New Topic, Old Conversation: How the Zika virus discourse still ignores the rights of women

By Simone Harstead, Beloit College

The Zika virus, officially a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, has become a commonly known health problem.  However, it has been identified as having a “silver lining,” because it can further the fight for reproductive rights by helping women gain access to contraception and abortion, but the current discourse will not result in creating meaningful change.

The virus is fueling international controversy around the strict abortion bans and lack of reproductive rights that affect women’s lives every day.  Recently, the Pope suggested the usage of contraceptives in order to combat Zika while he was on a trip to Mexico, although it was not a very concrete voice of support because the Vatican later released a statement reiterating the ban on abortion.  Most Catholic leaders have insisted that the spread of the virus does not change their opinion on banning contraception and that instead, women should abstain from sex or use family planning techniques.

There is no denying that the Zika Virus has been the cause of numerous health and social problems for many people, such as pressure to not get pregnant until 2018 and the potential of microcephaly for newborns who contract the disease.   However, the virus has also generated necessary discussions about the lack of reproductive rights for women living in Latin America. These discussions are causing the religious leaders who continue to ban contraceptives to appear more antiquated, and women seeking out contraceptives and/or abortions are receiving more positive representation in the media.

It is extremely important that people see the benefits of making abortions and contraceptives accessible. However, the problematic thread in all of these conversations is that these initiatives are only generated when the health of a fetus or infant is in danger, rather than to address a woman’s needs.  A woman’s right to an abortion should not solely depend on the child’s chances of contracting a virus. It is her fundamental right to choose what she wants to do with her body.

Responding to questions about the Zika virus, the Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka expressed that “‘it’s important to rethink the extent to which the rights of women in those countries, reproductive rights of women need to be advanced because it could provide us with the solution, not only because of Zika but also because it’s the right thing to do.’”  She understands that the need for reproductive rights goes far beyond the Zika virus, and can be questioned on a much deeper level by addressing the oppression of women that is felt around the world with or without the virus.

There is extensive data available on maternal health and the importance of reproductive rights.  A 2012 study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated that 342,000 women worldwide died of maternal causes in 2008, and that 272,000 deaths were prevented through their access to contraceptives.  The study also shows that through satisfying the unmet needs for contraception 104,000 deaths could be prevented every year.  Illegal abortions are costly, too: 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion every year, and many more are left injured and/or disabled.

We need to change the discourse of the current conversation to address reproductive rights as a necessity beyond the reach of the Zika virus.  A woman has the right to contraceptives and abortion, not solely because there is a risk of her spreading a virus to her unborn child, but because she deserves autonomy over her body and choices for her future.

Imagine a future in which women are granted more reproductive rights in reaction to the Zika virus, causing the virus to lessen as a threat.  The religious and political elites will then be able to retract those gained rights because fetuses will no longer be at risk.  How can women be ensured reproductive rights for the future when those rights are based solely off of the virus?  There will be sustainable, long-term change if reproductive rights are granted on the basis of women’s rights, and not just a current health scare.

So what are the next steps?  It is still very important to take immediate action that will alleviate the potential damage that the Zika virus has done and will do.  The affected fetuses and children deserve any and all medical care, and women in Zika-affected areas should receive the appropriate contraceptives and abortions necessary.  However, in order to entrench the rights of women, it is imperative to line arguments for reproductive rights with cognizance of women’s health and autonomy to create sustainable change.

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Sexual assault on college campuses and institutional initiatives to combat it

By: Simone Harstead, student at Beloit College

Last fall, the Association of American Universities conducted a national survey of 150,000 students from 27 colleges and found that 27.2 percent of women on college campuses are victims of unwanted sexual contact. 13.5% of respondents experienced unwanted penetration, attempted penetration, or forced oral sex.

This has been a longstanding problem and one that has only recently been addressed, but few numbers reported have been as high as those in the study. At some schools, such as Yale and the University of Michigan, the rates of sexual assault against women are above 34%.

A main concern of the study is the 19% response rate, a percentage that is particularly low. This has led some critics to claim that only those who have experienced sexual assault would answer, creating a problem for advocates. Another criticism is that what some may deem as sexual assault, such as light touching, is not universally agreed upon, and that the numbers are inflating the actual problem because of it.

Even if underreporting is present, one cannot deny the legitimacy of this problem that has become entrenched in our culture. Regardless of the number of college or university sexual assaults, the issue is severe and should not be trivialized.

Recently, there has been an unprecedented national pushback on campus sexual assault and an increase in media coverage. Under the Obama Administration, the first ever White House task force on college sexual assault was created, and therefore indicated the severity of the problem. Campuses are beginning to address sexual assault more to reflect the needs of their students and communities.

I go to school in Wisconsin, where there are many new initiatives to combat the rampant sexual assault on campuses. UW-Madison, a state university nearby, was one of the schools that participated in the survey.  They reported that 27.6% of women undergraduates experienced sexual assault while attending the institution. A large and significant component of sexual assault on their campus is alcohol. Women reported that in 76.1% of penetration by force incidents, the offender had been drinking alcohol.

In the past few years, UW-Madison has taken steps to combat this issue. Since last fall, a prevention program required for undergraduates titled “Tonight” addresses sexual assault, consent, and dating violence. Most recently, the university police department started a campaign, “Don’t Be That Guy,” focusing on the fact that perpetrators of rape and sexual assault are most usually people that know the victim and not the stereotypical serial rapist in the bushes. The campaign also urges students who know perpetrators to speak out and be an ally instead of silently condoning sexual assault.

Many other areas and schools have been responding to the presence of sexual assault. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Take Back the Night event was organized by students after a fraternity was suspended for slipping date rape drugs into drinks at a party. At Marquette University, various fraternities have been warned after reports of sexual misconduct and were required to undergo training through student misconduct channels. Many universities have included freshman initiatives, like UW-Madison, that outline consent and the sexual activity policy on campus.

After researching other universities, I became interested in the institution I attend, Beloit College. National conversations about sexual assault at small colleges are rare, and with a student body of 1,400, Beloit will most likely not be involved in nationwide surveys. Because the statistics aren’t as shocking or the school as well-known, the media is not as interested; however, sexual assault still happens everywhere. At my school, the topic has become ubiquitous and clearly something that needs to be addressed.

I spoke with Christina Klawitter, Beloit’s Dean of Students, about sexual assault on the campus. We looked into the most recent crime reports of the school, and there have not been more than nine rapes in a year in at least six years. Although that can appear to be a relatively low number, Klawitter expressed that in reality, it may be an underreported number and that she would rather see the numbers reported go up in order to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault and then be able to address the issue more effectively.

The Beloit College administration and community has put significant amounts of time and energy into combating this issue. About 20% of Klawitter’s time is dedicated to it, and she has helped with many new projects. She is currently teaching a class that I am enrolled in, What is sex for?, with the intention of analyzing the idea of a healthy sexuality and how we navigate it in college. Additionally, the Title IX Coordinator and Task force have begun an initiative that offers a developmentally based curriculum that fosters students’ sense of sexual agency, examine the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault, increase bystander awareness, and create an environment that is more effective when faced with sexual assault.

Students have integrated their own ideas as well: Caitlin Paterson, an honors-term student at Beloit College, founded Men Against Sexual Violence, which creates an environment with less sexual assault through discourse, education, and events. Students organized Take Back the Night events, conversations on sexual assault, and held a lecture with Jackson Katz, a speaker who emphasizes the importance of  intervention by men as bystanders to assault. There are now many spheres within the college that not only publicize the fact that there is a problem on our campus, but also how to eradicate it.

The Association of American Universities’ reports are undoubtedly alarming, but they the potential generate meaningful responses in our communities. Through the initiatives at Beloit College, and other universities in Wisconsin and around the nation, there will hopefully be short-term and long-term change that helps make campuses, and communities, a safer place.

Women & Homelessness: Three Points to Ponder

By Tressie Kamp and Simone Harstead.

Shelter is a basic human right. Regardless of gender, age, or race, homelessness is a frightening reality for too many people. The impact of homelessness, however, likely varies depending upon an individual’s gender or other demographic factors.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network invited attorney and Dane County Supervisor Heidi Mayree Wegleitner to present on November 2, 2015, at our monthly “Women on Topic” Brown Bag. In addition to sharing information about the decline in federal funds to address homelessness, Heidi encouraged the group to think about the unique impact of homelessness on Wisconsin’s women and children. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to remind readers of the less obvious ways that homelessness may be more chronic or difficult for women.

1) Summer daycare:

The process of finding and paying for daycare is daunting to all parents. School and after-school resources provide some relief during nine months of the year, but summer is a different story.

For a variety of reasons, homeless rates are usually higher in the summer. Heidi reminded attendees that shelters, friends, and family feel more comfortable denying a warm bed to a homeless person or family when conditions outside are friendlier. Landlords might also be reluctant to kick a tenant out during the winter. Additionally, parents most likely don’t want to move their families during the other seasons so that their child has a completed academic year.

The combined lack of school care and higher probability of spending nights outside means that summer months may prove especially difficult for homeless parents. Therefore, if a mother is the primary caregiver for her children, little to no time is left to search and apply for jobs, seek more reliable shelter, or take other actions to lift a family out of homelessness.

Some resources exist for homeless families, like summer camps that are aimed specifically at homeless children. Places in Dane County like East Madison Community Center, Inc. and Cambridge Area Youth Center offer summer day camp programs that are free of cost and help support families that may not be able to care for their children full-time in the summer.[1]

2) Feminine health & hygiene:

Many of us take for granted our ability to make a quick stop in the nearest pharmacy or convenience store for feminine hygiene products or pain relievers. Imagine adding two layers of difficulty onto this scenario: first, access to these products is clearly more difficult without reliable financial means. Second, it may be a full-day process to figure out transportation and other logistics when a homeless woman needs to go to a particular location to get free or low-cost hygiene products.

There has been significant coverage on this in the media with many news organizations reporting on this previously ignored problem. A year’s worth of tampons for one woman is at least $70.[2] Menstruation is stigmatized and therefore women have not been able to receive subsidized tampons. Many organizations addressing this issue have recently emerged, like Girls Helping Girls. Period, The Period Project, and Tampon Tuesday.

Again, if it takes the whole day to meet basic health and hygiene needs a woman is left with inadequate time to take the actions she wants to in order to help her and/or her family out of homelessness.

3) Gender-specific shelters:

Heidi also reminded the attendees that not all shelters serve the entire homeless population. Having a gendered space usually creates positive and negative effects on a situation. Gendered shelters can be exclusive; many reject transgender people instead of letting them use their self-identified gender.[3]

Furthermore, male-only shelters avoid the safety issues, cost and other complexities that come with co-ed shelters or shelters that serve the more specific needs of children. Heidi discussed the fact that the number of shelter beds available to women, particularly in the Madison area, don’t correspond to the female percentage of the homeless population. Without safe shelter beds, women are exposed not only to the elements but also to the risk of sexual assault.

On the other hand, gendered shelter can be positive in situations where someone needs gender sensitive support. For example, homeless women are at a much greater risk of sexual assault, human trafficking, and violence.[4]

WWN thanks Heidi Mayree Wegleitner for her thought-provoking presentation and for her service as a Dane County Supervisor.

The “Women on Topic” Brown Bag is a monthly series offering members and the public a unique opportunity to hear the timely perspective of women leaders from a variety of fields as we promote the advancement of women and girls in Wisconsin. For upcoming topics and dates, visit www.wiwomensnetwork.org.

 

[1] https://www.unitedwaydanecounty.org/documents/AgencyProgramDirectory.pdf

[2] http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/helping-women-and-girls-period/?_r=0

[3] http://www.transequality.org/blog/win-hud-tells-homeless-shelters-to-respect-self-identified-gender

[4] http://lotushouse.org/understanding-the-need/special-needs-of-women/

Why We Celebrate National Family Caregivers Month

by Lacy Fox, WWN Policy Committee Member.

In November, we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month as a way to honor those who support their loved ones affected by illness, injury, or disability. Each day, family caregivers are challenged with not only meeting their own needs but also the needs of loved ones they care for with dignity and respect. Caregiving is a selfless act of love, compassion, and sacrifice.

Sixty-five percent of older adults with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. Care provided by friends and family often determine whether or not an individual is able to remain at home and out of costly institutions.

Women provide the majority of caregiving to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors. Approximately 66 percent of caregivers are female and, although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than male caregivers. The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman, caring for her 60 year old mother who does not live with her. She is also married and employed.

In Wisconsin, there are about 578,000 family caregivers who provide $7 billion worth of unpaid care. Each week, the average caregiver provides 18 hours of assistance to a loved one. Almost half of these caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks, such as complex medication management and injections. Strengthening our policies to support family caregivers would be a tremendous help to individuals across Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network is lucky to have the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, Inc. (GWAAR) as a member organization. GWAAR works tirelessly with aging units at the county and tribal level to enhance the quality of life of older adults and ensure they have the opportunity to thrive. aging units and Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) are an invaluable resource to caregivers in need of support services. GWAAR recognizes that, for caregivers, taking care of a loved one when they are unable to care for themselves can be difficult, especially if the caregiver doesn’t know where to turn for help.

As a partner with county and tribal aging programs, GWAAR provides up-to-date information, training, and technical support that helps provide information and assistance to caregivers and their families. One such resource is the National Family Caregiver Support program, which is located in every county and tribe in Wisconsin. This program helps caregivers overcome challenges in providing care to their loved one, such as transportation services and respite care. The National Family Caregiver Support program is available to family caregivers (including friends) who care for individuals over 60, or who have Alzheimer’s disease regardless of age.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Association of Area Agencies on Aging (W4A) has created a website, designed specifically for Wisconsin caregivers, to help caregivers navigate different supports and services available to them. The website can be visited at www.wisconsincaregiver.org. For more information about GWAAR, visit their website at www.gwaar.org.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network and its many member organizations advocate daily for policies at the state and federal level that will enhance the wellbeing of women and their families. Many caregivers rely on workplace flexibility and reasonable accommodations in order to provide care to their loved one. Therefore, the Wisconsin Women’s Network supports legislation aimed at providing this flexibility. One such policy is the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act, which is currently proposed legislation – circulating for co-sponsorship from other state legislators – that has not been formally introduced to the Legislature. Ensuring workers have access to paid leave provides our workers compassion and understanding and promotes Wisconsin’s shared family values. Wisconsinites should not have to choose between taking care of a family member and keeping their job. The Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act is designed to help families in a time of need and allows employees to take family leave to care for a family member.

Another bill that has been introduced this legislative session is the Care Act – Senate Bill 19, which will help to make sure caregivers know what their loved one needs after a hospital visit by providing guidance to those who will be caring for them, which will likely prevent return visits to the hospital. Under the bill, if a patient designates a caregiver, the hospital must notify the caregiver of a patients discharge, and prepare the caregiver for aftercare assistance. Simple changes can make a world of difference to ease the strains and challenges caregivers face when tending to the needs of loved ones who’ve fallen ill and this bill would be a step in the right direction to that end.

If you are a family caregiver, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Wisconsin has a strong group of organizations that work tirelessly to provide education, respite care, financial assistance and so much more to Wisconsin caregivers. There are also support groups available that give people a chance to talk and connect with other caregivers who may be dealing with some of the same issues. Remember to take time to care for yourself as it will help you to take better care of your loved one. If you need help finding assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the Wisconsin Women’s Network, we would be happy to connect you to services in the community to help you on your journey as a caregiver. Find our contact information, here.

What are your tips as a family caregiver? Share them in the comments section below!

 

AB310 Limits Healthcare Access for Thousands of Wisconsin Women and Men

By Emily Claypool
WWN Reproductive Rights Task Force

On September 24th, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill which will further cut funding to Planned Parenthood and community health centers, and will allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide patients with life-saving family planning, birth control, and cancer and STI screening services. The freedom for men and women to access healthcare is at stake as this proposal moves on to the State Senate.

The reality is that defunding Planned Parenthood threatens lives in underserved communities by preventing the most vulnerable among us from receiving life-saving preventative health care. In fact, preventative care makes up 99 percent of Planned Parenthood services. Eliminating Title X funding for patients who access care at Planned Parenthood and other safety net health providers means more barriers to cancer screenings, pregnancy prevention, as well as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Assembly Bill 310 is not just an attack on Planned Parenthood; it is an attack on the communities who depend on these services. Planned Parenthood services a total of 60,000 women and men in Wisconsin and 2.7 people nationwide each year.1 in 5 women will depend on the quality services of Planned Parenthood in their lifetime, including 400,000 Pap tests, approximately 500,000 breast examinations and almost 4.5 million tests for sexually transmitted illnesses (including HIV). At Planned Parenthood no one is turned away from receiving services due to their inability to pay.

The Title X family planning program is an essential national program dedicated to ensuring all people can access the health care services they need regardless of their age or income. Planned Parenthood has effectively administered the Title X grant in Wisconsin for over 35 years to ensure women and men across Wisconsin can access essential preventative care. Ending Title X funding as proposed in AB 310 without a new plan to administer the funding would mean 50,000 individuals in Wisconsin will lose access to services like cancer screenings, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) tests and treatment and birth control services.

While the bill’s author, Senator Kapenga, suggests that adolescents, women and men can seek healthcare elsewhere, there are few viable options. Primary care clinics and community health clinics do not have the infrastructure to support the underserved and underinsured populations that Planned Parenthood serves. These “other options” often do not have a sliding payment scale, accept only a small percentage of Medicaid patients, and do not serve patients who are undocumented. If Planned Parenthood is defunded, these politicians need a plan to ensure women and men in Wisconsin maintain access to these essential health care services.

Assembly Bill 310 comes at a high cost and puts the lives of adolescents, men and women who need the essential health care support of Planned Parenthood and other Title X community health clinics at risk.

The Hancock Center Rises for Safe Bodies and Safe Relationships

By Karen Meulendyke,
WWN Public Policy Committee.

The Hancock Center is Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newest member organization. The Center is a Madison-based non-profit that began in 1983 by one of the founding members of the American Dance/Movement Therapy Association, Deborah Thomas. As quoted from their website, the Hancock center “provides dance/ movement therapy services and health and wellness education on-site and in the community.” The Center serves women and men, adults and children in individual therapy as well as groups. Therapists at Hancock host an array of different programming, from violence prevention with children in schools to movement/meditation workshops to family-based dance/movement therapy. In addition to a menu of diverse programming, the Hancock Center is a model organization for workplace flexibility. The Center’s employment model is one that emphasizes relationships as the centerpiece in women’s lives. For their mostly-female staff, this mode of operation is supportive in their ever evolving family and work lives.

Earlier this month I sat down at the Hancock Center with dance/movement therapist, Ann Wingate, and had a wonderful conversation regarding the Center and its many efforts. She taught me that dance therapy works to transform the way we think about our bodies, and society’s beliefs about our bodies and movement. Dance/movement therapy is a process that can be used to teach children and adults how to feel safe in our bodies and our relationships. A specific effort where this mantra is especially clear is in the Center’s work against sexual assault. Beginning in the late 80s, Hancock understood what the healing power of dance/movement therapy can do for survivors of sexual assault. Women’s therapy groups began and were led for years by therapist Grace Valentine. Today, Ann co-leads an organized effort to raise awareness about sexual assault and work with survivors of sexual assault through flash mob dances with Dianne Brakarsh of Moving from Within, in the Madison area. Yes, that’s right, flash mob dances!

The global effort Ann and Dianne joined and brought to Madison is called One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising is a campaign that calls people to action and speaks up against sexual violence. The campaign is an accessible outlet for people to be with others, allow for personal expression and raise awareness of the issue that over one billion women and girls in today’s population of 7 billion will experience gender violence in their lifetime. Ann and her colleagues present their work at summits, conferences and in workshops to work with people who have experienced sexual assault as well as advocates for ending violence by using dance and movement as self-expression and healing.

One Billion Rising uses the song, Break the Chain by Tena Clark, and a choreographed group dance as vehicles to lead the healing and raise awareness. Through workshops and summits, the group dance is taught and then preformed in a public place with signs and information for onlookers. This peaceful demonstration has been witnessed at the State Capital, Hilldale mall, and where I had the pleasure of witnessing it last Valentine’s Day, outside the city of Madison’s municipal building. Prior to this year’s globally organized Valentine’s Day flash mob dance, organizers of the One Billion Rising campaign challenged participants to think about why they were rising. The Hancock Center’s response to why they were rising, for safe bodies and safe relationships, a key component that is taught in their work every day.

You can learn more about the Hancock Center and available programming through their website at www.hancockcenter.net. Join the One Billion Rising campaign, through the One Billion Rising Revolution website at www.onebillionrising.org.

The Hancock Center is Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newest member organization. The Center is a Madison-based non-profit that began in 1983 by one of the founding members of the American Dance/Movement Therapy Association, Deborah Thomas. As quoted from their website, the Hancock center “provides dance/ movement therapy services and health and wellness education on-site and in the community.” The Center serves women and men, adults and children in individual therapy as well as groups. Therapists at Hancock host an array of different programming, from violence prevention with children in schools to movement/meditation workshops to family-based dance/movement therapy. In addition to a menu of diverse programming, the Hancock Center is a model organization for workplace flexibility. The Center’s employment model is one that emphasizes relationships as the centerpiece in women’s lives. For their mostly-female staff, this mode of operation is supportive in their ever evolving family and work lives.

Earlier this month I sat down at the Hancock Center with dance/movement therapist, Ann Wingate, and had a wonderful conversation regarding the Center and its many efforts. She taught me that dance therapy works to transform the way we think about our bodies, and society’s beliefs about our bodies and movement. Dance/movement therapy is a process that can be used to teach children and adults how to feel safe in our bodies and our relationships. A specific effort where this mantra is especially clear is in the Center’s work against sexual assault. Beginning in the late 80s, Hancock understood what the healing power of dance/movement therapy can do for survivors of sexual assault. Women’s therapy groups began and were led for years by therapist Grace Valentine. Today, Ann co-leads an organized effort to raise awareness about sexual assault and work with survivors of sexual assault through flash mob dances with Dianne Brakarsh of Moving from Within, in the Madison area. Yes, that’s right, flash mob dances!

The global effort Ann and Dianne joined and brought to Madison is called One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising is a campaign that calls people to action and speaks up against sexual violence. The campaign is an accessible outlet for people to be with others, allow for personal expression and raise awareness of the issue that over one billion women and girls in today’s population of 7 billion will experience gender violence in their lifetime. Ann and her colleagues present their work at summits, conferences and in workshops to work with people who have experienced sexual assault as well as advocates for ending violence by using dance and movement as self-expression and healing.

One Billion Rising uses the song, Break the Chain by Tena Clark, and a choreographed group dance as vehicles to lead the healing and raise awareness. Through workshops and summits, the group dance is taught and then preformed in a public place with signs and information for onlookers. This peaceful demonstration has been witnessed at the State Capital, Hilldale mall, and where I had the pleasure of witnessing it last Valentine’s Day, outside the city of Madison’s municipal building. Prior to this year’s globally organized Valentine’s Day flash mob dance, organizers of the One Billion Rising campaign challenged participants to think about why they were rising. The Hancock Center’s response to why they were rising, for safe bodies and safe relationships, a key component that is taught in their work every day.

You can learn more about the Hancock Center and available programming through their website at www.hancockcenter.net. Join the One Billion Rising campaign, through the One Billion Rising Revolution website at www.onebillionrising.org.

WWN Honors Dairy Month and Women in Agriculture

By Tressie Kamp, WWN Public Policy Committee Member

Whether we do so knowingly or as a happy coincidence, many of us celebrate June by sharing ice cream or a cheese plate with friends and neighbors. It’s fitting that June is National Dairy Month, which WWN celebrated on June 1st by convening a panel on “Wisconsin Women in the Dairy Industry.” The panel featured five women who contribute their research, marketing, economic and legal expertise to our state’s dairy industry. Jenifer Cole, WWN’s Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, organized and led the panel, which was co-sponsored by the Cornell Club of Wisconsin-Madison. She noted that while women’s participation in the dairy industry has increased, promoting the advancement of women working in dairy and agriculture in Wisconsin aligns with the WWN’s mission. Jen also stated that The WWN’s brown bag “Women on Topic” was “an excellent forum to connect women in one of Wisconsin’s leading industries and to hear about the challenges and triumphs these women experience in a field traditionally dominated by men.”

Even for WWN members and blog readers, women may not be the first demographic group to come to mind when we think about Wisconsin’s dairy industry. But when I called Lisa Kivirist, Coordinator of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, our conversation quickly shifted toward the boom of women in the field of sustainable agriculture. Here’s a quote from the Project’s website:

“According to the 2012 USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] Agriculture Census, 30% of farmers in the U.S. are women, the majority launching organic and sustainable operations for raising fresh, healthy food for local communities.”

USDA statistics also demonstrate the aforementioned rapid expansion of the community of women that work in sustainable agriculture. This growth is reflected by media coverage. Subscribe to a general Google alert on Wisconsin agriculture and you’ll receive frequent articles discussing women in agriculture. For example, I was recently notified that a national group, the American Farm Bureau Federation, is holding a “boot camp” for women in the agriculture industry to sharpen skills such as public speaking and media relations. On an international scale, I also enjoyed reading this article from BBC News back in April about a female choir in Norway singing to support the future of farming in their country.

Here’s the less happy news. As far as Lisa and I are aware, there is no federal or state-level funding source specifically for—or even geared toward—supporting women in agriculture. Instead, women are grouped by the United States Department of Agriculture into a “historically underserved” category. Folks like Lisa are encouraged by the expanding, local organizing efforts that support women in agriculture, although Lisa was quick to stress the need for more national policy efforts for the same purpose.

For more on this topic, visit the MOSES Rural Women’s Project website and for a broader policy perspective check out the website for REAP Food Group. If you’re a female farmer that finds yourself in what Lisa calls “beginning farmer boots,” don’t think twice about reaching out to your peers and to groups like the Rural Women’s Project. Finally, for those of us who aren’t farmers, don’t forget that we can exercise our spending and political powers to support women in our state’s agricultural industry. Here’s hoping you all find a way to celebrate women in agriculture during the rest of National Dairy Month!

Tressie Kamp

Member, WWN Public Policy Committee

Women’s Education and Equity: Title IX

by WWN Communications Intern, Julia Mroczkowski

Title IX is a major civil rights law that has been instrumental to changes in gender equality in the United States. Title IX is a portion of the Educational Amendments and became effective June 23, 1972.[1] The act states that if an institution receives federal funding that institution cannot discriminate against individuals based on their sex. The statute influenced the Disability Act of 1973 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which ends discrimination for individuals with disabilities and elderly. Title IX increases equality among men and women in education, as well as athletics, and has decreased the educational gap between men and women by increasing the enrollment of women in college’s and universities. Title IX has positively impacted women’s access to advanced education since its adoption, but Title IX fails to protect women who attend universities from sexual assault.

Women have fought to gain educational equality in America. Title IX protects women who are married, pregnant, or parenting from discrimination. For example, until 1996, Georgetown University did not allow married women to attend.[2] Today, women have been granted the constitutional right of equal opportunity to education and any other activities in federally funded institutions. The constitution still has not adopted the equal rights amendment that would end sex discrimination. Before Title IX, women with a high school diploma had lower rates of attendance and completion of a college degree. In 1970, 8% of women who graduated from high school obtained a college degree; whereas, in 2009, 28% earned a college degree.[3] Now, women are no longer the minority but the majority of students that receive a four-year college and masters degrees. Women are also receiving more degrees in business and law. The increase in access to education is a considerable factor for women in the workforce. The positive social changes such as women involved in athletics and nontraditional fields are a result of Title IX.

Women are facing higher numbers of sexual assault, denying their civil rights and limiting equal access to education because colleges and universities are not providing services to handle sexual assault cases. A survey released July 2014 investigated 440 colleges and universities and found that 40 percent of schools have not investigated any cases of sexual assault in 5 years.[4] Resources and education need to be provided to schools on how to approach sexual assault cases. According to the National Institute of Justice, one in five women will experience rape in college.[5] Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence or assault on campus than men. Research has shown that women are the victims of 90-95% of on campus assaults. Title IX holds college’s responsible for individual consequences of sexual assault. Of those found guilty of perpetrating on campus sexual assault, only 10-25% of those individuals are expelled from their colleges. Currently, 71institutions are being reviewed for possibly violating federal law on sexual violence complaints. [6] The funded institutions are not being held accountable for upholding Title IX because they are not punishing those who assault women. Title IX is not providing equal access to education for both sexes when women are assaulted on campus and there is no retribution. An increase in media attention has caused a focus on the issue of sex discrimination and sexual assaults at colleges and universities. Women are seeking support from the public to make positive changes on their campuses.

Title IX has provided women equal opportunity in receiving education and has influenced other laws that prohibit discrimination. Title IX positively affected women when it was first introduced in 1972, and continues to do so today, as women are receiving more advanced education than ever. Many colleges are not effectively implementing Title IX to protect women from sexual assault and provide equal education. The government needs to take this issue seriously so that women do not have to face sex discrimination for attending college.

[1] Title IX amends the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Vocational Education Act of 1963, the General Education Provisions Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Public Law 874, Eighty-first Congress, and related Acts, and for other purposes.

[2] Title IX: A Sea Change in Gender Equity in Education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/TitleIX/part3.html

[3] (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2014, from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/edu/documents/titleixreport.pdf

[4] Web. 16 Jan. 2015. <http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SurveyReportwithAppendix.pdf&gt;.

[5] Campus Sexual Assault Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/campus-sexual-assault-stats

[6] U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-releases-list-higher-education-institutions-open-title-i

Women in Government

By WWN Communications Intern, Julia Mroczkowski

“Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” –Gerda Lerner[1]

In 1980, Lerner started a women’s history program at the University of Wisconsin, and then established similar programs throughout the United States. She firmly believed that liberating women helps improve democracy so that there is equal representation of the genders in government. Women first began to have political representation in Wisconsin when three women were elected to the legislature in 1925: Helen Thompson, Helen Brooks, and Mildred Barber.[2] Since then women in Wisconsin have made some gains towards equal representation of in state government. In the 1950’s, women held four seats in the Wisconsin legislature; nine women in the 60’s, fifty-one women in the 70’s; and since 2001, 230 women have held a seat in the state legislature. Thompson, Brooks, and Barber paved the road for women to take part in the public decisions that effect women’s lives. Exemplary women such as Wisconsin’s first woman state senator, Kathryn Morrison, Wisconsin’s current U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who currently serves Wisconsin’s 4th District, continue the legacy started by Thompson, Brooks, & Barber. Women need equal representation in government to increase women’s rights, to advance gender equality, and empower women. Without equal representation gender discrimination will continue, and decisions about women’s issues will be continually be made by men.

The Wisconsin legislature did not have a woman senator until 1975. Currently, in the Wisconsin legislature there are a total of 132 members consisting of 33 senators and 99 assembly members. [3] According to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, only 126 women have held seats in the legislature since 1925. Former Senator Kathryn Morrison was the first and only woman to represent Wisconsin’s 17th senate district. [4] From 1999 to 2001, 11 women served in the Wisconsin senate, the greatest amount of any historical term. In 2003, the Wisconsin legislature consisted of 37 women, setting the record for number of women representatives in Wisconsin. Currently, 34 women serve in the Wisconsin legislature, 25 in the assembly, and 9 in the senate.[5]

Wisconsin’s first woman U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin, and the first woman to represent Wisconsin’s 4th district, Rep. Gwen Moore, are both advocates for equality and especially women’s equality. These two women were not in support of the recent Wisconsin Voter ID law because they want all of their constituents to be able to exercise their right to vote.[6] Senator Baldwin is not only a representative for women, but is also the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. Senate. The main issues that she supports are education, health care, and an economic recovery that ensures a strong middle class. Rep. Moore, serves not only Wisconsin’s 4th district, but also serves as an advocate for Wisconsin’s African-American population. Congresswoman Moore promotes women’s rights and has a strong focus on the community by creating jobs. These women have been working together to ensure that women in Wisconsin are guaranteed their rights. For example, they both were against the voter identification requirement and wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general approving of his stance on the bill. They also have been sending letters to Governor Scott Walker since 2012, insisting that the state adopts the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, which would allow Wisconsinites to have health insurance.[7] Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Moore focus on social issues that have the most impact on women and children and represent their needs.

Looking forward to Wisconsin’s representation in government it would be best if more women were elected in order to promote gender equality. Wisconsin women representatives have been increasing since 1925, but still have a long way to go for equality among the genders. Encouraging young girls that Wisconsin needs women representatives will increase gender equality. Rep. Gwen Moore[8] and Sen. Tammy Baldwin[9] are serving on committees that support women’s rights and diversity. Within the last ten years women have gained more representation in the Wisconsin legislature and women’s issues are now being decided on by both genders. Women throughout history have struggled to gain representation in government, and unless Wisconsin encourages girls to become political leaders women will remain underrepresented.

[1] National Women’s History Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[2] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[3] http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

[4] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[5] Women in State Legislatures for 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[6] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Baldwin, Moore, Kind and Pocan Send Letter to U.S. AG Applauding his Voter Protection Efforts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[7] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Kohl, Baldwin, Kind, Moore and Pocan Encourage Governor Walker to Implement State-Based Health Insurance Exchange. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[8] Working for Women. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://gwenmoore.house.gov/working-for-women/

[9] About Tammy | Tammy Baldwin | U.S. Senator for Wisconsin. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.baldwin.senate.gov/about

Wisconsin Women Vote

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By WWN Intern, Julia Mroczkowski –

On November 4, 2014, all Wisconsin voters will be able to exercise their freedom to vote, a civil right, and fulfill a civic duty. Under current state law, qualifying Wisconsin residents can register to vote on Election Day at their designated polling locations. Visit myvote.wi.gov to find your polling place. Same-day registration has been active in Wisconsin since the fall election of 1976; in turn, less provisional ballots are issued because of the Election Day Registration. Provisional ballots are only counted once the proper voter registration is complete. Recently, voting rights have been threatened in Wisconsin, a right for women passed ninety-four years ago. Wisconsin’s voter identification law that was proposed to the Supreme Court would be a definite threat on women’s right to vote. The Wisconsin Women’s Network and several other organizations continue to fight for voting rights, as well as advocate the importance of voting.

A collaborated effort of organizations encourages you to pledge your vote, promote voting, and advocate for other issues that effect women. First, Ask.Learn.Vote.org is a resource that provides information about candidates in each district of Wisconsin. The coalition website shares information on voting rights and laws that protect and ensure that your vote is counted. The Wisconsin Women’s Network has partnered with AskLearnVote to promote women’s voting rights and ensure that women’s voices are heard. Another organization that advocates for voting and voting rights is the League of Women Voters. This nonpartisan group does not support specific candidates; however, they do have certain issues they advocate for. The League of Women Voters focuses on citizens’ rights and equal rights, and more specifically defending voter’s rights and educating and engaging voters. Active participation in elections helps increase the representation of women, and fighting threats to voting rights, while simultaneously advocating that voting is a way to participate and promote constitutional rights. The 19th amendment allows women to vote, granting us access to make positive changes for our health, safety and economic security. Lastly, the efforts made by Get Out The Vote have succeeded in motivating citizens to cast their ballots. This organization specifically focuses on increasing voter turnout during elections. Get Out the Vote conducted a study imitating elections held in the 19th century and made them more festive to attract more voters, which they found to be effective at increasing voter turnout. An important program, First-Time Voter Education is used to mobilize voters and inform young voters about being part of elections and how their vote matters. Statistically there is an increase in young voter turnout when Rock the Vote ads are shown on television. Research done by Get Out the Vote, based on their mobilization experiments, has increased the number of voters, which is important because everyone’s voice matters.

Wisconsin’s general election is on November 4, 2014 and it is important to ensure that your vote is cast. Women have been fighting to protect their individual rights, and in order to make economic, health, and equality changes women must vote. The Wisconsin Women’s Network promotes equality for women and voting rights give women the opportunity to gain equality.