappointed by this wasteful increase and expansion of AOUM programs that are ineffective, stigmatizing, and fail to provide young people with the sexual health information, education, and skills they need throughout their life to make healthy and responsible decisions."

One of the policy rider provisions in HR 2 now also demands that unobligated Title V AOUM funds be made available to states implementing programs that adhere abstinence-only education, as opposed to returning these funds to the general treasury, as was the case before this provision.

As the bill was a compromise, HR 2 included a two-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), at the current funding level of $75 annually. PREP is a science-based curriculum that covers subjects such as "healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, educational and career success, and healthy life skills." Introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act, PREP was the first federally-funded program that teaches both abstinence and contraceptive use as a means of preventing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STIs.


4/16/2015 - March2Justice Protesters Embark on 250-Mile March to Protest Police Brutality

Marchers are ending an eight-day journey across 250 miles and five states to deliver anti-profiling and police-force-militarization legislation from New York City to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

More than 100 protesters gathered just outside New York City on Monday, beginning a march from New York to Washington, D.C., to deliver to legislators what is being called the "Justice Package," including "three pieces of legislation calling for an end to racial profiling, stopping the militarization of our local police forces, and demanding the government invest in our youth and communities." Those marching wore T-shirts saying "I can't breathe" and held signs reading "#BlackLivesMatter."

One marcher, 19-year-old Sade Swift, told the Huffington Post that she was joining the march because she is "tired of creating hashtags," for unarmed black men killed by the police. Another, Rachel Goldstein, says "I march because Michael Brown can't."

The "March2Justice" lists 10 reasons for the march, including a call for an end to the school to prison pipeline, a call for the end of violence again people of color, including transgender people women of color who "disproportionate impact they endure by all forms of violence, including police violence." March2Justice also hopes to raise awareness and end police brutality, citing that "every 28 hours a Black person is killed at the hands of the police, security guards or neighborhood watch."

The March passed through Trenton, New Jersey, yesterday and gathered at the Gandhi Peace Garden before moving on to the New Jersey State House. Marchers are calling on those in the Washington, D.C. area to join them on Tuesday the 21st when they reach the Capitol for a rally, where a program is planned with "legendary civil rights leaders, hip hop artists and the marchers themselves."


4/16/2015 - One Year Since the Kidnappings, #BringBackOurGirls Still Matters

In April of 2014, almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It's been one year since the kidnappings and Nigeria still suffers at the hands of the militant group - and 219 of the girls are still missing.

Throughout the year, as the #BringBackOurGirls digital campaign slowly lost media coverage, even more people were kidnapped in Nigeria. Boko Haram has caused chaos in parts of Nigeria - and 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped since the beginning of last year, according to Amnesty International. Though last year about 50 of the original 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped managed to escape.

"Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.

While the crisis isn't over, that's not to say efforts aren't made. The Nigerian government accepted offers from the US, UK, France, and China to help in the crisis. And Nigerian activists fight daily for justice. Incoming president Muhammadu Burhari said Nigeria will "do everything in its power to bring [the girls] home" but warned he can't "promise that [they] can find them."

Many say the reason the previous president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, did not win reelection was due to his handling of Boko Haram - those who opposed his policies say he did not do enough to help bring back the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Progress has been made by military to stop Boko Haram's terror, but the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria is far-reaching and has already hurt and killed too many. News last month came out that Nigerian troops had managed to drive Boko Haram militants from Bama in Borno State northeast Nigeria - an area occupied by the terrorist group since September of last year.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the kidnappings, protests were held worldwide, including in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

One of the kidnapped schoolgirls who escaped, 19-year-old Saa, says she feels the government could be doing more to stop Boko Haram.

"They always say they are trying their best to bring the girls back, but I'm not sure if they are doing their best," Saa said.


4/14/2015 - Democratic Senators Pushed for the Paycheck Fairness Act for Equal Pay Day

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) joined Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and five Democratic women of the Senate today to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Today is Equal Pay Day, meaning that women on average have to work until the end of the day today to warn as much as their white, male counterparts earned by the close of last year.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) is legislation that would greatly lessen the gender pay gap experienced by women in the work force, as well as prevent retaliation against women seeking pay parity. The PFA, introduced in the Senate in 2013, would prohibit retaliation for sharing pay information, as well as require employers to prove that any pay disparity is not on the basis of sex. It has since been blocked by Republicans in the Senate more than once.

Senator Mikulski has been working on the issue of providing equal pay for equal work throughout the nearly three decades that she has been in office. In her speech, Mikulski emphasized the many ways the American economy would benefit from eliminating the gender pay gap. "You want to alleviate poverty? Equal pay for equal work!" she said, adding some of the findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which found that pay parity would cut in half the poverty rate of working single moms. "We are tired of being sidelined, red lined, pink slipped, harassed, and intimidated," Mikulski declared.

DeLauro spoke on her frustration in the minimal improvements to lessen the gender pay gap since the Equal Pay Act passed more than 50 years ago. "The gap has barely budged in over a decade," DeLauro said. "It's not an abstract problem, and it hurts people on a daily basis." DeLauro cited specifically a study released last month, which showed that even in the female-dominated profession of nursing, men make significantly more than women.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took to Twitter to show her support for Equal Pay Day and the Paycheck Fairness Act, writing "Equal Pay Day is a day to call on America's leaders to ensure that hard working women receive fair compensation for their work."

"100 percent of Democrats in the House are now co-sponsors on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Where are the Republicans?" asked Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "How long must women wait for equal pay?"


4/14/2015 - Afghan Woman Awarded International Women of Courage Award

Niloofar Rahmani, the first woman to serve in the Afghan military since the fall of the Taliban, was honored by the US State Department with the International Women of Courage Award last month.


Rahmani was one of ten women recognized by the State Department for this prestigious award. Among them were women's rights leader and peace building advocate Majd Chourbaji of Syria, and May Sabe Phyu, who is leading gender equality efforts in Burma.

Capt. Rahmani was only 18 when she heard that the Afghan Air Force was recruiting female pilots. "I wanted to fly with my brothers, shoulder to shoulder," she said. After completing six months of intensive English courses to prepare her for undergraduate pilot training, Rahmani earned her wings in July 2012, just two years after hearing about the Air Force's recruitment of female pilots. She soon after became the first female pilot to serve in Afghanistan's military since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban.

Rahmani's father was a strong supporter of his daughter, but he also warned her about the possible dangers and difficulties ahead of her. "Go for it, but you must be strong," Rahmani remembers him saying. Despite repeated threats from the Taliban and some conservatives to kill Rahmani as well as her parents and siblings, 23-year-old Rahmani refused to quit. "If you don't fight for your rights, they will never give them to you," she said during her visit to the US.

While visiting the United States to receive the award, Rahmani met with from First Lady Michelle Obama, the Navy's Blue Angels, and the CEO of Girls Scouts San Diego. Rahmani then traveled to Miramar to meet fellow commanders and female pilots. Finally, she participated in the 59th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

"We need females to be a doctor, to be in each part of society. And we need female pilots too," Rahmani said. "I have the support of people all over the world. They know what I am fighting for. [The award] is for all the females in my community."


4/13/2015 - Feminists Are Cheering on Hillary's Presidential Bid

Hillary Clinton's unique social media entrance to the 2016 presidential race dominated news Sunday and was received well by many - especially feminists.

Emily's List, the National Organization for Women, and the Women's Media Center were just a few of those who joined in the flurry of support for Clinton's candidacy announcement yesterday through a video in which Clinton declared that "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."

"Gender matters in the United States today," President of the National Organization for Women Terry O'Neill wrote yesterday. O'Neill welcomed Clinton's candidacy, and said that her campaign "is a powerful message to girls that they can aspire to the highest office, and an equally powerful message to boys that women can be leaders on an equal footing with men."

Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock endorsed Clinton as a "lifelong champion for women and families and the most qualified candidate to be president." Emily's List cited Clinton's longtime commitment to women and families, mentioning her first job after law school with the Children's Defense Fund.

The Women's Media Center asked if the 2016 Hillary race would have the same sexist media coverage as her 2008 race. Indeed, Clinton's campaign in 2008 was filled with comments on her age, looks, weight, and many other aspects of her life that were not raised for male candidates. The WMC, however, believes that women in roles of leadership and in the public eye are "crucial for continued progress."

"From the days that she was the first chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession in 1987, to her days as First Lady when she declared at the United Nation's 4th World Conference on Women that women's rights are human rights, to her days as Secretary of State when she appointed the first Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women's Issues, Hillary Clinton has made women's issues a priority," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "It's no wonder women are excited about not only the possibility of the first woman president, but also that this candidate is a woman who has given high priority to women's issues from the very beginning of her career."


4/10/2015 - Voter Suppression Efforts Quietly Advance in Nevada

Nevada Republicans, having won control of the state legislature in 2014, are moving to increase barriers to voting.

A series of proposed laws in the state attack voting rights by mandating photographic voter identification cards and proof of citizenship to verify voting eligibility and narrowing early voting windows. These measures would disproportionately impact people of color, women, young people, and the elderly, and could hurt their chances of voting in the 2016 elections.

"What we're talking about here is putting a major obstacle in front of a fundamental right," Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D) told the Associated Press.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 accelerated the voter registration progress by integrating voter registration forms into driver's license applications and state identification forms through the DMV. These Nevada bills directly undermine this federal statue by requiring verification of citizenship by a local county clerk's office. Clerk's offices may request supporting documents that indicate citizenship like birth certificates for individuals that register through the DMV. If these documents are not presented to their office within 15 days an individual will be removed from the state voter registry.

A similar law in Arizona was struck down by the US Supreme Court, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia writing the Court opinion that declared the law conflicted with federal laws regulating elections.

Changes of this ilk to voting laws directly impact the poor and elderly, for whom locating documents and traveling to submit them is made more difficult due to time restrictions and cost. These policies could also disproportionately impact women, who may not have birth certificates that match their married names. If those women are unable to locate and present both their wedding certificate and birth certificate, they could be denied voting eligibility.

The proposed changes to early voting would end early voting on Sundays and force polls to operate only between 7 AM and PM on any given day - despite the fact that early voting currently takes place in Las Vegas, for example, until 9 PM, making voting more accessible for casino workers, a large portion of whom are people of color.

Lawmakers who push voting restrictions often cite voter fraud as their concern, but study after study has failed to find evidence of widespread voter impersonation. Voter suppression and discrimination, however, remain alive and well - and prevent some of the most marginalized people in the country from being heard at the ballot box.


4/10/2015 - US Ranks 16th Worldwide on 2015 Social Progress Index

The United States ranks 16th in the recently released 2015 Social Progress Index, which assesses and scores countries worldwide across three categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The US was 21st, 35th, and 8th in these smaller categories, respectively.

The US also ranks 55th in maternal mortality, 32nd in early marriage, defined as the percentage of women who are married between the ages of 15 and 19; 14th in satisfied demand for contraception, with 85% of women able to access contraception if they wish; and 15th in acceptance for the queer community.

The SPI was created in response to the use of GDP as the main measure to judge a country's success. Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism and SPI executive director, is adamant that GDP "shouldn't be a guide to all decision-making." (The economist who invented the concept of GDP has himself written that a nation's welfare can "scarcely be inferred" by using it as an indicator.

"GDP tells us quite a lot about a country's progress," Steve Almond, one of the authors of the SPI, said, "but it's definitely not the whole story."

The SPI was first brainstormed at the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing. The Index's methodology was created by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School with help from from The Economist's New York Bureau Chief Matthew Bishop, Hernando de Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Scott Stern of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The index also includes an interactive map of the world to easily compare each country on these issues and a definition page for each term.


4/9/2015 - The Obama Administration Has Come Out Against Anti-Gay "Conversion Therapy"

On Wednesday, President Obama announced that his administration condemns "conversion therapy" for LGBT youth.

The statement was in response to a WhiteHouse.gov petition that was created after the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, which gained more than 120,000 signatures. In December of last year, 17-year-old Alcorn committed suicide. In a suicide note that went viral, Alcorn explained that she was forced to undergo "conversion therapy," a program her Christian parents put her in that was created to "change" a person's gender identity or sexual orientation. Alcorn's note ended with a plea:

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, 'That's fucked up' and fix it. Fix society. Please.

"Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember," President Obama's personal message reads. "Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us - on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build." The official White House statement says "conversion therapy" is "neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm." The statement points out that many medical and mental health organizations have condemned the practice of "conversion therapy" as it is shown to be damaging to the individual. A law to ban "conversion therapy," which many are calling Leelah's Law, would require congressional action - until then, states can take matters into their own hands. California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have all already banned licensed professionals from practicing "conversion therapy" on minors. Lawmakers in 18 other states have introduced legislation that would ban the practice. Scott Bixby of Mic wrote in response to the statement that the President could do more. "The President, after opening the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston or holding a round-table conversation on clean energy in Utah, could take a few moments to tell local reporters, lawmakers and voters what he said in his personal attachment to the White House's statement on conversion therapy."


4/8/2015 - A Judge Just Dramatically Reduced the Sentence of a Man Convicted of Raping a Toddler

On Friday, Superior Judge M. Marc Kelly of Orange County, California, reduced the mandatory minimum 25-to-life sentence of Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto by 15 years. Nieto, who was convicted last December of one felony count of sexual intercourse with a child and one felony count of lewd act upon a child for sodomizing a 3-year-old toddler, will now only spend 10 years behind bars.

Over objections by the Prosecution, Judge Kelly lessened Rojano-Nieto's sentence to 10 years in state prison, citing that the mandatory minimum sentencing of 25 years to life was "cruel and unusual punishment," as Rojano-Nieto did not "intend" to harm the toddler while raping her.

Rojano-Nieto was playing video games in his garage last summer when the 3-year-old victim wandered away from her home and into his garage. Rojano then sexually assaulted her, at one point covering her mouth to hide the child's cries from her mother, who was looking for her. When her mother finally found her, she was unaware that anything had happened until the child complained of pain, at which point her mother found injuries consistent with sexual assault and called the police.

Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told the City News Service that Judge Kelly considered the full 25 years unconstitutional because Rojano-Nieto did not intend to harm the 3 year old when he sodomized her. "In looking at the facts of Mr. Rojano's case, the manner in which this offense was committed is not typical of a predatory, violent brutal sodomy of a child case," said Kelly. "Mr. Rojano did not seek out or stalk (the victim). He was playing video games and she wandered into the garage. He inexplicably became sexually aroused but did not appear to consciously intend to harm (the victim) when he sexually assaulted her."

Bokosky believes otherwise, saying that the judge should have taken into account Rojano-Nietro's attempt to cover the girl's mouth during the attack. The prosecutor said her office is discussing an appeal of the judge's reduced sentence.

This is not the first time Judge Kelly has shown sympathy for a convicted sex offender. Last fall, Judge Kelly overturned a conviction against former Highway Patrol lieutenant Stephen Deck, 54, for an attempted lewd act upon a child. Deck was arrested after being involved in a sting operation when he drove to the house of someone posing online as a 13-year-old girl, with the intent of having sex with her.

A petition to get Judge Kelly removed from the bench is in circulation, with at least 13,000 signatures so far.


4/8/2015 - Kansas Has Banned the Safest, Most Common Kind of Second-Trimester Abortion

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R), who is openly anti-abortion, just signed into law a bill that makes Kansas the first state to ban most second-trimester abortions.

SB95, which was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, will take effect July 1. The bill outlaws a "dismemberment" abortion, which essentially bans any dilation and evacuation procedure; this procedure is used in most second-trimester abortions and in about 9 percent of all abortions performed in Kansas. Pro-choice advocates are not sure if they will challenge the law in court, and are unsure how much of an impact the bill could have because its language is not clear.

"We've never seen this language before," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute. "It�s not medical language, so it's a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do."

Opponents of the bill also say the graphic language used in SB95 is sensational, is not medical, and is used to gain supporters.

The dilate-and-evacuate method is the safest for second-trimester abortions, according to many professionals. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade says the procedure is "considered the safest across the board for women's health."

"This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients," McQuade said in a statement. "The bill not only fails to improve women's health and safety but puts them in harm's way by denying doctors the ability to provide the safest care available for their patients based on their individual medical circumstances."

SB95 is part of a large ongoing push to outlaw abortion. In the first three months of 2015 alone, nine abortion restrictions have been enacted and 53 abortion restrictions have been approved by one legislative chamber or more. It also isn't the first anti-abortion restriction Gov. Brownback has signed. He told lawmakers to create a "culture of life" when he took office in 2011.


4/7/2015 - Iranian Women Can Now Attend Major Sporting Events

Iranian women will now be allowed to attend major sporting events, Iran officials announced on Saturday.

Although the new policy still holds barriers for women attending specific sports - those considered to be more "masculine" such as wrestling or swimming - this announcement reverses an antiquated rule that forbid women to watch matches attended by men.

Abdolhamid Ahmadi, the deputy minister for sports, told the state news agency on Saturday that the country's national Security Council had approved a government proposal to allow women to watch games this year. It is still not clear which sports women can watch, but they are likely to include basketball and volleyball. In these stadiums, women will have special assigned seating, with mixed seating available for families.

This issue gained international attention last summer when a young British-Iranian woman was jailed for attempting to watch a men's volleyball match. 25-year-old Ghocheh Ghavami was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail and a two-year travel ban, before she was released on bail after five months in prison. Last week, an appeals court dismissed the charges against Ghavami.

Ghavami and other activists are hopeful for what this change could mean for women in Iran. 38-year-old women's rights activist Najiyeh Allahdad celebrated this small victory. "We have done all we could to get our rights back. This should have happened some time ago. It is now clear for me that this government is really trying hard to improve our lives."


4/6/2015 - Brutally Murdered Afghan Woman Becomes Symbol for Women's Rights

Last month, 27-year-old Farkhunda was falsely accused of burning the Koran then brutally murdered after standing up for her beliefs in front of a shrine attendant in Kabul, Afghanistan. She's now being held up as a champion of Islam and women's rights.

Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, decided to speak up against the practice of mullahs selling tahwiz, which are verses from the Koran that are said to bring good luck. Farkhunda said the practice was un-Islamic. The shrine attendant then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men beat her and set fire to her body.

"This is heartbreaking - she was innocent and she was a woman," said Fawzia Koofi, a women's rights activist and politician who is also on the investigation team created by the Afghan president. "This happened to her because of her gender."

But now, weeks after the incident, Farkhunda is being called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. The beatings were caught in cell phone videos and led to an uproar on social media. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin.

"Farkhunda was a true Muslim, a religious hero," said Shahla Farid, a Kabul University law lecturer and a part of the team appointed by the Afghan president to investigate Farkhunda's death. "Here a woman challenged a man and defended Islam." Women in Afghanistan are hopeful that these protests shed light on the injustices women face. "She has improved the status of women in Islam and in our community," Farid said. "I believe Farkhunda is now giving more hope to more women."

But while these protests are encouraging, they do not end a culture that perpetuates violence against women in Afghanistan. "After more than a decade of efforts to improve the standing of Afghan women, violence against them occurs across much of the country with impunity," writes Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times. "A man's accusation against a woman is often the final word, as it was here last [month]."

The shrine attendant, along with 47 other people - including 19 police officers - were arrested in connection to the murder. Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry pledged to stop the selling of tahwiz, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Farkhunda's family to offer condolences. President Ghani says there is no question that Farkhunda was innocent, and 12 attorneys have been assigned to review Farkhunda's case.

Farid's female students tell her that it horrified them to see how quickly a mob of angry men formed to beat Fakhunda. Farid said one of her students told her, "How can I sit here in class with boys? I'm afraid of them."


4/6/2015 - Major League Baseball Begins Mandatory Domestic Violence Prevention Training

Six months after Major League Baseball met with the players union to discuss their domestic violence policy, the organization has begun mandatory training on domestic violence prevention.

The brutal and much publicized footage last summer of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his fiance unconscious sparked national dialogue on gender based violence in professional sports. And although much of that conversation centered on the NFL, the MLB quickly became under fire as well. At a Senate committee hearing last December, Senator McCaskill (D-MO) voiced her frustration with the MLB, pointing out "Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has never sanctioned an MLB player for domestic violence, never in 22 years." And although Bud Selig has since been replaced with Rob Manfred, Senator's McCaskill's point was clear: the MLB needs to be taking this issue seriously.

Months later it appears as though MLB is listening. Last month, all 30 major league teams were brought to training sites and participated in domestic violence prevention sessions and workshops coordinated by Futures Without Violence, a California non-profit that strives to end violence against women. Futures Without Violence led sessions to promote healthy relationships, to encourage players to ask for and seek support, and to speak up about violence if they believe it may be occurring. There are plans to continue this training at the minor league level as well.

Advocates and legislators agree that although these actions are promising, much more will be necessary for sustainable change in the culture of violence that seems to enshrine professional sports institutions. In response to violence in the NFL and other professional sports leagues, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create $100 million in funding for domestic violence prevention programs- paid for by closing a tax loophole used by the NFL and other professional sports leagues to enjoy a tax-exempt status that has been around since the 1960s.


4/3/2015 - Malta Passes Law to Ban 'Normalization' Surgery on Intersex Infants, Allow Self-Determination of Gender

Malta's parliament just passed new legislation that allows self-determination of gender (with a simple process to legally change gender), and outlaws unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. This bill makes Malta the first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.

Intersex is a term used to describe a variety of people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fall into society's expectation of either male or female. Intersex babies around the world often undergo surgery, either at the request of the parent or the recommendation of the doctor, to remove parts of their genitalia. In almost every case, the procedure is completely medically unnecessary and denies the child the ability to make choices about their own body. Some people call the surgery "normalization" surgery, which is a term that falsely implies there is something wrong with being intersex.

"To say that this Act is a groundbreaking human rights milestone is almost an understatement," said Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. "It provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards."

The new law also allows people to change their gender identity on documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, which ends the requirement for surgery in order to legally identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. The process of changing one's gender in the system, under the new bill, won't take more than 30 days.

"Demanding sterility, divorce, a mental health diagnosis in legal gender recognition or completely lacking procedures are more and more an inacceptable [sic] thing of the past," said Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe. "Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action."

"The GIGESC Act creates the conditions for an equal society as it recognises and protects trans and intersex persons in all spheres of life," adds Alecs Recher, who is also co-chair of Transgender Europe.

In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture announced it condemns unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. "The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments," the UN statement reads, "including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, 'reparative therapies' or 'conversion therapies,' when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned."

Maltese officials and medical professionals are now working to come up with guidelines to make sure all surgeries done on infants are medically necessary and not "driven by social factors without the consent of the minor."


4/2/2015 - An Indiana Woman Was Just Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Having a Miscarriage

Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, has been found guilty of feticide and neglect and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus - there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage.

Indiana law bans "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" in any case except to produce a live birth, clear out a dead fetus, or to perform a legal abortion. Since Patel was accused of using illegal abortion drugs, and of abandoning a live fetus, she was convicted under this Indiana law.

The only evidence prosecutors used against Patel were text messages she sent to a friend talking about online abortion drugs. A toxicologist could not find any evidence of these types of drugs in Patel's body or in the fetus. The only evidence used by prosecutors on the second charge was that the fetus, at 30 weeks old, could potentially have survived outside the womb, and its lungs passed a "floating test" that could possibly have suggested the baby drew breath at one point (the science of this test, which was developed in the 17th century, is highly contested).

"It's an absolutely discredited test," said Gregory Davis, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky. "It boggles my mind that in the 21st century ... this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead."

Patel received care at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center's maternity ward after she was bleeding and showing an umbilical cord. Dr. Kelly McGuire, who later testified against Patel, called the police. Patel told doctors she has a miscarriage and left the fetus in a dumpster outside a shopping center. McGuire followed police cars to the scene and pronounced the fetus dead on arrival. Patel says she felt cramping that resulted in bleeding and a miscarriage. She says she tried to resuscitate the fetus but was unsuccessful, then was in too much shock to call the police and "didn't know what else to do" because she didn't want her parents to find out, so she put the fetus in the dumpster and went to the hospital.

"Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, 'Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?'" David Orentlicher, a medical ethics specialist and former Indiana state representative told PRI. "If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you're not helping fetuses, you're harming fetuses."

Patel's attorney plans to appeal the verdict.


4/2/2015 - Louisiana Personhood Bill Would Ban Some Forms of Birth Control and Give Fetuses Full Legal Rights

Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory (R) pre-filed a personhood bill this week calling for a constitutional amendment that would give full legal rights to a fetus, ban many forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, as well as some health care procedures for pregnant women. Senate Bill 80 would add a section to the Louisiana constitution defining personhood as "a human being from the moment of conception."

The Louisiana state Senate is in session starting April 15, and is in session until June 11. SB 80 will be voted on in the Louisiana primary October 24, 2015, rather than in the general election in November.

Guillory, who just two years ago switch parties and became a Republican, is running for lieutenant governor against Billy Nungesser (R), President of Plaquemines Parish, and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden (D). While Nungesser and Holden are showing campaign funding in the millions, Guillory is running a campaign in debt for the second year in a row.

This personhood bill is the latest in a long series of attempted restrictions for women seeking abortion care in Louisiana. Just this December, under the administration of Governor Jindal, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals issued a letter to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast refusing to allow its new state of the art clinic in New Orleans to perform abortions on the legal "excuse" that it did not show a need for a new facility to perform abortions in Louisiana. In 2012, Jindal's administration passed a state law requiring abortion clinics to show that there is need for another clinic before applying for a license.

Similar personhood bills have been introduced in other states, including Colorado, North Dakota, and Mississippi, all of which defeated the proposed personhood bills over the past year.


4/1/2015 - On Transgender Day of Visibility, Advocates are Celebrating Trans Lives and Experiences

Today marks the sixth annual International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), a designated day for the trans community to share and celebrate their lives and experiences.

Visibility for the trans community is crucial in a world where 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school, 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, and where 50 percent of trans people have been raped or assaulted by a romantic partner. It is important to amplify the experiences and successes of trans people in order to create community for trans people, and to encourage a space in a society that might otherwise push trans identities and experiences to the side.

TDoV contrasts Transgender Day of Remembrance in that is it not a day for mourning, it is instead a day for the trans community to be recognized and empowered. Rachel Crandall, the head of Transgender Michigan, created TDoV after wanting an event for trans people that is celebratory.

"The Day of Remembrance is exactly what it is," Crandall said. "It remembers people who died. [Transgender Day of Visibility] focuses on the living."

In one example of the bigotry the trans community faces, Marshall High School in Michigan began receiving complaints from parents who were uncomfortable with TDoV support from students. A bulletin board was decorated for TDoV and featured facts about trans people and words of encouragement for the trans community. The board was taken down by school officials.

Trans advocates are taking to social media and using the hashtags #TDoV and #TransDayOfVisibility to share their photos and experiences with others.


3/27/2015 - Security and Women's Rights are Essential to Afghan Recovery

President Ashraf Ghani and a delegation of some 70 plus Afghan leaders came to the US this week to urge Congress and President Obama to extend the deadline for removing support troops from Afghanistan. Afghan public opinion polls have shown that Afghans' top priority is currently security.

"Many Afghan women leaders, as well as other Afghans, have also expressed their concern over security and safety. They fear that pulling virtually all American troops would send the wrong signal to the Taliban and the gains Afghan women and girls have won would be lost if the Taliban was emboldened," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and President its sister action organization, the Feminist Majority. "This is why we recently began a Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign with Afghan Women and Girls Campaign urging President Obama and members of Congress to extend the deadline and keep the remaining US support troops in Afghanistan."

"This is no time to pull out virtually all support troops when women and girls are making progress and the new unity government, pledged to democracy, women's empowerment and rebuilding the nation, is trying to move forward," Smeal continued. "We applaud President's Obama decision to delay the 2015 removal of US troops from Afghanistan."

At the beginning of this week President Obama changed the timeline for removing US support troops. Instead of removing some 5,000 of remaining troops in Afghanistan by December 31, 2015, as had been previously planned, the President announced the US will keep some 9,800 troops through 2015. At this time, he has not changed his decision to remove all troops by December 31, 2016.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's address yesterday to a Joint Session of the United States Congress commended the decision by President Barack Obama to delay the withdrawal of US support troops in Afghanistan and to allow the current level of troops to remain through the end of 2015.

President Ghani's address highlighted the extraordinary progress that Afghan women have made since 2001 when, under a system of gender apartheid, women and girls were not allowed to attend school, hold a job, receive medical care, or even go outside of their homes without being covered from head-to-toe and accompanied by a male relative. Ghani pointed out some of the current gains of women such as today some 3 million girls are in primary school; women's maternal mortality rate, although still high, has been dramatically reduced; and some 38 percent of the voters were women, despite threats of violence, in the recent provincial and presidential elections. He pledged "to increase to parity the number of women graduating from high schools and colleges."

Ghani said women's rights were a central foundation block for Afghanistan to recover from some 40 years of war. He said women's rights were not only a "matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity," he said. "No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away, uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity, and drive to national development."


3/27/2015 - Senate 'Vote-A-Rama' Passes Amendments for Equal Pay, Pregnant Workers, Paid Leave, Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

A bipartisan majority of Senators this week voted in favor of budget amendments that show growing momentum for paid sick leave for employees, social security and veterans benefits for same-sex couples, equal pay, and fair treatment for pregnant workers.

The votes, though significant, are symbolic. None of the amendments are binding. The bipartisan votes, however, show the popularity of these policy proposals and signal that both Democrats and Republicans realize that these issues are a priority for the American public.

One amendment to the budget resolution tracks the Healthy Families Act, sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA) and in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), which allows employees to earn seven days of paid sick leave. Prospects for passing the Healthy Families Act were seen as slim in the GOP-majority Senate, but Thursday's 61-39 vote in favor suggests bipartisan support is possible.

Sens. Pat Rooney (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) surprised the measure's supporters by voting in favor - backers of the paid sick leave amendment did not expect the measure to receive 61 Senate votes. Wisconsin has banned paid sick leave laws on the local level, but Philadelphia has recently changed to mandate employers give workers one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.

Another amendment, which passed 56-43, calls to establish a "deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to promoting equal pay" that would apply largely to preventing sex discrimination and would prevent retaliation against employees who discuss wage information. A similar but stronger version of this amendment (vote 82), which tracks the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), was rejected 45-54. Vote 82 would have allowed for punitive damages and limited the "other than sex" exceptions to the 1963 Act.

The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers - just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Young v. UPS which set out a legal roadmap for pregnant workers discriminated against in the workplace to vindicate their rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Additionally, the Senate "Vote-A-Rama" supported an amendment to the budget that would give same-sex married couples access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and Social Security benefits.

"Gay couples legally married in any state should be entitled to veterans and Social Security benefits identical to any other married couples. [This week], eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in a statement. "We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights."

These budget amendments are mostly symbolic, but provide insight into where Senate members stand on crucial issues. No Democrats voted for the final budget, but the budget passed anyway at 3:28 AM by 52-46.


3/25/2015 - Afghan Woman Beaten to Death After Complaining to Mullah

Updated 4/6/2015

A 27-year-old woman ‎who was falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran outside of a riverside mosque in a very poor part of Kabul, Afghanistan was brutally beaten and burned alive in March.

Shocking videos quickly spread on social media showing crowds of men surrounded by hundreds of onlookers assaulting the 27-year-old Farkhunda with bricks and sticks and repeatedly kicking her. The woman’s body was then thrown onto the banks of the Kabul River and was burned. Farkhunda’s parents told the police that their daughter was mentally ill and that she had not committed the act intentionally.

It was later revealed Farkhunda, was a religion student who confronted the mullah of the mosque with charging poor people for writing tahwiz, or verses from the Koran to bring an individual good luck and keep the person safe. She reportedly complained to him that her tahwiz did not bring her good luck. The mullah allegedly initiated the attack on Farkhunda.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior confirmed from his official Twitter account that four suspects had been arrested in connection with the attack, and a report from Tolo News claims that the police have detained 9 men accused of killing and burning woman in Kabul. Kabul’s head of criminal investigation said that the officers fired into the air to try to dispel the crowd, but that they “reacted too late.” Human rights groups, however, have raised concerns about whether enough was done to stop the mob.

Afghanistan’s President Ghani denounced the actions of these men in a statement, saying that "no one has the right to take it upon themselves to act as judge and court, nor to commit violence against anyone for any reason." He ordered an inquiry into the attack to be conducted by the interior ministry together with the Ulama Council - which oversees religious issues - and the leadership of the mosque.

"I would certainly hope the government would be trying to arrest and prosecute everyone who was involved and doing an internal investigation into whether the police response was appropriate," said Heather Barr, a senior researcher for women's rights in Asia for Human Rights Watch.


3/25/2015 - Masked Intruder Attacks Last Abortion Clinic Standing in Mississippi

In the early hours of the morning Monday, a person in a mask wielding what appeared to be a machete attacked the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi.

The clinic revealed in a post on their website the details of the attack on what is affectionately referred to by staff and community members as The Pink House. "A review of our DVR showed that in the early hours of the morning, a masked intruder came onto our property and proceeded to methodically destroy our cameras. Other damage found indicates they were trying to destroy the power lines coming into the building, no doubt hoping to stop all patient care for the near future." The state-mandated generator for the clinic was also targeted and damaged.

"It angered some of us, it scared some of the staff, but we are a resilient group," said Michelle Colon, Security Director for the Jackson Women's Health Organization, told the Feminist Newswire. She also detailed the strong relationship the clinic has with local law enforcement, and the extra steps the staff are taking to make sure that the clinic is open for those who need it. "We didn't miss a beat. The women of Mississippi and the surrounding states have been coming to the Pink House for 20 years, and yesterday, today, and tomorrow won't be any different. We'll keep doing the good work we've always done."

Clinic violence is a serious problem in the US, and has been increasing despite increase support from law enforcement. In fact, the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Clinic Violence Survey has shown that since 2010, the distribution of old west-style WANTED posters and pamphlets targeting doctors and clinic staff, and featuring doctors' and staffs' photographs, home addresses, and other personal information, have almost doubled from 27 percent to 52 percent. Furthermore, the survey shows that clinics impacted by the most serious anti-abortion threats increased from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9 percent of clinics in 2014.

Anti-abortion extremist groups are organizing mass protests and targeting clinics in Mississippi and elsewhere in upcoming weeks. One group in particular, Operation Save America, is led in part by Jason Storms, a man who is an advocate of Justifiable Homicide of doctors, clinic workers, and supporters, along with his father-in-law Matt Trewhella. Operation Save American is partnered with a new extremist group based out of Oklahoma City, OK, called Abolish Human Abortion, which publishes the home address of clinic doctors and encourages harassment through their "Call out the Killers" campaign.

Earlier this year, anti-abortion extremists gathered outside the home of Executive Director of South Wind Women's Center Julie Burkhart, holding signs such as "Prepare to Meet Thy God" meant to intimidate her. Another sign read "Fear Him Who Has the Power to Cast You into Hell," and yet another said "Where is Your Church?" Dr. Tiller was murdered in the lobby of his church in Wichita, Kansas, where Burkhart's clinic is now.

Take Action: Take a stand against extremism today and help defend the last clinic in Mississippi with a donation. Or, support the Feminist Majority Foundation's work to end clinic violence.


3/17/2015 - Vice President Biden Pledges 41 Million to Clear Rape Kit Backlog

Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Mikulski (D-MD) spoke yesterday at a Maryland State Police Laboratory to declare their support for a $41 million budget proposal to combat the national backlog of rape kits.

"Testing rape kits should be an absolute priority for the United States of America," Vice President Biden said, referring to the estimated 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide. "If we're able to test these rape kits, more crimes would be solved, more rapes would be avoided."

"We applaud this budget as the first step in ensuring that survivors who courageously report these heinous crimes can finally obtain justice," said Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy and Research at the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Houston, Texas is testament to the progress that can be achieved when cities have access to the funds for processing rape kits. Houston was one of the first of the major cities nation-wide to clear their backlog of over 6,000 untested rape kits - some of which were more than thirty years old. As of last month, the evidence from these test kits has led to 850 DNA matches, 29 filed cases, and 6 convictions. The $41 million budget is designed to both clear and process the backlog of rape kits, but also to create a more efficient process for testing, so as to avoid more backlogs in the future.


3/17/2015 - Penn State Fraternity Suspended for Facebook Page of Nude, Unconscious Women

A Penn State fraternity has been suspended over the discovery of a private Facebook page with photographs of nude women, some of whom appear to have passed out, as well as photos of drug deals and hazing.

The State College police, the Interfraternity council, and Penn State are all investigating fraternity Kappa Delta Rho and the damaging evidence on the Facebook page, which had 150 members of current students and fraternity alumni. "In response to the discovery of the two Facebook pages allegedly hosted by Kappa Delta Rho, the chapter was immediately placed on full chapter suspension by Penn State's Interfraternity Council," the council said following the fraternity's suspension.

The State College police obtained a search warrant following a tip about the Facebook account, but by the time they searched fraternity members' computers the account had been wiped clean. They did, however, obtain around 20 photographs that had been printed out from the account. According to the Interfraternity Council, the fraternity will be summoned upon completion of the investigation to "undergo a conduct review session."

Colleges and fraternities have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly. The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary opening last month, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice. Some colleges are beginning to respond to this epidemic. Just last month, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university's sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations governing fraternal organizations to enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations by Jan 16. Two fraternities, Alpha Tau Omega and Kappa Alpha Order announced however that they would not sign the new FOA.


3/16/2015 - 'No Ceilings' Report Shows Major Gains and Gaps in Women's Equality

The Clinton Foundation "No Ceilings" report reveals data measuring women and girls' participation worldwide over the past twenty years. In many ways, there have been significant increases for women and girls, but there are still massive gaps to be filled and progress to be made.

The "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project" report contains data collected over the past 20 years, following the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where the 1995 Declaration and Platform for Action made women and girls a priority. The groundbreaking 14th plank of the platform declared "Women's rights are human rights," laying the groundwork for governments worldwide to implement action plans for the goal of full participation for women and girls.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the report "encouraging" and "impressive" in an interview with C-Span this morning. Smeal emphasized the importance of data in effecting change. "You can't make progress unless you know exactly where you are," she said.

The "No Ceilings" data-driven approach to gender equality shows that significant gains have been made for women and girls, especially in the maternal mortality rate, which is down 42 percent globally since 1995. Other improvements include global enrollment rates for boys and girls in primary school, which is now almost equal.

There are, however, many areas that still need drastic improvement. The United States is the only developed country that does not offer paid maternity leave, and it is only 1 of 9 countries worldwide that does not provide for paid maternity leave. Equal representation in government worldwide is also lagging, and although the number of women in the United States Congress is at an all-time high, women still only make up around 20 percent of Congress. Furthermore, globally 1 in 4 girls are married before her 18th birthday, and in Niger that rate skyrockets to 3 in 4 girls. Progress is uneven, and women and girls still lag behind -specifically marginalized women.

As far as further progress goes, Smeal is optimistic. "You'd be surprised - just having a goal does help [equality] in many countries," Smeal said. "I'm very excited about what the new goals will be."