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4/4/2014 - Afghanistan Heads to the Polls Tomorrow

Afghanistan will hold presidential and provincial council elections tomorrow. The elections represent a pivotal moment in the history of Afghanistan, which will conduct its first democratic transition of presidential power once the vote is complete.

There has been growing excitement in Afghanistan leading up to the elections. The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported a surge in voter registration - some 3.8 million new voters were registered since May 2013 - and for the first time, presidential candidates engaged in televised debates, making public their positions on economic redevelopment, security, and women's rights. Candidates have also held public rallies, attracting thousands of people, including many young people, throughout Afghanistan.>

Women are central participants in this election. IEC Commissioner Laila Ehrari commented that the Commission's "expectation for Afghan women, who constitute a hardworking segment of Afghan society, is that they will have broad participation in the elections and cast their votes."Women have appeared at several campaign events, and are also running as candidates. Hundreds of women are running for seats in the provincial council, and one woman, Habiba Sarobi, the former governor of Bamian province, is running for vice president. Sarobi appears on Zalmay Rassoul's ticket and has been actively campaigning with Rassoul in Afghanistan. At a campaign rally in Mazar-e-Sharif last week, thousands of Afghans - both men and women - cheered enthusiastically for Sarobi, and according to a campaign aide, "She pretty much rocked the show." The other top candidates, identified as Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have both addressed the role of women in Afghanistan and women's rights, and Ashraf Ghani's wife, Rula, a Lebanese-American Christian, has campaigned for her husband.

Taliban insurgents have launched recent assaults on journalists, election officials, and candidates in an effort to disrupt the elections - the IEC itself was the target of a Taliban attack last month-but the elections will continue on. The IEC announced yesterday that all voting centers in the country had been supplied with ballots and the necessary equipment to conduct the polls, and domestic and international observers are on hand to provide support. Voting is scheduled to take place in Afghanistan on Saturday from 7:00am to 4:00pm, but the IEC has announced that polls will remain open to accommodate overcrowding if necessary.

4/4/2014 - Senate To Vote on Equal Pay Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate will vote on equal pay legislation as soon as next week. The vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) is expected to be on Equal Pay Day - the day up to which a woman must work in the current year to earn the what men made during the previous year. This year, Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 8.

Kerri Sleeman, an AAUW member from Hancock, Michigan, testified in support of the law at a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing on Tuesday. Sleeman worked as a design supervisor for an engineering company in Michigan for 5 years. "After being told by my employer that I couldn't negotiate my starting salary, I learned after my company went bankrupt that men I had supervised were making much more than I was," Sleeman said. "When I asked my former supervisor why I had been paid less, he said it was likely because those men were the sole earners for their wives and children. I was considered less worthy just because I was a woman."

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under the age of 18. But, on average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement.

"Women earn 23 cents less for every dollar a man earns," said Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate. "Yet, women don't get a 23 percent discount on their student loans. They don't get 23 percent off their first mortgage or a discount on their utility bill, just because they earn less than men. In fact, women often pay more for many of the same goods and services. Women pay more in medical costs than men: an estimated $10,000 over a lifetime. Women are often responsible for child care - an average working mom pays more for child care than tuition."

The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to require employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women doing the same work are based on legitimate business reasons, and not based on sex. The Act would also end pay secrecy by prohibiting retaliation against employees who share salary information.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act!

4/3/2014 - Supreme Court Strikes Down Aggregate Campaign Contribution Caps

In a divided decision, the Supreme Court yesterday struck down campaign contribution caps, paving the way for big-money donors to contribute unlimited amounts, in the aggregate, to federal candidates and political committees.

The decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission involved only how much money an individual could contribute in the aggregate during a two-year election cycle. It did not address so-called "base limits," or the maximum amount an individual can contribute to any one candidate or committee. Those limits remain, but now the "aggregate limits" - the amount an individual donor can give in total during the election cycle - are gone. Those limits had been $48,600 for all candidates, combined, during the two-year period, and $74,600 to political parties and committees, combined. A majority of the Court found that those limits violated the First Amendment.

Justice Breyer wrote in the dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, that the Court's decision, "eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

In striking down the aggregate contribution caps, the Court, relying on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, found that seeking to use money - through campaign contributions - in order to gain influence and access to candidates and elected officials, is not "corruption" but is a part of free speech that is "central to our democracy."

The dissent, however, found that Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the plurality of the Court, defined "corruption" too narrowly. "In reality," Justice Breyer noted, "as the history of campaign finance reform shows and as our earlier cases on the subject have recognized, the anticorruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest than the plurality acknowledges. It is an interest in maintaining the integrity of our public governmental institutions. And it is an interest rooted in the Constitution and in the First Amendment itself."

In short, as Justice Breyer pointed out: "Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard."

4/2/2014 - Adjunct Faculty Demand Fair Pay and Benefits

Prompted by a homeless adjunct professor's one-woman protest outside the New York State Department of Education in Albany, adjunct professors across the nation took to Twitter over the weekend to call attention to the low-wages and exploitation of adjuncts working in higher education.

Mary-Faith Cerasoli went to Albany during Spring Break to protest working conditions for adjunct college professors. Cerasoli is an adjunct at Mercy College in New York where she teaches a full courseload, but makes only $22,000 per year before taxes. Ineligible for public assistance, Cerasoli relies on friends for shelter but is sometimes forced to live out of her car - a gift from a used-car dealer in Westchester, NY. Cerasoli has no office, no health benefits, and a sizeable debt-load thanks to unpaid student loans and medical bills. "They call us professors, but they're paying us at poverty levels," she said. "I just want to make a living from a skill I've spent 30 years developing."

Cerasoli is not alone. Adjunct professors - the majority of whom are women - are contract employees usually paid per course taught, and the pay is low. The average adjunct is paid less than $3,000 for a typical three-credit course, but one study found that adjuncts at several colleges reported earning less than $1,000. The vast majority of adjuncts do not receive health insurance, retirement benefits, or sick leave, and many must cobble together a living, often by traveling miles to teach at multiple campuses. In terms of annual compensation, then, adjuncts earn between $18,000 and $30,000, without any benefits, for the equivalent of full-time work, compared to "tenure-track" professors who earn between $68,000 to $116,000 plus benefits.

Some adjuncts have joined labor unions at their institutions in order to organize for better pay and working conditions, but the average adjunct professor is still a source of cheap labor for many colleges. And the use of adjuncts is more widespread than ever. Adjunct professors now make up approximately half of all college faculty.

"I had this idea that I could get a job so that I could have a good income to support my son, and it didn't work out that way," explained Nicole Beth Wallenbrock, an adjunct professor featured on PBS NewsHour. "I'm a precarious worker. I have no job security."

4/2/2014 - West Virginia Governor Vetoes 20-Week Abortion Ban

In a victory for women's health, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill last week that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, calling the measure unconstitutional and a undue restriction on the physician-patient relationship.

"I have vetoed HB 4588 because I am advised, by not only attorneys from the legislature, but through my own legal team that this bill is unconstitutional," Tomblin wrote in a statement.

"The bill is also problematic because it unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship," he added. "All patients, particularly expectant mothers, require the best, most unfettered medical judgment and advice from their physicians regarding treatment options. The medical community has made it clear to me that the criminal penalties this bill imposes will impede that advice, and those options, to the detriment of the health and safety of expectant mothers."

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the West Virginia State Medical Association, and the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University lobbied and testified against the proposed ban.

If the bill had become law, anyone who performed an abortion after 20 weeks could be fined up to $5,000 and spend 1 to 5 years in jail. It had previously passed the West Virginia Senate 25-9 and the House 85-15.

Dozens of similar restrictive bills are moving through state legislatures across the United States.

4/2/2014 - Report Details Dangerous Impacts of Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report last week detailing the risks people will face around the world as climate change worsens.

"Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" from Working Group II of the IPCC summarizes scientific literature from hundreds of authors to identify vulnerable populations, ecosystems, and industries. It warns of coming problems linked to climate change, including a reduction in food security, an increase in the risk of violent conflicts, and the worsening of poverty. IPCC Chairperson Rajendra K. Pachauri also discussed a rise in vector-borne diseases and an increase in extreme climate events during a press conference.

According to the report, "People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change and also to some adaptation and mitigation responses."

Women are especially vulnerable. According to an earlier UN report released in 2009, women's traditional role as homemaker along with their greater participation in the agricultural work force directly relates to increased vulnerability. Caring for family members can limit women's mobility, and drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes.

"To reduce these risks, substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions must be made, along with smart strategies and actions to improve disaster preparedness and reduce exposure to events caused by climate change," said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a statement.

To learn more, check out Feminist Majority Foundation's toolkit on women and the environment.

4/1/2014 - Arizona Restrictions on Medication Abortions Take Effect Today

A federal district judge has refused to temporarily block enforcement of Arizona's restrictions on medication abortion, meaning that as of today, women in Arizona will no longer be able to access non-surgical, medication abortion beyond seven weeks, and doctors will be forced to administer that medication according to an outdated protocol.

The decision, by US District Court Judge David Bury, is not the final ruling on the issue. The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medication abortion restrictions remains ongoing. Judge Bury's decision, however, does mean that the restrictions will go into effect pending the final outcome of the case.

Planned Parenthood and the Tucson Women's Center, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenged the Arizona restrictions, which were passed in 2012. The restrictions require doctors to follow a protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. The problem is that the FDA protocol on the use, dosage, and administration of mifepristone - the medication at issue - no longer represents the predominate medical standard of care. Instead, doctors have developed a new standard - endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - that calls for a significantly lower dosage of mifepristone, one that can be safely administered beyond seven weeks.

"With today's disappointing ruling, Arizona women's constitutional rights and access to safe, high-quality reproductive health care have been diminished, simply by virtue of where they live," said David Brown, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law serves no purpose other than to prevent Arizona women from using a safe alternative to surgical abortion and force their doctors to follow an outdated, riskier, and less effective method. This is what happens when politicians, not doctors, practice medicine."

Several states have enacted restrictions on medication abortion, and court decisions on their legality have been mixed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld Texas's medication restrictions, but restrictions in North Dakota and Oklahoma have been found unconstitutional and overturned. The US Supreme Court has so far stayed out the the debate, refusing to hear an appeal of the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision this term.

4/1/2014 - More than 7 Million People Enrolled in Healthcare Through Affordable Care Act

More than 7 million people have enrolled in private health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

The White House met its original goal of enrolling 7 million people by March 31 through new federal and state marketplaces created by the landmark legislation. Despite false advertising about the ACA, numerous Republican attempts to dismantle the law, and problems with the rollout of the site, millions of Americans will now access quality, affordable health insurance.

In addition, the White House will offer some relief to those individuals who began the process of enrolling online, but could not finish by the March 31 deadline. In these cases, the deadline will be temporarily extended. In order to qualify for this extension, individuals must indicate on that they attempted to enroll before March 31. Special enrollment periods will also continue to be available to accommodate families with new babies or to enroll people who become unemployed and lose their health insurance.

3/28/2014 - Federal Court Upholds Texas Law Restricting Abortion Access

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a provision of a Texas law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The requirement is part of HB 2, which passed last summer and has already led to the closure of several Texas abortion clinics since it went into effect. The appeals court decision means that even more clinics are expected to close in the state.

"The legislators lied when they said this law wouldn't close clinics," explained Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, to RH Reality Check. "This law has closed clinics. This law has denied women access to safe care. This law is now and will in the future do great damage to the health-care infrastructure in the State of Texas."

Texas's anti-abortion law passed last summer in a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) after Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D) successfully led a filibuster of the bill for 12 hours. In addition to the admitting privileges requirement, the law also bans abortion at 20 weeks, restricts medication abortion, and mandates that facilities where abortion is performed meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of several clinics and their patients, challenging the admitting privileges requirement as well as the law's restrictions on medication abortion. In October, federal district judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional. The Fifth Circuit almost immediately stayed Judge Yeakel's order, allowing the law to go into effect. In its decision yesterday, the Fifth Circuit also upheld the medication abortion restrictions.

3/24/2014 - FMF Will Deliver Thousands of Petitions to the Supreme Court Tomorrow in Support of the ACA Birth Control Benefit!

The Feminist Majority Foundation will deliver thousands of petitions to the US Supreme Court tomorrow in support of the Affordable Care Act birth control benefit, sending a clear signal to the Court that women, not bosses, should make personal decisions about women's healthcare.

"After a trip to the ER at 19 years old, I was put on birth control to treat ovarian cysts," said Kristy Birchard, a Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizer. "I can't imagine my boss telling me that his or her beliefs should trump my health."

"Women should not have to get their bosses' permission to access birth control. Whether women are using birth control to prevent pregnancy, using it to treat serious medical conditions, like endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or both, is none of their bosses' business," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.

On Tuesday, the Court will hear oral arguments from Hobby Lobby, a national for-profit arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood, a for-profit cabinet manufacturer, who want to prevent their female employees from accessing birth control through their health insurance plans. The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with a coalition of several organizations, will be at the Court to give voice to the majority of Americans who support women's health and the birth control benefit.

"Bosses have no right to be in your bedroom and no right to determine your healthcare plan. This is a blatant, dangerous attempt to discriminate against women," continued Smeal. "Denying access to birth control compromises women's health. Decisions about birth control should be made by women in consultation with their doctors. Women should not be held hostage to the beliefs of their bosses."

"Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood think they can use religion to discriminate against women, arguing that the birth control benefit violates the companies' religious liberty. But this case isn't about protecting religious liberty. Simply put, profit-making corporations are not people with religious beliefs, and as the people of Arizona showed us just recently when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed anti-LGBT legislation cloaked in the rhetoric of religious liberty, we must be vigilant about the use of religion as a license to discriminate. It not only flies in the face of American values, but in this case, it literally threatens women's health and lives," said Smeal.

Birth control is basic health care for women. Nearly all American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control, and as many as 88% have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives. Birth control is also essential for the near 15% of women who use the pill to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Sign the petition here in advance of our delivery! We will continue to collect signatures until the decision.

3/21/2014 - 13,000 Women Will Work to Secure Polling Centers on Afghanistan's Election Day

The Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA) announced this week that it has recruited 13,000 women to work on security procedures at polling centers for the upcoming April 5 presidential election day. There was some concern last summer that there would not be enough women security officers to work at the polling stations set aside for women, but the government has now surpassed its recruitment goal. Female security guards at polling centers will ensure more women can vote.

The MoIA has made election day security a top priority, and the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) has been overseeing election activities to ensure they are conducted in compliance with the laws and that voter confidentiality is protected.

The IEC has also been working to advance Afghan women's participation in the electoral process through the establishment of a Gender Unit in 2009, targeted public education directed at women voters, the use of female polling staff and observers, and the development of appropriate security measures. The IEC reports that about one-third of registered voters are women and women's rights have been a focusocus in recent debates between the nine candidates.

3/20/2014 - New Bill Aims To Expand Health Care Access for Immigrant Women and Families

The Health Equity and Access Under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act of 2014, introduced last week, would significantly improve the ability of immigrant women and families to access affordable health care.

The act will eliminate discriminatory barriers to coverage, including the current 5-year ban on enrollment after an immigrant has established lawful status. It will immediately restore full Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage to immigrants who are authorized to live and work in the US and are otherwise eligible for coverage. The HEAL Act will also remove the exclusion of DREAMers who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from obtaining insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"This legislation would correct the harmful restrictions that have been placed on legal immigrants' ability to access affordable health insurance coverage," said Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), who introduced the bill. "Limiting access to healthcare has a profound negative impact on families, communities and the nation as a whole and it must be corrected. These immigrants are hardworking taxpayers who deserve to be treated fairly under the system they pay into."

Around 200 organizations and associations have signed onto a letter of support for the legislation.

3/20/2014 - Breastfeeding Woman Pushed To Resign Will Not Get Discrimination Trial

A woman who filed charges against her employer for failing to accommodate her and encouraging her to resign when she was breastfeeding cannot continue with her lawsuit, a court ruled on Thursday.

Angela Ames returned to work in 2010 at Nationwide Mutual Insurance in Des Moines after a two-month maternity leave. She needed to breastfeed every three hours, but the company refused to let her use its lactation rooms because she had not completed necessary security paperwork, which she was unaware was a requirement and would take three days to process. A nurse told her she could lactate in a wellness room, but that it might expose the milk to germs.

While she was in pain after being unable to express her milk for several hours, her supervisor told her she would have to work overtime. When she then spoke to her department head, Karla Neel, she told her it was not her responsibility to help her, and she said, "I think it's best that you go home to be with your babies." Neel then handed Ames papers with details of her resignation on them and told her to sign. In addition, several months prior, her supervisors told Ames she may have to cut her maternity leave short and gave the impression that taking extra unpaid leave would be looked at unfavorably.

Ames filed a lawsuit alleging gender and pregnancy discrimination at the state and federal level. A US District Judge dismissed the case in 2012, but the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging that it be reinstated. Against all evidence, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals - a court of all men - ruled that Ames had not provided legal proof that she had been discriminated against, that the company had properly tried to accommodate her needs, and that a reasonable person would not "jump to the conclusion that her only option was to resign," even though Ames was in significant pain and distress at the time.

Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978's bar on discrimination toward pregnant employees, many American women are forced out of their jobs or denied accommodations that would allow them to continue working once they become pregnant. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would strengthen it, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers and barring them from denying employment opportunities based on a reasonable accommodation, but it has stalled in Congress since last May.

3/18/2014 - Senate Votes to Reauthorize Child Care Bill

The Senate voted 96-2 last week to pass the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG), a federal grant program that provides child care assistance to families and funding for child care initiatives.

The CCDBG was authored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Burr (D-NC), along with Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and reflected feedback from parents, child care providers, and childhood development experts. It aims to improve the health and safety of the 1.5 million children and families who benefit from the federal child care subsidy program, by strengthening regulations for child care providers and facilities such as requiring background checks and inspections [PDF]. It will improve families' access to child care by, among other changes, requiring states to use at least 70 percent of the grant's funding for direct services [PDF]. It will also strengthen the quality of child care by requiring developmentally appropriate training for child care providers, and it will improve the coordination of early care and education.

"CCDBG provides a lifeline so that all children have the care that they need and deserve," said Senator Mikulski. "Updating this vitally important child care program will help support those who care for our children, give parents peace of mind that their children are safe and receiving quality care, and better prepare our children for the future. It will help keep working parents at work while ensuring children have a safe environment that provides them the skills they need to begin to develop their potential and be better prepared for school."

The CCDBG now moves to a vote in the House. If passed, this would be the first time the law has been reauthorized since 1996.

3/18/2014 - Federal Court Strikes Down Arkansas Early Abortion Ban

US District Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down an Arkansas law last week that would have banned abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Webber declared the measure to be unconstitutional, stating that it "impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

"This was one of the most extreme laws passed in 2013 by lawmakers dead-set on taking away a women's ability to make the best medical decision for herself and her family," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "We must ensure that this personal medical decision remains where it belongs: not with politicians, but with a woman, her family, and her doctor."

Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed the bill last year, but Republicans controlling the state legislature overrode the veto with a simple majority vote. The Arkansas law would have banned most abortions at or after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Judge Webber had previously ordered a temporary injunction of the law, preventing it from being enforced pending a decision on the law's constitutionality. Her ruling last week means that the law can never go into effect, although Judge Webber did let stand the law's mandatory ultrasound requirement.

Several other states are pushing extreme legislation to severely limit access to abortion, including Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. The consequences of laws targeting access to abortion and women's reproductive healthcare are being felt acutely in Texas, where dozens of abortion clinics have been forced to close.

3/14/2014 - McDonald's Employees File 7 Class-Action Lawsuits For Wage Theft

McDonald's employees in three states filed seven class-action lawsuits against the company and some franchise owners this week, alleging they were illegally underpaid.

The employees assert that hours were erased from their timecards, they were not paid overtime, and they were often ordered to work off the clock. In one of the two cases filed in Michigan, employees were required to come to work at a certain time, but then had to wait two hours until enough customers came to start getting paid. Employees were also forced to pay for their own work uniforms, which pushed their income below the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

"Our wages are already at rock bottom," said Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald's worker in Detroit. "It is time for McDonald's to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work."

Besides Michigan, four of the lawsuits were filed in California and one in New York. One of the cases in California represents 27,000 people.

Fast food workers across the US have been striking and protesting for higher wages and more labor protections for almost a year now - changes that would particularly help women and people of color. Seventy-three percent of all front-line fast food workers are women, and 43 percent are black or Latino. Fifty-two percent of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance because their wages are too low to survive on. But as Michelle Chen reports in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms., the National Restaurant Association has opposed increases in wages, and the industry "lobbies fiercely against local, state and national minimum-wage legislation, claiming the pay boost would cause job losses and hurt businesses. Meanwhile, the CEO of McDonald's raked in about $13.8 million in fiscal 2012, an estimated 737 times what the average fast-food worker earned."

3/14/2014 - Students and Activists Demand Sexual Assault Reform at Dartmouth

Thousands of people are calling on Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to improve its sexual assault policies, after a student whose name appeared in a "rape guide" on a student-run website was sexually assaulted.

Women's advocacy group UltraViolet created a petition demanding that Dartmouth "take student recommendations seriously and expel rapists, list rape as a punishable offense and expulsion as the preferred punishment in the student handbook, and block access to the 'rape guide' on campus." Over 50,000 people have already signed on. You can join in and sign UltraViolet's petition here.

Dartmouth is also currently under federal investigation for violating Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex and requires that universities ensure a safe learning environment for all students. Dozens of other universities face similar investigations for mishandling sexual assault cases, most recently Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University.

TAKE ACTION: Organize to end rape on campus with Feminist Campus!

3/14/2014 - Obama Aims To Reform Overtime Pay Regulations

President Barack Obama announced in a statement yesterday that he would be directing Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor, to improve overtime pay labor regulations as part of his "year of action." It is expected that the salary threshold for overtime pay will be raised, among other changes.

"If you go above and beyond to help your employer and your economy succeed, then you should share a little bit in that success," Obama said in his remarks yesterday.

Under the current rules, any worker making more than $455 per week or $23,660 per year is not eligible for overtime pay, a threshold that has not been significantly changed since 1975. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if the threshold is raised to $970 per week or $50,440 per year - what the threshold would be if it had been adjusted for inflation - around 10 million workers would receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

In addition, any workers classified as executive, administrative, or professional under the "white-collar exemption" can currently be denied overtime pay, usually time-and-a-half, if they work more than 40 hours per week. An executive title can be applied to someone even if they oversee people for only a small percentage of their job, such as fast-food shift supervisors or convenience store managers.

The changes could significantly improve the economy and boost income for 10 million Americans, especially lower-income people. ThinkProgress also reports that it has the potential to reduce the standard workweek. Many Americans work 50 hours or more a week without overtime, so businesses may cap their hours or hire more people rather than pay them more.

The Obama administration has focused on labor protections and improvements in the past few months. Last September, the DOL expanded labor protections for home care workers. In February, Obama issued an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10, and he is pushing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all Americans. The White House also released charts yesterday detailing women's participation in the workforce and ways to reduce the gender wage gap.

"We need to fix the system so folks working hard are getting compensated fairly," said Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

3/13/2014 - Majority of Americans Approve of Obamacare Contraception Mandate

A poll conducted earlier this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that a majority of Americans agree with the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate. The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles, helping millions of women afford vital health care.

53 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed by telephone said that they believe employers should be required to include contraception coverage in workers' health plans even if the employers oppose its use [PDF]. The numbers were greatest among certain groups: 65 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49, 61 percent of voters in the Northeast, and 72 percent of voters identifying as Democrats agreed with the mandate. 41 percent disagreed, saying employers should have the same exemption as religious organizations, and 6 percent said they were unsure.

Although the administration has allowed churches to opt out of the mandate and offered special arrangements for Catholic-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities, several for-profit companies are still trying to avoid following the law. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 25 from two companies claiming the contraception mandate violates their religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby craft store and Conestoga Wood.

TAKE ACTION: Send a clear message to the Supreme Court before the oral arguments on March 25 that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Leave stories and tell the Court why BC coverage matters to you! Share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC! You can also join Feminist Majority Foundation and 1,000 other activists at the Supreme Court on March 25 to show your support.

3/13/2014 - House Democrats Seek International Convention on Gender-Based Violence In Workplace

House Democrats asked the Obama administration yesterday to support the International Labour Organization's (ILO) efforts to combat global gender-based violence in the workplace.

Ahead of the ILO's 320th Session of the Governing Board, Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and 34 other leading Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez seeking their support for an ILO Convention on gender-based violence in the workplace, as well as a standard-setting discussion about violence against all people in the workplace.

"Gender-based violence is among the most rampant human rights violations in the world--and it most acutely affects women," said Rep. Miller, the senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. "Worldwide, working women are ruthlessly exploited. They face daily sexual harassment, intimidation, and verbal and physical abuse. This is unacceptable. We must establish international norms that address violence against women at work, and hold companies and industries accountable for protecting the most fundamental labor human rights of their workers, up and down they supply chain."

Rep. Miller also called on the apparel industry to improve working conditions in February. It has garnered international attention in recent years for its exploitation of workers - roughly 88 percent of whom are women - through low wages, dangerous workplace conditions, and other forms of violence. 1,100 garment workers died and 2,500 were injured in the horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh last April.

3/12/2014 - Uninsured Rate Hits New Low as Affordable Care Act Puts Insurance Within Reach

The percentage of Americans without health insurance has hit a second consecutive five-year low, falling to 15.9 percent according to a Gallup telephone survey of over 28,000 adults. The uninsured rate has been declining since the end of 2013, likely thanks to the opening of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health insurance marketplaces.

The rate has dropped for almost every major demographic group and for all age groups except for those aged 65 and older, who typically have Medicare. The uninsurance rates for lower-income people and African-Americans have dropped the most. Americans with an annual income of less than $36,000 have seen their rates drop by 2.8 percentage points to 27.9 percent since fourth quarter of 2013, and African-Americans' rates have dropped by 2.6 points to 18.3 percent. Hispanics are still the group most likely to be uninsured, with a current rate of 37.9 percent.

The ACA has helped over 4.2 million Americans obtain the health insurance they need to be able to take care of themselves and their families. It has especially made it easier for women to obtain affordable, quality health care coverage that fits their needs. For example, it guarantees that plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles, cancer screenings, domestic violence counseling, and well women exams, as well as maternal care, mental health care, and pediatric services - among many others. It also does not allow insurance policies to charge women more simply because of their gender.

About 6 million more people are expected to enroll by the March 31 deadline.

3/12/2014 - Feminist Majority Endorses Marisa DeFranco For US House of Representatives from MA-06

The Feminist Majority is proud to announce our endorsement of Marisa DeFranco for U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts 6th district.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority stated: "Marisa DeFranco is a long-time and very strong advocate for women's rights, immigrants, and children in foster care. She is a tireless worker and leader on a wide range of issues that advance women's equality. Marisa is a leader that we need in Congress to advance women's pay equity, as well as immigration reform, LGBT rights, and social justice issues such as ending sex trafficking."

DeFranco, an immigration attorney for the past 17 years, was named Top Woman of Law by the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and received national recognition by being awarded the National Legal Aid and Defender Association's Beacon of Justice Award for her pro bono service. She has been a leader in the National Organization for Women, serving as the Vice President of Legislative Policy for Massachusetts NOW. She also served on the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. Marisa has shown time and time again that she is a strong spokesperson and advocate for equal pay for women, for ending violence against women, for civil rights and disability rights.

Marisa said: "I am honored to have the endorsement of the Feminist Majority. Without pioneers like Eleanor Smeal who fought for women to be recognized as equal under the law, women like me would never have had the independence to pursue our dreams as we do today. The fight continues to ensure women's rights and equality and freedom, and I am grateful that the Feminist Majority joins me in my fight to speak truth to power and to bring a voice to Congress for justice, for women and for all."

3/12/2014 - New York Legislators Introduce Bill Banning Employer Discrimination Against Women For Reproductive Health Decisions

New York State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) introduced a bill last week that would ban employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions.

"Employers should not have the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees," said Assemblymember Jaffee in a statement. "Denying millions of women access to affordable birth control is denying them fair and equal access to basic preventive health care. This legislation is a step in the right direction: It will guarantee New York women, not their employers, the freedom and fundamental right to make their own personal healthcare decisions about what is best for them and their families."

The "Boss Bill" would close a loophole in New York's current workplace anti-discrimination laws to ensure women are not discriminated against for their personal reproductive health choices and to protect their privacy. Krueger and Jaffee drafted it in response to the over 100 federal lawsuits by employers trying to avoid the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments related to the Hobby Lobby craft store chain's lawsuit against the ACA mandate on March 25.

TAKE ACTION: Send a clear message to the Supreme Court that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Leave stories and tell the Court why BC coverage matters to you! Share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!

3/11/2014 - UN Commission On The Status of Women Convenes This Week

The 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session began in New York City yesterday and will convene through March 21. Over 6,000 registered representatives of the 193 member states, the UN, and non-governmental organizations are in attendance, including representatives from Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and Girls Learn International, a special program of the FMF dedicated to girls' global education.

CSW is the "principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women." This year, the annual event will focus on development, particularly women and girls' equal access to education, and their access to sexual and reproductive education, health, and rights.

"We can and must do better because equality for women is progress for all!" said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Participants will also discuss the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the UN's Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), women and poverty, women's access to decent employment, and violence against women, among other topics.

3/11/2014 - Senate Passes Limited Military Sexual Assault Reform Bill

Only a few days after the Senate blocked the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), it unanimously approved a bill that proposes several different reforms to combat sexual assault in the military.

"This debate has been about one thing - getting the policy right to best protect and empower victims, and boost prosecutions of predators," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said in a statement. "I believe we're on the cusp of achieving that goal."

The bipartisan bill was created by Sen. McCaskill, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). It will eliminate the "good soldier defense" in trials, meaning accused soldiers cannot use evidence of good military character and performance to question an accusation unless it is directly relevant to the crime. The bill will give accusers more power to choose whether their cases go through the military or the civilian system, allow victims to challenge their discharge from the military, increase the accountability of commanders, and extend the changes to service academies. In a case where a prosecutor wants to move forward with a case but a commander does not, the civilian service secretary would have the final say.

An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults in the military occurred in 2012, according to a report by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program of the Department of Defense. Looking forward, Ayotte discussed the need for following through on this bill to best help survivors. "We will make sure reforms that have been passed are implemented, that commanders are held accountable for a climate within their unit of zero tolerance and that victims of sexual assault are treated with dignity and respect," she said. The bill now moves on to the House.