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6/6/2014 - Walmart Employees Strike Nationwide to Demand Higher Wages

Walmart employees and union organizers with OUR Walmart held strikes in over 20 US cities Wednesday in a campaign to raise wages for workers.

The protesters demand that Walmart pay associates at least $25,000 per year and not retaliate against workers who strike. Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Walmart for retaliating against 60 workers who had participated in strikes or protests against Walmart stores.

"I am trying to tell Walmart that they should not retaliate against workers, and that they need to raise wages and respect us," said Bene't Holmes, a Walmart-employee earning $8.75 per hour at a Chicago-area store, at a candlelight vigil held earlier this week outside the home of Walmart's board chairman, Rob Walton.

The strike and other actions were scheduled around the chain's annual shareholder meeting taking place in Arkansas today.

Walmart employees and organizers have been striking against the company for several years now because of its low wages and poor treatment of its workers, such as widespread discrimination against women. The largest protest yet was held last November. These campaigns, like those of the nationwide movement by fast food workers and other minimum-wage workers, seek to make employers - often bringing in billions of dollars in profit - pay their workers living wages.

An increase in wages would primarily benefit women workers, who make up the majority of low-wage workers in the retail industry. According to a study released by Demos earlier this week, 1.3 million women working in the retail industry live in or near poverty. Low-wages, unpredictable hours, and lack of full-time opportunities, all present real obstacles to these workers' economic security.

Walmart has also been heavily criticized recently for refusing to join the Bangladesh accord, a legally binding agreement to improve working conditions for overseas factory workers that manufacture their clothes. The accord was created after a garment factory where Walmart materials were produced collapsed in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 1,300 workers. Activists have also been demanding that Walmart pay reparations to survivors of the collapse and victims' families.

6/6/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill to Keep Pregnant Women on Life Support Against Wishes

The Louisiana legislature passed a bill this week that will require physicians to keep mentally incapacitated pregnant women on life support against their wishes.

HB 1274 requires physicians to to keep brain-dead women who are at least 20 weeks pregnant on mechanical support if there is a chance the fetus is viable. The law would override requests from family members for removal, and even the wishes of the pregnant woman, but will not apply if a woman has specified in her will that she was not to be resuscitated while pregnant.

"They're making all these godlike decisions for people who should be making this decision on their own for their loved one," Julie Schwam Harris, who testified during the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing, told RH Reality Check.

A similar law in Texas led to a lawsuit by the husband of Marlise Munoz, who was found brain-dead after a possible pulmonary embolism. Even though she had made it clear while alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything happened to her, and her family repeatedly requested that she be taken off support, her hospital would not allow it because she had been 14 weeks pregnant. The fetus was later found to be significantly deformed and nonviable due to the lack of oxygen it suffered when Munoz collapsed, so Munoz was removed from support

Twelve US states invalidate a woman's end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies. Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the bill into law, making Louisiana the thirteenth.

6/5/2014 - Mass Grave in Ireland Contains Remains of Almost 800 Children from Catholic Mother-and-Baby Home

The remains of almost 800 children found in a mass grave in western Ireland have been determined to be from a home for unwed mothers that operated in Tuam, County Galway for 35 years between 1926 to 1961.

The deaths of the children likely occurred because of neglect, disease and malnutrition, which was rampant according to a 1944 government investigation of the home. Mothers who gave birth at the home told Catherine Corless, the researcher who discovered the origin of the bones, that they received extremely poor healthcare. They told her that they were only seen once by a doctor when they were admitted to the house, and long labors were often unattended.

The bone repository - found in a septic tank - was originally discovered in 1975, but it was assumed to contain the remains of victims of the mid-nineteenth century famine until Corless conducted her research.

The "mother-and-baby home" in Taum was one of many Catholic Church-run institutions across Ireland created to house unwed pregnant women, including rape victims, and hide the "stain" they would create on the morality of the country. The Church has been under fire, especially from the United Nations, for operating Magdalene Asylums, or Magdalene Laundries, for unwed women from the 18th to 20th centuries in Ireland and across Europe and North America, as well as for church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Women in the laundries were forced to work in terrible conditions, and children were often sold without the mother's consent. Increasing awareness of the offenses committed by the Church has made it much harder for the Vatican and governments to ignore them.

"How can we show in Ireland that we have matured as a society if we cannot call out these horrific acts of the past for what they were? They were willful and deliberate neglect of children, who were the most vulnerable of all," junior minister for education, Ciaran Cannon, told Reuters. "They were deserving of love and nurturing, but they received the exact opposite. They were shunned by society at the time. The only way we can address that injustice is to tell their story, to determine the truth."

The government is considering launching an inquiry into the home, and people are pulling together to place a plaque at the site commemorating the children buried there.

6/5/2014 - US Support of Afghanistan Will Continue Even As Troops Drawdown

President Obama announced last week that 9,800 United States military troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 to help train and advise Afghan security forces, as well as assist in counter-terrorism operations. The number of troops will then continue to be scaled back to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by 2016.

"Over the last several years, we've worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans," said Obama in his announcement of the plan. "One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations. Since then, they've continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country."

In June 2013, the US and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). According to the White House, there are no plans to decrease the size of the Afghan security forces, now at 352,000. Since the transition, the ANSF has taken the lead in fighting insurgents and has successfully recaptured territory the country lost to the Taliban in previous years. The United Nations Security Council has also commended the ANSF for successfully providing effective security for the historic April 2014 Afghan elections, which saw lower levels of violence than the 2009 elections.

During his remarks, President Obama made clear that the drawdown of US troops would not impact the United States' commitment to Afghan re-development. "Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come," said Obama. "But our relationship will not be defined by war, it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support."

Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May 2012 which included "U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation." Afghanistan committed "to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans - men and women." The SPA is still in effect.

The US has also made a substantial five-year commitment to Afghan women and girls through the USAID project Promote, the agency's largest gender program in the world. Geared toward women between the ages of 18 and 30 who have at least a secondary education, Promote is expected to increase women's economic, social, and political participation through education, job training, micro-finance and credit for female entrepreneurs, training for policy-making, and strengthening of women's rights groups and coalitions. USAID will contribute up to $216 million to the project; other donors can contribute up to $200 million in additional funding, for a total of $416 million over the five-year period. The recently announced troop drawdown does not change these commitments.

The President, however, did state that the decision to maintain troops in Afghanistan is contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Current President Hamid Karzai will not sign the BSA, but the front-runners to be the next president have both said they will. Former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are the two top presidential candidates. Because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2014 election, a runoff will be held June 14 to determine the next president.

6/4/2014 - Sandra Fluke's Campaign for California State Senate Advances to General Election

Women's rights activist and attorney, Sandra Fluke, finished in the top two in her run for an open state Senate seat in California's 26th district. Current state Senator Ted Lieu is running for the retiring Henry Waxman's seat. The two candidates who earn the most votes in California primary elections advance to the general election regardless of political party, so Fluke will now compete against fellow Democrat Ben Allen for the seat. The general election will take place on November 4.

Fluke, then a Georgetown law student, came to national attention in 2012 when House Republicans refused to allow her to testify at a hearing on the Affordable Care Act's requirement for religiously affiliated colleges or universities and hospitals to cover birth control. Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for speaking on the need for women students to have coverage for birth control and for treatment of illnesses such as ovarian cysts. She became an outspoken feminist, and she spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and at Feminist Majority's 2012 Women Money Power Summit in Washington, D.C.

Fluke and Allen are competing for the state Senate seat currently occupied by Ted Lieu, who led in the primary for Henry Waxman's seat in the House for California's 33rd district. Waxman is retiring after 40 years of leadership in the House. Democrat Lieu came in second place in his primary with 19 percent of the vote, falling slightly behind Republican Elan Carr, who earned 21 percent of the vote. But Lieu will win the general election because Waxman's seat is a strong Democratic seat and there were many Democrats running. Wendy Greuel was also competing for the Waxman seat but came in third place, so she will not advance.

Meanwhile, the pro-choice Norma Torres won the primary for a House seat for California's 35th district with 67 percent of the vote. She will compete with fellow Democrat Christina Gagnier in the November election to replace current Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod, who is leaving Congress to run for San Bernardino County Supervisor.

6/4/2014 - Poll Shows Widespread Online Harassment of Women

A recently released poll by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Newmark of Craigconnects reveals that women experience of majority of online harassment - and that the impact can be devastating.

The poll found that 25 percent of all Americans have experienced a form of harassment online; of them, a whopping 57 percent are women. Respondents under 35 were almost twice as likely to have experienced harassment than their older counterparts; of them, 52 percent are women. Sexual harassment was the most common experience women reported, occurring in 43 percent of all incidences.

"There have been several rape threats," HollaBack! cofounder Emily May wrote about online harassment in a Ms. magazine blog published last year. "But it's mostly 'I want to rape you' or 'Somebody should rape you.' Most are not physical threats - they're more about how ugly I am, how nobody would bother raping me because I'm so fat and hideous."

Women bloggers frequently discuss and disclose tales of online harassment, and even women who have evaded harassment themselves know about the widespread practice, with 65 percent of those polled reporting that they know someone personally who has been victim to bullying, threats, or other forms of harassment. "None of this makes me exceptional," freelance writer Amanda Hess wrote after telling a personal story about online harassment in Pacific Standard. "It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection."

Those surveyed in the poll reveal that harassment has significant effects on the well-being of those receiving it, with 29 percent scared for their life and 20 percent scared to leave their house. According to Ms. magazine, harassment may also push writers to tone down their voices or stop writing altogether. "Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old," May confessed in her blog.

"Some people may think the Internet is a place where they can threaten people without consequences, but online harassment has horrifying real-life effects. About 30% of people who are harassed online say that they fear for their lives," said Allyson Kapin, co-founder partner of Rad Campaign. "These poll results show the need for effective responses to the problem at all levels."

The full data set from the poll is available online at

6/3/2014 - Medicare Ban on Transition-Related Transgender Health Coverage Lifted

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board ruled on Friday that transgender people can no longer be automatically denied Medicare coverage for surgery as part of their transition-related health care.

The board ruled that the 33-year old blanket ban on coverage is unreasonable and based on biased standards. When the ban was instated in 1981, surgery was thought of as an "experimental" risk, but now it is considered safe and often medically necessary. Transgender people will now be eligible to receive coverage for surgery - which can include genital reconstruction, breast implants, mastectomies, vocal cord modification, and other procedures - or at least receive an individualized review of their circumstances instead of having their requests automatically denied. Because private health insurance companies and state Medicaid programs usually follow the federal government's policies regarding coverage, advocates hope they will follow suit and expand their options.

The decision was made in response to an appeal by ACLU, GLAD, and NCLR on behalf of Denee Mallon, a 74-year-old transgender woman and veteran who was denied coverage for genital reconstruction surgery. "This decision means so much to me and to many other transgender people," Mellon said in a statement. "I am relieved to know that my doctor and I can now address my medical needs, just as other patients and doctors do."

The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU),Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and National Center for Lesbian Rights in a joint statement called the decision "consistent with the consensus of the medical and scientific community that access to gender transition-related care is medically necessary for many people with gender dysphoria."

6/3/2014 - Canada Pledges $3.5 Billion for Maternal Health Programs Worldwide

At a three-day international maternal health summit in Toronto last week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, announced that Canada has pledged $3.5 billion for programs aimed at improving maternal and newborn health in developing countries.

"There is no better investment in the world's future prosperity than women's and children's health," said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the summit.

The funds will add on to previously committed funds for the Millenium Development Goals - goals and strategies agreed to by all the world's countries and leading development institutions to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality, among other issues, by a target date of 2015. Canada's funds will be allocated for between 2015 and 2020.

99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions. Unfortunately, Canada's pledge excludes abortion and birth control from its funding.

"Women have to have better control of their reproductive rights; we know that when women are healthy and educated, they contribute more to society," said NDP MP Helene Laverdiere in protest of the exclusion.

6/2/2014 - Obama Makes His Mark on Federal Appeals Courts

The make-up of the thirteen US federal appeals courts experienced a marked change under the Obama Administration. Once dominated by a majority of Republican-appointed judges, the US Courts of Appeals now have a majority of Democratic appointees.

President Obama's 49 judicial appointments have led to a significant change in the composition of the federal appeals courts. After the presidency of George W. Bush, 10 of the 13 US Courts of Appeal had a majority of Republican judicial appointees, two were evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees, and only one had a majority of Democratic appointees. Research conducted by the Alliance for Justice now shows that, as of May 23, nine of the 13 US Courts of Appeal have a majority of Democratic judicial appointees, and four have a majority of Republican appointees.

The thirteen US Courts of Appeals hear appeals from the federal district courts as well as appeals of federal administrative agency decisions. These federal appeals courts decide about 60,000 cases each year, ranging from discrimination and civil rights claims, criminal cases, environmental challenges, and others. These decisions are usually the final judgment in a case, as the US Supreme Court hears less than 100 cases per year, making the US Courts of Appeal a critical component of the US judicial system. In addition, federal judges serve on the bench for life unless they resign or are removed through impeachment, so the selection of federal judges can impact the composition of the courts for decades.

Currently, there are 10 vacancies on the US Courts of Appeals. One is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, and three nominees are pending consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve each nomination before the full Senate votes to confirm a nominee. The Senate voted in November to change its procedural rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on presidential nominees to the executive branch and the federal bench, with the exception of nominees to the US Supreme Court. The rule change prevents one party from blocking these nominations from coming to a full vote on the Senate floor.

6/2/2014 - African Union Launches First Campaign to End Child Marriage

The African Union launched its first campaign to curb child marriage in Africa last week, in cooperation with African governments, UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development, and several civil society organizations.

"What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying 'No to Child Marriage,'" said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. "This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married."

The campaign will run for an initial two-year period, with national launches in anticipated in at least 10 countries. The campaign will focus on policy action, raising awareness, and implementing legal frameworks that protect children. Some countries already have additional strategies in mind. Zambia is involving traditional chiefs to change the cultural norms around child marriage.

As many as 17 million girls across the continent, or 1 in 3, are married before age 18, often against their will. Child marriage rates are the highest in Niger (75%) and Chad (68%). Girls who are married as children face sexual violence and abuse, are more likely to suffer from maternal death and injury due to early pregnancies or other complications, and are less likely to get an education.

6/2/2014 - Obama Proclaims June 2014 LGBT Pride Month

President Obama proclaimed June 2014 to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

"During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains," Obama said in the proclamation.

"Here at home, we have strengthened laws against violence toward LGBT Americans, taken action to prevent bullying and harassment, and prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals. Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act." The act (ENDA) passed the Senate in November, but it has not moved forward since.

Obama added that his administration will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities in the LGBT community, with the help of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS strategy. He also said that his commitment to equality for LGBT people extends around the world, where people face arrest, violence, and execution for who they are.

"I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people," he said in ending the proclamation.

TAKE ACTION: Protest Brunei's Kill-A-Gay and Flog-A-Woman Penal Code!

5/30/2014 - Complaint Filed Against Insurers for Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDS

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and The AIDS Institute filed a complaint yesterday with the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCR) alleging that four Florida insurers are discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS. The complaint claims that the insurers are creating prescription drug policies that discourage people with HIV/AIDS from using their plans, which violates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and federal civil rights laws.

"The ACA provides robust consumer protections, including putting an end to discriminatory practices by health insurers," said Wayne Turner, NHeLP staff attorney, in a statement yesterday. "But these insurance plans are running afoul of that by placing all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest tiers with exorbitant co-insurance and co-pays, and instituting other barriers to obtaining commonly prescribed HIV/AIDS medications. The companies are going out of their way to discourage people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in their plans--a blatantly illegal practice."

The four insurers noted in the complaint - CoventryOne, Cigna, Humana and Preferred Medical - are alleged to have placed all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest drug tiers and to require expensive co-insurance and co-pays, high up-front costs, and prior authorization. For example, Humana requires that members spend a $1,5000 deductible and then contribute 50 percent towards the cost of their HIV/AIDS medication - which can cost over $2,000 for a one-month supply.

The groups are calling on the HHS OCR to investigate the plans and require them to take corrective actions. They want to send a strong message to other plans to prevent this tactic from spreading, which "would make insurance coverage impossible for people with HIV/AIDS, and jeopardize their health and well-being," continued Turner.

5/30/2014 - Oklahoma Governor Signs Admitting Privileges Bill

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill on Wednesday that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. HB 1848 also requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards around equipment and supplies that may be necessary if a medical emergency occurs.

Admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; hospitals may refuse to provide privileges because of religious affiliation or fear of anti-choice protesters and violence; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion.

They are "a veiled attempt to really close down clinics in the name of women's health," said Tamya Cox, staff attorney of lobbysit for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

These laws and the resulting closures of clinics leave many women without access to vital abortion services. Some already have to drive hundreds of miles or across state lines to get to the nearest clinic, but if multiple states continue to pass these laws, even those limited options may disappear. "We are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement after Louisiana's legislature passed their admitting privileges law last week.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. Only one of Oklahoma's three clinics already has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, so the other two may be forced to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.

5/29/2014 - Pakistani Woman Stoned to Death for Marrying A Man of Her Own Choosing

A 25-year-old Pakistani woman was brutally and publicly murdered by her family this week for marrying the man she loved.

Farzana Parveen married a man several months ago following a years-long engagement. She was three months pregnant. Her family did not approve of the marriage because they did not arrange it, and the husband believes they were trying to get money from him. After the couple married, Parveen's family threatened them and filed an abduction case against the husband. On the couple's way to the courthouse Tuesday to contest the abduction claim, 20 of Parveen's extended family members waited outside for them and started beating them with batons and bricks from a nearby construction site until she died.

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," the father was quoted saying to a police investigator. He is currently under arrest and facing murder charges.

"HRCP is appalled by the manner of Farzana Parveen's death just a few yards from the Lahore High Court on Tuesday," said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement. "Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognises for all adult citizens but one where the state has failed to prevent abuse and violence."

HRCP reports that almost 900 women were murdered in 2013 in so-called honor killings, and many perpetrators who commit violence against women are acquitted or given light sentences due to poor police work and prosecutions and the unwillingness of the state to confront the issue.

5/28/2014 - New Hampshire Governor to Sign 25-Foot Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted last week to create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortion services.

SB 319 was filed in response to over 60 complaints by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester since the start of 2013. The complaints detailed verbal harassment, intimidation, and passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. It had largely bipartisan support when it was introduced.

"Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation," said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, regarding some Republican support of the bill.

The bill had already passed the Senate in February, but the House made a few changes before passage and then sent it to the Senate for another vote. It will now go to the governor's desk, where Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley on whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot clinic safety buffer zone is constitutional. The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks. In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature, with the support of local law enforcement, strengthened its law to create a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers.

"We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence," commented Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "These laws are instrumental in protecting patients, doctors, and healthcare workers from harassment and intimidation and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services."

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law at issue in McCullen. The law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next month.

5/27/2014 - Deadly Shooting at UCSB Motivated by Misogyny

A 22-year-old man went on a shooting and stabbing rampage on Friday night near the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus in Isla Vista, killing six students and injuring 13 more. The confirmed suspect claimed it was his "day of retribution" for a lifetime of rejection by women.

The suspect frequently posted misogynistic and racist comments on "Men's Rights Activist" online forums and posted several videos online detailing his hatred of women and humanity in general and his feelings of alienation. In a YouTube video posted before the attack, the suspect details his plan to "punish" women through a killing spree. He had also written a 140-page manifesto about his life and his thoughts on women, calling women "a plague" and claiming they should be kept in concentration camps.

The suspect's mother and therapist had previously become concerned by the suspect's increasingly violent online posts and videos. According to a lawyer for the family, the therapist reported concerns to a local mental health service which referred the report to police. Officers conducted a welfare visit a month before the attack, visiting the suspect in his home, but did not see the need to investigate further.

The course of events Friday night left nine crime scenes. He first stabbed to death his three roommates in his apartment, then tried to enter the Alpha Phi sorority house on the UCSB campus. The sorority members did not open the door when he repeatedly knocked. He then drove around Isla Vista, shot a man in a deli, then opened fire on pedestrians, killing two women. His reckless driving injured more as he attempted to flee from police. Eventually, he got in a shoot-out with the police before killing himself with a gunshot wound to the head.

The attack triggered a massive Twitter conversation about the harassment and abuse women face on a daily basis, with 1.2 million people tweeting with the hashtag #YesAllWomen as of Sunday evening. "Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen" tweeted Emily Hughes. "Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down. #yesallwomen" tweeted Kate Tuttle.

One in four women will experience rape in their lifetime, one in four women also experience domestic violence, and almost all have experienced some form of street harassment. Women are particularly threatened by gun violence. Women dealing with domestic violence are more than five times more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the home, and many mass shooters start off their attacks by murdering an intimate partner.

5/27/2014 - Nigerian Army Has Located Girls Abducted by Boko Haram

The Nigerian army announced yesterday that it has determined the location of the 200 girls abducted by extremist group Boko Haram more than one month ago, noting that they are still in the country. They have ruled out the use of force to rescue them and turned down a deal to exchange prisoners who are members of Boko Haram for the girls' release, so it is unclear what their next step will be.

"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," said Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh. "But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back."

After the government faced an outcry from Nigerians and people around the world for acting too slowly to find them, several international forces got involved. The US has provided air surveillance, and President Obama sent military personnel to Chad last week to help find the girls.

Since the kidnapping in April, Boko Haram has killed hundreds of civilians. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group last week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.

5/23/2014 - Illinois Senate Passes Resolution to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment

With a 39-11 vote, the Illinois Senate voted - by more than the necessary three-fifths margin of elected senators, as required by state law - to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If it moves forward in the state House, Illinois will become the 36th state to ratify the ERA.

"Ratification is not just a hugely important symbolic step but a move to establish women's rights as a bedrock principle in the Constitution," said Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, who has previously supported proposals for the state to adopt the amendment. "From equal pay to equal access to health care, freedom from gender-based discrimination should be the law of the land and not subject to political whims. Equal rights are not a fad; they're in the fabric of our nation, and the ERA confirms that."

"It's exciting to see that the Illinois Senate has voted to ratify the ERA," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who led a massive national ERA campaign as President of the National Organization for Women. "The ERA has strong support in Illinois, and women deserve action."

"The ERA is on the move again. In February, the Virginia Senate voted to ratify, and now the Illinois Senate," continued Smeal. "The overwhelming support of voters for the ERA and the gender gap in voting is moving the ERA forward."

Authored by suffragist and National Women's Party leader Alice Paul, the Equal Rights Amendment directs, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" and gives Congress the power to enforce the Amendment through appropriate legislation.

Congress first approved the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification in 1972. Within five years, 35 states had ratified the ERA, but corporate interests and right-wing politicians have blocked the movement from obtaining the three additional states necessary for the ERA to become part of the US Constitution. States that have not ratified the ERA include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

5/23/2014 - Obama Sends US Military Personnel to Help Find Abducted Nigerian Girls

The White House announced this week that it has deployed 80 US military personnel to Chad to help find the over 200 Nigerian girls abducted in April by militant group Boko Haram.

"These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area," he wrote in a letter to the House and Senate leaders. "The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required."

They will join the US military and law enforcement officials and international forces already there.

It has been over a month since the girls were abducted, and the search for them has come up empty. Boko Haram released a video last week showing some of the girls praying and offering to exchange them for imprisoned members of the group, but there have not been many other leads. The group, which has a long history of terrorism in Nigeria, appears to be escalating its violent attacks. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group this week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.

5/22/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill That Threatens to Close Clinics

The Louisiana House voted 88-5 yesterday to pass an omnibus anti-abortion bill that could force three or four of the state's five abortion clinics to close. Governor Bobby Jindal has already indicated that he will sign it into law.

HB 388 will require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. These admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; religiously affiliated or other hospitals may refuse to provide privileges; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion. Closing abortion clinics, however, will push many women to attempt unsafe abortions.

"It's clear the intent of this legislation is to shut down health centers, which would have devastating consequences for women across Louisiana," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement yesterday.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas - on which HB 388 is partly based - has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close, and Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws. "With similar restrictions passed in neighboring states over the objection of leading medical experts, we are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," Richards added.

The bill will also implement a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions. Once signed, it will go into effect on September 1.

5/21/2014 - Mississippi Personhood Initiative Fails

A campaign to put a "personhood" initiative on Mississippi's November 2015 ballot failed last week after the initiative's organizers - Personhood Mississippi - did not turn in petitions with the required number of signatures on time.

The measure, known as Initiative 41, proposed to amend the Mississippi state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" beginning at conception. If passed, Initiative 41 would have banned emergency contraception, birth control pills, and IUDs, as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It would also have banned some cancer treatments, select fertility treatments, and would have allowed the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage.

Initiative 41 was nearly identical to a 2011 measure, also proposed by Personhood Mississippi, known as Initiative 26. A coalition of groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union, together with student groups, and scores of volunteers worked to defeat that measure at the polls, which Mississippi voters rejected with 58% of the vote.

"When organizers filed Initiative 41, they claimed Mississippi voters were 'confused' about Initiative 26, and that they only needed a few linguistic tweaks to ensure victory. However, the slightly-reworded language of Initiative 41 carried the same potential unintended consequences for infertility treatment, contraception, and life-threatening pregnancy complications," wrote Parents Against Personhood in a statement. "We are relieved that personhood will not appear on the 2015 ballot, and we hope that organizers will respect the opinions that Mississippians have now expressed twice over and decline to pursue future personhood efforts."

Initiative 41 was proposed in the spring of last year. Anti-choice organizers had one year to collect signatures from at least 107,216 registered voters.

Although personhood will not be on the ballot in Mississippi, voters in Colorado and North Dakota will vote on personhood measures in their states this November, and voters in Tennessee will vote on whether to amend the Tennessee state constitution to declare that there is no right to an abortion in the state.

Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 State Ballot Measures to Watch fact sheet to learn more.

5/20/2014 - Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal court yesterday struck down Oregon's state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, finding that the ban violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Minutes later, officials in Oregon began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who had been eagerly awaiting the decision, some having camped out in front of a Portland county building to be among the first to wed.

"I am so thrilled to have the freedom to marry the love of my life. Marriage strengthens families like mine, and for me, it's as simple as treating others as one would hope to be treated," said Paul Rummell, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "No one should be told it is illegal to marry the person they love."

Oregon voters in 2004 approved a ballot initiative - known as Measure 36 - to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In his opinion, Judge Michael J. McShane acknowledged that political process, but noted that the political process could not be used to limit fundamental rights. "At the core of the Equal Protection Clause . . . there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds," Judge McShane wrote, "that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities."

The case is unlikely to be appealed. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum - like attorneys general in six other states - refused to defend the marriage ban during the litigation, arguing that it was unconstitutional, and Oregon Governor John Zitzhaber praised the court's decision to "overturn institutional discrimination in Oregon's constitution." The governor continued, "No longer will Oregonians tolerate discrimination against the gay, lesbian, and transgender community."

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday denied a request from the National Organization for Marriage(NOM) for an emergency stay of Judge McShane's decision. The Court, however, will allow NOM to submit a brief on why it should be allowed to intervene in the case. Judge McShane had previously denied such a request from the group.

The national trend toward marriage equality is strong. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and courts in 11 states have recently overturned marriage equality bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages, although many of these decisions are pending review.

"I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure," wrote Judge McShane in his opinion. "With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community."

5/19/2014 - Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson Fired

The first woman to lead the New York Times as Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, was abruptly fired from her position last Wednesday. Although the New York Times officially denies the dismissal has to do with her gender or compensation, many feminist sources speculate that her dismissal had to do with her request for compensation equal to her male predecessors and point out that her abrupt firing, without any acknowledgment of her 17 years of service, indicates gross sexism.

"Several weeks ago, I'm told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs," writes Ken Auletta in the New Yorker. "'She confronted the top brass,' one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management's narrative that she was 'pushy,' a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect."

Abramson also referred to sexism in the newspaper industry during her commencement speech at Wake Forest University. She referenced her heroes who faced discrimination. "Nan Robinson, a groundbreaking reporter of the New York Times, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story. They both faced discrimination in a much tougher more male dominated newspaper industry, and they went on to win Pulitzer prizes," she said.

Abramson had worked for the New York Times for 17 years and took over the top position in September 2011. Her work as Executive Editor is viewed as largely successful. She led the paper to increase its online engagement and brought more women into leadership roles.

However, she has often been characterized as "pushy" and "mercurial" - terms considered to be gendered because a man in her position would likely not be described in such a way. She is also said to have clashed with the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other senior management. Her dismissal came as a surprise to staff at the paper, and she was not given a proper send-off, even though her predecessor, Howell Raines, who was believed to be let go because of a scandal, received a much more respectful dismissal.

Some outlets are using this news to call for a renewed interest in legislation around pay discrimination and efforts to break the glass ceiling. 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. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help these issues, but Senate Republicans filibustered it last month.

Abramson will be replaced by Dean Baquet, previously the managing editor of the paper. He will be the first African-American to lead the paper.

5/16/2014 - ACLU Calls for Investigation of Single-Sex Program in Florida Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint this week with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida. The complaint claims that the district's single-sex classrooms violate Title IX - the federal amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in education - and calls for a federal investigation of the district.

The Hillsborough County Public School district is the second largest school district in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. It has operated sex-segregated classes in 16 coeducational schools and two completely single-sex middle schools since 2009, justifying the sex-segregation with pseudoscience stereotypes about how girls and boys learn differently and paying as much as $100,000 to outside consultants to promote the stereotypes.

"The Hillsborough School District has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a hidden curriculum promoting the theory that boys and girls are so fundamentally different that they need to be taught using different teaching methods," said Galen Sherwin, Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "The truth is that every student learns differently, and our public schools should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children's educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl."

Although major meta-analyses of quality research have found no benefit to single-sex classrooms and that sex stereotyping is harmful in various ways, teachers in the Hillsborough School District were trained in teaching methods based on stereotypes. For example, the district encouraged teachers in boys' classes to be louder and have higher expectations, while teachers in girls' classrooms were expected to be calmer and less critical. In one instance, a boys class was allowed to play with electronics if they behaved well, while girls were given dabs of perfume for completing a task correctly.

A bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last week will spread this teaching method throughout the state by requiring training and providing funding for teachers of "gender specific" classrooms throughout Florida. HB 313 will go into effect on July 1.

Between 2007 and 2010, more than 1,000 public K-12 schools in the US reported having single-sex academic classes. Author Susan McGee Bailey, former head of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, writes in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine that sex segregation in public schools, often based on pseudoscience, creates inequities in education and increases discrimination and sex stereotyping. "The U.S. has moved far beyond the days when girls were excluded from many educational options," writes Bailey. "Rolling back the progress of the past century on the mistaken notion that sex segregation will provide better learning opportunities for girls and boys in this country is a worn-out fallacy that has no place in the 21st century."

The ACLU filed a similar complaint against a middle school in Wisconsin in January.

Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's Education Equality Toolkit to learn more about sex segregation in schools.

5/15/2014 - Missouri Legislature Passes 72-Hour Waiting Period Bill

The Missouri House voted last night, in the middle of an ongoing 3-day protest on the steps of the state capitol, to approve a measure that will triple Missouri's waiting period for an abortion procedure from 24 hours to 72 hours. The Missouri Senate had already voted on Tuesday 22-9 to pass the waiting period bill.

If signed into law, women seeking an abortion will have to wait three days between an initial appointment with the physician who will perform the procedure and the actual procedure. The long waiting period will significantly increase the financial and transportation burdens on women seeking abortions, especially since there is only one clinic in the entire state that provides abortions. There is also no exception to the waiting period for victims of rape or incest.

"Those of us who oppose this bill believe it's designed to demean and shame a woman in an effort to change her mind and places unnecessary hurdles on her decision to end a pregnancy," said Missouri Representative Judy Morgan before the House voted on the legislation yesterday.

It is unclear whether Governor Jay Nixon plans to sign or veto the bill, but if he signs the measure into law, Missouri will join South Dakota and Utah as the states with the longest waiting period.

The Missouri state legislature has considered 29 other anti-abortion proposals during this session alone.