Posts Tagged ‘WOMEN’S RIGHTS’

FEATURED ORGANIZATION: CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S LAW CENTER

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

 


THE 100TH  ANNIVERSARY OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

MARCH 8, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

A NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED POLICY CENTER

PURSUING JUSTICE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS

 

 

The mission of the CWLC is to promote and advance the rights of women and girls.  “We do this through the courts, through legislative channels and policy analysis.  Our goal is to create systemic change."

 

There is a French expression that says, "plus ca change, plus ca le meme chose": the more things change, the more things stay the same.  If ever there were a swath of issues for which this adage rings true, they are those which inspire the debates on women’s civil rights and reproductive justice.  While there is no question that women’s rights have come a long way since the birth of the modern Women’s Movement the 60’s, one only needs to read the daily headlines from the last two months to realize that significant issues of women’s justice and choice in the United States remain highly explosive and deeply polarizing. 

For the last twenty two years, the California Women’s Law Center has stood guard to protect and guide women and girls through the minefields of these controversies and, in collaboration with partners and coalitions, has changed the face of the law in the state of California. 

 

THE BACKDROP OF THE CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S LAW CENTER

The decade leading up to the birth of the CWLC in 1989 witnessed major breakthroughs for women:  Sandra Day O’Connor, Geraldine Ferraro, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Sally Ride each made history in their respective professions.  Across the country, greater numbers of women than ever before were acquiring college and graduate degrees, and were becoming a stable and economically independent part of the work force.   The National Organization for Women (NOW) was very much a prominent voice, and had worked successfully to block anti-abortion legislation. 

However, for all the forward movement in women’s equality, there was a dark underside to these triumphs:  women faced multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace, and there were still millions of women for whom the momentum of the movement could not be realized, women who were, for all intent and purpose, invisible.  The latter, because of childcare or other life circumstances, lacked access to education or all but menial jobs, and were forced to remain remained dependent within a system that perpetuated a culture of poverty and/or domestic abuse.

In general, an array of women’s issues that defined the times included:  

  •  Gender discrimination:  Rampant gender discrimination dominated the workplace, which took form as barriers to equal wages and jobs, the ability to obtain promotions, and as varying degrees of sexual harassment.   
  •  Lack of child care for working mothers: Adequate child care facilities were difficult to find, at best, which relegated low income mothers to dependence on welfare resources or to relationships which were often abusive. 
  • Date Rape: The concept of “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” was gaining national attention, particularly on college campuses, but still raised questions in the media and in law enforcement agencies as to whether the women bringing the complaints had somehow “invited” the assaults.  
  • Domestic Abuse: Victims of domestic abuse suffered silently, afraid and ashamed to bring criminal charges in a world which viewed their problems as a “private matter”.  This tide began to shift in 1984, with the release of The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcet, which helped to bring the realities of domestic abuse into the national consciousness.
  • Choice: The 1973 passage of Roe v. Wade  had technically made back alley abortions a thing of the past for large numbers of women.  However, in the real world, the of subject of “choice”,  i.e., a women’s right to terminate her pregnancy, was as polarizing and inflammatory as it is today.  Clinics and health care providers became the targets of harassment, and death threats by extremist right to life groups.  The 1976, passage of the Hyde Amendment  had effectively nullified the reality of Roe v. Wade for millions of low income women, as it placed a chokehold on Medicaid funded abortions for all but a limited of beneficiaries. 

 

Against this backdrop, Abby Leibman, Jenifer McKenna, and Sheila Kuehl conceived the idea of the California Women’s Law Center.  (see video clip above)  All three were frustrated by the absence of a one stop advocacy resource in southern California that was specific to the complex and interconnecting issues described above, which kept women economically dependent and too often unable to extricate from the grip of abusive relationships.

The three colleagues brought a strong combination of litigation and policy experience in class action and family law, gender discrimination, organizational development and strategic planning: Leibman would become the Center’s first Executive Director; McKenna was Executive Director of the Los Angeles Women’s Bar Association, and Kuehl, a Harvard educated attorney and law professor, was soon to be elected to the Calfornia State Senate.  

Today, the CWLC describes itself as “a unique advocate in California, working in collaboration with others to protect, secure and advance the comprehensive legal rights of women and girls”.  It has established a network of support and collaboration that extends from the halls of city and state government, school boards and law enforcement agencies to law schools, bar associations and numerous collations of like minded organizations.  In its remarkable twenty two year history, the Center’s policy reach has extended to welfare reform, gender discrimination, women’s health, child care and custody issues, domestic abuse, and intimate femicide (murder by a spouse or domestic partner).

 

THE CURRENT WORK OF THE CWLC

The mission of the CWLC says Executive Director, Katie Buckland, is to promote and advance the rights of women and girls.  “We do this through the courts, through legislative channels and policy analysis.  Our goal is to create systemic change.  We work as part of a coalition, and we are an active presence in Sacramento.”

Buckland continues, “CWLC is not a direct service provider, in that we don’t take cases on behalf of individual clients who are looking for help with divorce, child custody or domestic abuse problems, for example.   Rather we provide support services and policy research, for the direct providers who are overwhelmed all the time.  When the occasional individual contacts CWLC for help, they are generally referred to one of the many community organizations with which we are associated, that provide individual client services.  The Harriet Buhai Law Center for example, is one of the largest providers of family law and domestic violence assistance in Los Angeles.”

 Buckland is herself, a powerhouse, uniquely suited to lead the CWLC into a new phase of growth.  With a leadership background in Democratic politics and as a former Los Angeles City special prosecutor hired by then, LA City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, to oversee the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, Buckland brings the depth, the toughness, the tenacity, as well as the knowledge and love for the organization to coordinate to the enormous range of responsibilities necessary to keep the Center moving forward. 

 

Action Now+Network recently spoke with Katie Buckland about the work of the Center and her vision for its future within the context of today’s social climate. 

 

YOU HAVE AN EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND IN DEMOCRATIC POLITICS, AND MOST RECENTLY, YOU WERE A PROSECUTOR OVERSEEING THE SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS INITIATIVE FOR THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES.  WHAT LED YOU TO THE CWLC?

  “I had prosecuted domestic violence cases for years, and I was familiar with and active with CWLC.  I was a Board member of CWLC before I went to work for the City.  At that point, I gave up my Board seat.    When the Executive Director’s position became available, the Board approached me and asked me whether I was interested.  I was working for the City of LA, and loved my work, so I declined.  But the minute I said no, that little voice in the back of my head began to nag at me — maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss this opportunity.    For six months, that voice of doubt stayed with me.  Ultimately, when the offer was made a second time, I couldn’t refuse.” 

 

HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE YOUR OWN WORK WITH THE ORGANIZATION? 

“I coordinate all the pieces – 300 different things in five minute intervals!  Seriously, I have to oversee the big picture and many times, I miss delving into a project.  However, as part of our budget cuts, I will be more hands on.  Fortunately, I haven’t had to lay anyone off and some of the work is done by the Public Interest Fellowship for law graduates.  Part of our mission is to train other lawyers and this is a program we offer.   Most of our interns are women – that’s just the way it works out – though we encourage men as well.  We are an equal opportunity employer, but in truth, we don’t get very many men who apply.  Our Fellows have great energy and commitment – they bring huge energy to the law center, particularly over the summer.”

 

 

 

THE MAJOR POLICY AREAS FOR CWLC ARE 1) GENDER DISCRIMINATION,  2) VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN,  3) REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE  AND 4) WOMEN’S HEALTH.   THESE ARE VERY BROAD AND POTENTIALLY EMOTIONAL (FOR THE PUBLIC) CATEGORIES.  CAN YOU DESCRIBE BRIEFLY THE WORK OF CWLC IN EACH AREA? 

·         Gender Discrimination

 “Our focus here is on litigation.  There are strong laws against gender discrimination which can be enforced because lawyers can (and do) bring lawsuits.  We are interested in any case that advances the law. 

 The typical lawsuit would be brought against a school for noncompliance with Title IX (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits gender discrimination in the schools – Ed. )    

 

o   Gender Discrimination in School Sports

 

“Girls’ participation in sports is a major area of investigation.  It has been documented that girls who participate in sports have lower rates of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, lower rates of eating disorders and high rates of college admission.

 

 CWLC first got involved in the issues of girl’s participation in sports when we partnered with the ACLU in a case called Baca v. City of Los Angeles.  In that case, the West Valley Girls Softball League had been denied equal and adequate access to playing fields.  The case settled, and in response to the litigation the City adopted the “Raise the Bar” Program to ensure that all girls in the city can fully participate in and enjoy a breadth of sports programs and activities. Shortly thereafter, CWLC attorneys testified before Congress on proposed revisions to Title IX, and CWLC got called into a case involving discriminatory scheduling practices of a youth soccer league.  Our first Title IX case involved a the City of Alhambra – a girl who had transferred schools because she was sexually assaulted was told she was no longer eligible to play softball because she had transferred.  CWLC intervened and not only was she able to play in high school, but she went on to play college ball.  Later, the coach from that same high school contacted us when the boys fields were being renovated but the girl’s field had been entirely overlooked. We’re currently working on another case, Ollier v. Sweetwater School District, in which a school not only refused to give girls equal sports facilities to those of boys, but actually retaliated against coaches who advocated for improving the girls’ program.  

 

 When a girl sees that her school has a first-rate baseball field, but that her softball field has no seating, no grass, no fencing and holes in the ground, that sends a pretty strong message that the school does not value her as much as it does a boy who plays baseball.  At such an impressionable age, that message can be extremely damaging to girls.  Disparities like these are not just unfair, they often also violate federal and state law.”

 

 

 

 

 

EDITOR’ NOTE:  CWLC  has launched JustPlayNow.org to provide  information and tools to students, parents and coaches to ensure that their high school is providing fair athletic opportunities to girls.

 

o   Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

 Gender discrimination can occur anywhere, and has many forms.  It’s often difficult for women to call out their employers on discrimination because there’s a real chance that they may face retaliation.  CWLC was recently contacted by a woman who applied to coach a high school boys’ team, and although she was qualified for the position, the school told her that they didn’t want a woman telling the boys what to do.  Instead, the school hired a less qualified man to do the job. When she complained, she was fired from her position as coach of a girls’ team at the same school. CWLC worked with this woman to help her find counsel and proceed with a gender discrimination claim against the school.

 Discrimination is not always as blatant as a supervisor telling a woman she can’t have the same opportunities as her male co-workers.  It’s frequently less obvious.  For example, the White House just released a study showing that women today still earn only 75 percent of what their male co-workers earn.  This is also a form of discrimination, and is one of the reasons there are more poor women than poor men.  CWLC firmly believes that women and men should be paid equally for doing the same job, but sadly this isn’t the case today. 

 

·         Violence Against Women :  

“This is not so much an area of litigation, but we try to impact the laws through legislation.  We work through the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. We are working to change the evidence code in a way that is helpful to prosecutors.

 We are also working to bring awareness and education to the victims of domestic abuse.  Recently, we collaborated with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the USC Law School’s Post Conviction Justice Project to work on the California Habeas Project.  The Habeas Project seeks to free domestic violence survivors incarcerated for crimes related to their experiences of being abused.  To date, over thirty women have been freed because of the Habeas Project.”

 EDITOR’S NOTE:  In 2005, the CWLC published a pioneering initiative entitled Murder At Home, An Examination of Legal and Community Responses to Intimate Femicde.  From the Introduction: “The Project ….. examines how media language with regard to these cases shapes the public’s view and awareness of intimate partner murder, contributing to stereotypes that can keep women in danger or create unjusti´Čüed sympathy for batterers who kill their partners. The overarching goal of the Project is to advance policies that improve the way in which California’s criminal justice and community agencies.”

 

o   Teen Dating Violence

 


“The subject of Date Rape and sexual harassment (among teenagers), or a school that doesn’t take teen dating violence seriously is a big issue that falls under gender discrimination as well. 

 Teen dating violence covers a range of abusive behavior.  Essentially, teen dating violence is a pattern of  physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse used by one person in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over another, where one or both of the partners is a teenager.

 This is a very big problem. Schools have a legal duty to keep schools safe, and must respond to complaints of teen dating violence under state and federal law.  One third of school girls are either a victim of dating violence, or know someone who has been a victim. 

 Many schools don’t understand that it is their responsibility to train teachers and staff.  They need to work out clear contracts with the students. It is our position that it is the harasser – the girl or boy that is doing the harassing, that should be sent to an alternative school, not the victim.  The victim shouldn’t be re-victimized.  It is very important that the victim not lose out on the advantages of the traditional school system.”

 EDITORS NOTE:  CWLC has launched JustDateNow.org to provide teens and their parents more information on teen dating violence and how to prevent it.

 

·         Reproductive Justice: 

“In California, the parental notification issue  is on the ballot again.   This is a proposition that requires parental notification before minors can get abortions– and once again it is difficult to defeat.  There are many good reasons that pregnant teens may not want their parents notified about their pregnancy or abortion.  Many come from abusive homes, some are cases of incest.  The law provides judicial bypass – a girl can petition a judge to allow her to get an abortion without having to notifying her parents.  The problem is that most girls don’t have access to the legal system, or even to transportation.  In the event that it passes and becomes law, CWLC will help coordinate the process to help the girls through. 

 The court system is so overburdened.  The problem is that we can’t legislate good relationships between girls and their parents.”

 EDITOR’S NOTE: CWLC fully supports a woman’s “right to choose” and has launched a Reproductive Justice Project which engages in advocacy, community education and coalition building for the many women for whom barriers to reproductive justice exist, particularly low income and immigrant communities, women of color, and teenage girls. A full description of the program and advocacy work can be found at this link.

 

·         Women’s Health

 “CWLC wrote the law that women allows women to breast feed in public places.  We still get eight to ten complaints from women a month.  What do we do with the complaints?  We send a copy of the law to restaurants, ask that they do training with their employees and they generally agree.  If there is litigation, we try to get the woman compensated for her costs.  In one case a woman was harassed for breast feeding her baby in public – she was shoved with her baby into a police car!  She contacted CWLC and we helped her resolve this issue by informing the parties involved of her right to breastfeed in public.

 

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACED BY CWLC?

“Right now, it’s money!  There is a public perception that women’s equality has been achieved – that we’re done with that one!.  Well, not so much!  The Dukes v. Wal-Mart litigation, in which Equal Rights Advocates are lead counsel for the plaintiffs, is a case in point.  This is the biggest civil rights case in US history.  We’re talking about 1.6 million women who are claiming they didn’t receive equal pay or benefits. 

 This is only one of many cases of discrimination out there, and there is so much work that needs to be done.”

 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAD MORE MONEY?  WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE VISION FOR THE ORGANIZATION?

 “We would have a few more offices, one in San Diego and Sacramento.  As a statewide organization, we could function more efficiently (from satellite offices).  I’d hire a Communications Director and a Development Director, and more attorneys.

Also, because we have limited staff, we can’t easily address the full spectrum of issues.  I would definitely take on more rape policy research.  Right now, the definition of rape is a big factor (in reporting).  The FBI limits the definition to forcible vaginal penetration by the penis.  States have to accept the FBI definition, but that definition excludes other types of rape – rape by a foreign object or anal penetration, or rapes where there was no force because the victim was incapacitated.  Often, these rapes aren’t reported because they don’t fall under the standard (FBI) definition.  I’d take this on in a minute if I had the money.”

 

WHAT KIND OF BUDGET TO YOU HAVE COMPARED WITH WHAT YOU NEED?

 “There is never enough money.  Foundations have been a large source of support for us, but because of the economy, money has definitely slowed.  Part of the problem is that everyone has limited funds.  We focus on systemic change rather than on direct services – and because we work on broad issues that impact women across the board, rather than taking individual cases, we haven’t had human faces, individual faces, to show for our work.   One Foundation that has been a very generous supporter has made the decision to give money to shelters instead.  In some ways, it is hard to disagree (with that decision). 

 To compensate, we’ve cut our budget.  We’re working with part time consultants, rather than hiring some professional staff, like a Communications Director, for example.  We’re all carrying a heavy load.

We could be more fully staffed when the budget is stabilized at around $1.5 million.  Now, we’re at half of that.” 

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC PROGRAMS UPCOMING?

 “We do – A financial literacy project, for victims/survivors of domestic abuse.  The purpose of this project is to train shelter personnel how to teach the victims of domestic abuse about the basics of living independently – for example, how to lease a car, write a check and balance a checkbook, where to find legal help.  This is a great project that could have a real impact on the lives of these women.  It needs funding.”

 

WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE?  WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO REACH?

 “We try to reach people who are interested in our work: legal organizations, the state bar, qualified legal service providers.  We have one project now with the VA Administration – the purpose is to help understand the special needs of returning women veterans.  Our job is to support Qualified Legal service for these underserved communities.”

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE FUTURE OF WOMEN’S LEGAL RIGHTS VIS A VIS ABORTION IN CALIFORNIA?  GIVEN A VERY CONSERVATIVE HOUSE OFREPRESENTATIVES THAT HAS VOTED TO DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO CHANGE THE ZEITGEIST IN THIS COUNTRY?

 “It will take political pressure and leadership within the states to change the environment.  And really, this issue is not just of of  abortion, but about family planning generally.  The House is seeking to eliminate federal funding to family planning organizations, even if they don’t provide abortions. Removing this funding will have severe consequences on low-income women and girls who without the low-cost care these entities provide, will have no other means of accessing family planning and health care. 

 What needs to change is the perspective – legislators need to take a hard look at the ripple effect this particular spate of legislation will have on society.  Now more than ever, women need to be proactive – to stay alert to the legislation making its way through Congress and make their feelings known to their elected representatives.”

 

 WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WANT THE PUBLIC TO KNOW ABOUT CWLC? .

“That for real change to occur, it is important to have organizations that focus on systemic change, change that will shift the consciousness of the public on these issues.”


 

 

CONTACT:

Katie Buckland, Exec. Director

CALIFORNIA WOMEN'S LAW CENTER

5670 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 460

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone: 323.951.1041

Fax: 323.951.9870

www.info@cwlc.org

FACEBOOK PAGE


  

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The International Violence Against Women Act: What Are We Waiting For?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

October 12, 2009

Patricia T. Morris, Ph.D.

THE WIP


According to the United Nations at least one in three women and girls around the world is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime and some four million women and girls are trafficked annually into forced marriage, prostitution, or slavery. At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be alive are missing, mostly in Asia, as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide, or neglect. According to the World Health Organization, between 10-52% of women report having been assaulted by an intimate partner. The UNFPA estimates that 130 million girls and women around the world have undergone female genital cutting (FGC) and at least 2 million girls every year – nearly 6,000 per day – are at risk of undergoing FGC. Despite increased public awareness and two recent UN Security Council Resolutions (1820 and 1888), rape is increasingly used as a weapon of war in armed conflicts. The UN reports that during the Rwanda genocide between 200,000 and 500,000 women were raped, and in Bosnia during the conflict there between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.

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Female Genital Mutilation

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Female Genital Mutilation

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by health care providers.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.


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Calling for an End to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

 

Calling for an End to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

 

UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND

Female genital mutilation, also called female genital cutting, refers to the removal of all or part of the female genitalia. Despite global efforts to promote abandonment of the practice, FGM/C remains widespread in many developing countries, and has spread to other parts of the world, such as Europe and North America, where some immigrant families have now settled. But UNFPA and UNICEF, through a joint programme launched in 2007, are working to end to this persistent violation of the human rights of girls and women in one generation.

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The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project

A full library on Female Genital Cutting – articles, bibliography, films.  Great resource.

 

As you are reading this article, there are between eight and ten million women and girls in the Middle East and in Africa who are at risk of undergoing one form or another of genital cutting. In the United States it is estimated that about ten thousand girls are at risk of this practice. FGC in a variety of its forms is practiced in Middle Eastern countries (the two Yemens, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Southern Algeria). In Africa it is practiced in the majority of the continent including Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mozambique, and Sudan.

Even though FGC is practiced in mostly Islamic countries, it is not an Islamic practice. FGC is a cross-cultural and cross-religious ritual. In Africa and the Middle East it is performed by Muslims, Coptic Christians, members of various indigenous groups, Protestants, and Catholics, to name a few.

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NOW and Violence Against Women

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN

An index of articles published by NOW, the National Organization for Women

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