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Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a crucial case that will address whether laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples are constitutional.
The case, Obergfell v. Hodges, will look at whether the 14th Amendment requires the state to allow and license a marriage for same-sex couples, and will address whether the Amendment requires the state to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples when their marriage was licensed out-of-state.
Legendary LGBT attorney Mary Bonauto and former assistant US solicitor general Douglas Hallward-Driemeier will be representing Jim Obergefell, who is the plaintiff in the case - a man who married his partner after the United States v. Windsor decision. The 2013 Supreme Court decision in Windsor stuck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that has paved the way for the current case.
"When Mary stands before the Supreme Court, she will not only be able to skillfully answer the justices' questions, she will herself embody our answer," Freedom to Marry Founder Evan Wolfson wrote in The Advocate. "We are strong and good. We are part of families and we build them. We love, we contribute, we dream. We have made the case, and we deserve the liberty and justice for all that America promises. It's time for equal protection under the laws for all. It's time for the freedom to marry."
Most predictions expect a 5-4 vote in favor of upholding the rights of same-sex couples to get married and to have their marriage recognized out-of-state. Despite what seems like progress, many states are pushing hard against marriage equality. In Louisiana, for example, the state legislature is considering the Marriage and Conscience Act, which is designed to exclude same-sex couples. The Act would allow discrimination against same-sex couples from professional services, it would deny same-sex couples marriage benefits, and state contractors could turn down employment to gay people.
Oral arguments tomorrow will not immediately result in a decision. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court in June or early July. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the constitutional right to marry, then marriage equality will become law in all 50 states.
4/23/2015 - BREAKING: The Senate Just Confirmed Loretta Lynch for Attorney General After a Five-Month Delay
After a five-month battle, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch US Attorney General today, making her the first Black woman in US history to take on the role. The Senate's confirmation saw a vote of 56-43.
Lynch was nominated by President Obama for the post in November, but Senate Republicans refused to bring her nomination up for a vote. Instead, they tied her confirmation vote to a battle over abortion language in an anti-human trafficking bill. The Senate reached a compromise earlier this week, which paved the way for the Senate vote today.
The trafficking bill in question was the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The bipartisan bill was expected to pass smoothly through Congress, but a small provision added to the bill that would effectively strengthen the Hyde Amendment, which bans spending federal dollars on abortion,gave Democratic members pause. Ultimately, the body decided to divide funds into two parts - taxpayer money and criminal fines. Taxpayer money, which would only be for healthcare services, is already subject to the Hyde Amendment. Criminal fines, according to the bill, will go to victim services.
Lynch will be replacing Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September of last year. The amount of time she has been waiting to be confirmed totals the wait time of the last seven attorney general nominees combined.
4/22/2015 - We Need to Talk About Gender On Earth Day
Today is Earth Day, an annual event that celebrates our planet and encourages people to find a way to protect it. As climate change becomes increasingly an important issue, it's also crucial to discuss how climate change disproportionately affects women.
The impacts of climate change around the world disproportionately impact women, from water accessibility to increased violence in the wake of natural disasters. The consequences of human damage to our planet are felt worst by women and girls, and can lead to health problems, victimization, and long-lasting economic and environmental problems for entire nations.
Those who live in areas most affected by climate change are most likely to feel negative effects if they are poor. Women already make up more of those living in poverty worldwide. And when climate change has an economic impact on a country, women are more likely to face inequalities in education, resources and healthcare access. In Malawi, an increase in temperatures and an increase in rain has lead the country to more drought and more flooding over the past 40 years. Hunger, disease, and poverty have become more common as a result, and women are losing access to income disproportionately and the jobs they do have become harder as they are less likely to have a voice in decision-making.
"We women have largely been affected in terms of fetching water," said Esther Chanache, a woman who lives in Southern Malawi. "Previously the rivers would run all year round but now when the rains stop, the rivers dry up. We have to walk long distances."
Studies also show an increase in domestic and sexual violence during extreme natural events and during the recovery process. There is a connection between a displaced families and anger, frustration and violence - which hurt women and children most. And a study by the London School of Economics, which looked at 141 countries in 20 years, found natural disasters kill women more often than they kill men - this has to due with women's financial, physical, and social position. And when schoolchildren have to be pulled out of school to care for the injured or sick, it is more likely to be a girl.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, for example, a battered women's shelter in Santa Cruz, California, reported a 50 percent increase in restraining order requests.
The World Health Organization writes, "Women who were subjected to violence before a disaster are more likely to experience increased violence after the disaster, or they may become separated from family, friends and other potential support and protective systems. After a natural disaster, women are more likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence and may avoid using shelters as a result of fear."
On top of that, women are more likely to be affected by a loss of healthcare during natural disasters; maternal health and reproductive care suffer during disasters and this puts women at risk for STIs, unintended pregnancies and problems during childbirth. In the 1998 Bangladesh floods, girls were getting more urinary tract infections because they couldn't properly and privately wash their menstrual rags and hang them to dry.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the world is currently five times as disaster-prone as it was in the 1970s, due to increased risks that have come on as a result of climate change.
"Women have always been at the center of both economy and ecology," Yifat Susskind wrote for The Progressive on Earth Day in 2012. "Both words come from the Greek term for household - the arena of women's traditional roles as primary caretakers of families and communities. Even today, in nearly every society, women are mainly responsible for providing families with healthy food, clean water and - particularly in the Global South - sufficient fuel. These resources depend on the health of the environment, and that's why women play such a vital role."
4/21/2015 - Feminists Mourn the Loss of Activist Grace Mann
Feminist activist Grace Rebecca Mann, a 20-year-old University of Mary Washington student, was killed in her home on Friday.
Grace was found unconscious by her two female roommates on Friday, one of whom called 911 and attempted to administer CPR. She was pronounced dead upon being taken to the hospital. Police have charged one of her other roommates, Steven Vander Briel, a fellow student, with first-degree murder and abduction. He is currently being held without bond.
Grace was a member and leader of Feminists United, a Feminist Majority Foundation campus affiliate. In the words of Paige McKinsey, Grace's friend and the President of Feminists United, Grace was an outstanding and inspiring leader: "As an individual, she worked with administration to create better sexual assault policies on campus. As publicity chair of Feminists United, Grace helped plan events such as Take Back the Night. As an American Studies major, Grace focused her studies on the mass incarceration rates of underprivileged communities with hopes of becoming a lawyer to one day serve those communities. As a friend, Grace brought love and joy into every interaction and every person she came across."
Grace was a junior studying history, American studies and practical ethics, was a leader and activist on the Mary Washington Campus. She served on the executive board for Feminists United, in the student government senate, and recently was appointed to the President's Task Force on Sexual Assault, a group Mary Washington President Richard Hurley created in part because of the efforts by Feminists United to combat sexual assault and rape culture on campus. She was passionate about women's rights, civil rights, and gender equality.
"The entire Feminist Majority Foundation community mourns the tragic loss of Grace Mann," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "In life, she inspired all of us in the fight for equality and against senseless violence. In her memory we will renew and strengthen the struggle to end violence against women."
President Hurley said in an email to students and staff that Grace "was a wonderful, well-spoken, genuine person who sparkled with energy and lit up the room when she walked in."
"The loss of Grace Mann is such a tragedy to the feminist community," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizer Alyssa Seidorf. "My thoughts are with Feminists United and her friends and family. Feminist Majority Foundation promises to continue the work she loved and ensure her efforts to make the world a better place are never forgotten."
Edwith Theogene, also a National Campus organizer for FMF, added, "I am constantly inspired by students and the work they do to change the world around them. Grace Mann was one such student. She was a dedicated feminist who called out injustice and worked ardently alongside Feminists United. Her light carries on with all of us as we continue to do this work."
A celebration of her life will be held at the University of Mary Washington campus on Friday at noon.
President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah of Afghanistan held their promise to appoint four women in the new cabinet, and the nation's lower house of Parliament approved them along with the rest of the 16 cabinet nominees introduced by the Afghan government on Saturday.
Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, speaker for the lower house of parliament, confirmed on Saturday that there are four women among that the 25 member Cabinet of President Ashraf Ghani. This approval comes as a relief to Afghan women, who previously protested the lack of representation of women in the country's parliament.
The newly appointed female ministers include minister of women's affairs Dilbar Nazari, minister of counter-narcotics Salamat Azimi, minister of higher education Farida Momand, and minister of labor, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled, Nasrin Oryakhail.
Nominees for these positions of leadership for various ministries presented their policy agendas to lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday before final votes took place on Saturday. During her presentation, Nazari vowed that she would work to further women's rights and opportunities in Afghanistan.
"I commit that I will not hesitate from any efforts in order to increase the capacities of women," she said.
All four women are highly accomplished and well suited for their positions as ministers. Nazari has been a member of parliament and worked with the United Nations. Azimi has been a University Chancellor and professor, and Momand is a doctor and has worked in several government hospitals. Oryakhail, too, is a doctor, and has been a medical instructor at the Kabul Medical University.
4/17/2015 - Senate Passes Compromise Bill Increasing Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only Sex Education
The Senate overwhelmingly approved of HR 2 on Tuesday, a $200 billion package that included an enormous increase of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) curricula.
The US Senate voted 92-8 to pass HR 2, which has been known as the "doc fix" for Medicaid reimbursement rates, as well as many other health care provisions. HR 2 includes an alarmingly high increase in funding for the AOUM program, bringing its annual funding to $75 million. President Obama has already agreed to sign the bill, saying in a statement that he "would be proud to sign it into law."
This compromise bill, however, also includes a two-year extension of Title V abstinence-only education, allocating significant federal funding to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Many CPCs lie to women about abortion and birth control and target women who are facing unplanned pregnancies and provide them with medical misinformation. AOUM curriculums rely heavily on shame and stigma, and have been proven to be unsuccessful at preventing unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STIs.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) wrote of the expansion of AOUM, stating that SIECUS is "incredibly disappointed by this wasteful increase and expansion of AOUM programs that are ineffective, stigmatizing, and fail to provide young people with the sexual health information, education, and skills they need throughout their life to make healthy and responsible decisions."
One of the policy rider provisions in HR 2 now also demands that unobligated Title V AOUM funds be made available to states implementing programs that adhere abstinence-only education, as opposed to returning these funds to the general treasury, as was the case before this provision.
As the bill was a compromise, HR 2 included a two-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), at the current funding level of $75 annually. PREP is a science-based curriculum that covers subjects such as "healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, educational and career success, and healthy life skills." Introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act, PREP was the first federally-funded program that teaches both abstinence and contraceptive use as a means of preventing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STIs.
Marchers are ending an eight-day journey across 250 miles and five states to deliver anti-profiling and police-force-militarization legislation from New York City to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
More than 100 protesters gathered just outside New York City on Monday, beginning a march from New York to Washington, D.C., to deliver to legislators what is being called the "Justice Package," including "three pieces of legislation calling for an end to racial profiling, stopping the militarization of our local police forces, and demanding the government invest in our youth and communities." Those marching wore T-shirts saying "I can't breathe" and held signs reading "#BlackLivesMatter."
One marcher, 19-year-old Sade Swift, told the Huffington Post that she was joining the march because she is "tired of creating hashtags," for unarmed black men killed by the police. Another, Rachel Goldstein, says "I march because Michael Brown can't."
The "March2Justice" lists 10 reasons for the march, including a call for an end to the school to prison pipeline, a call for the end of violence again people of color, including transgender people women of color who "disproportionate impact they endure by all forms of violence, including police violence." March2Justice also hopes to raise awareness and end police brutality, citing that "every 28 hours a Black person is killed at the hands of the police, security guards or neighborhood watch."
The March passed through Trenton, New Jersey, yesterday and gathered at the Gandhi Peace Garden before moving on to the New Jersey State House. Marchers are calling on those in the Washington, D.C. area to join them on Tuesday the 21st when they reach the Capitol for a rally, where a program is planned with "legendary civil rights leaders, hip hop artists and the marchers themselves."
In April of 2014, almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It's been one year since the kidnappings and Nigeria still suffers at the hands of the militant group - and 219 of the girls are still missing.
Throughout the year, as the #BringBackOurGirls digital campaign slowly lost media coverage, even more people were kidnapped in Nigeria. Boko Haram has caused chaos in parts of Nigeria - and 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped since the beginning of last year, according to Amnesty International. Though last year about 50 of the original 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped managed to escape.
"Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
While the crisis isn't over, that's not to say efforts aren't made. The Nigerian government accepted offers from the US, UK, France, and China to help in the crisis. And Nigerian activists fight daily for justice. Incoming president Muhammadu Burhari said Nigeria will "do everything in its power to bring [the girls] home" but warned he can't "promise that [they] can find them."
Many say the reason the previous president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, did not win reelection was due to his handling of Boko Haram - those who opposed his policies say he did not do enough to help bring back the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Progress has been made by military to stop Boko Haram's terror, but the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria is far-reaching and has already hurt and killed too many. News last month came out that Nigerian troops had managed to drive Boko Haram militants from Bama in Borno State northeast Nigeria - an area occupied by the terrorist group since September of last year.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the kidnappings, protests were held worldwide, including in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
One of the kidnapped schoolgirls who escaped, 19-year-old Saa, says she feels the government could be doing more to stop Boko Haram.
"They always say they are trying their best to bring the girls back, but I'm not sure if they are doing their best," Saa said.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) joined Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and five Democratic women of the Senate today to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Today is Equal Pay Day, meaning that women on average have to work until the end of the day today to warn as much as their white, male counterparts earned by the close of last year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) is legislation that would greatly lessen the gender pay gap experienced by women in the work force, as well as prevent retaliation against women seeking pay parity. The PFA, introduced in the Senate in 2013, would prohibit retaliation for sharing pay information, as well as require employers to prove that any pay disparity is not on the basis of sex. It has since been blocked by Republicans in the Senate more than once.
Senator Mikulski has been working on the issue of providing equal pay for equal work throughout the nearly three decades that she has been in office. In her speech, Mikulski emphasized the many ways the American economy would benefit from eliminating the gender pay gap. "You want to alleviate poverty? Equal pay for equal work!" she said, adding some of the findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which found that pay parity would cut in half the poverty rate of working single moms. "We are tired of being sidelined, red lined, pink slipped, harassed, and intimidated," Mikulski declared.
DeLauro spoke on her frustration in the minimal improvements to lessen the gender pay gap since the Equal Pay Act passed more than 50 years ago. "The gap has barely budged in over a decade," DeLauro said. "It's not an abstract problem, and it hurts people on a daily basis." DeLauro cited specifically a study released last month, which showed that even in the female-dominated profession of nursing, men make significantly more than women.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took to Twitter to show her support for Equal Pay Day and the Paycheck Fairness Act, writing "Equal Pay Day is a day to call on America's leaders to ensure that hard working women receive fair compensation for their work."
"100 percent of Democrats in the House are now co-sponsors on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Where are the Republicans?" asked Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "How long must women wait for equal pay?"
Niloofar Rahmani, the first woman to serve in the Afghan military since the fall of the Taliban, was honored by the US State Department with the International Women of Courage Award last month.
Rahmani was one of ten women recognized by the State Department for this prestigious award. Among them were women's rights leader and peace building advocate Majd Chourbaji of Syria, and May Sabe Phyu, who is leading gender equality efforts in Burma.
Capt. Rahmani was only 18 when she heard that the Afghan Air Force was recruiting female pilots. "I wanted to fly with my brothers, shoulder to shoulder," she said. After completing six months of intensive English courses to prepare her for undergraduate pilot training, Rahmani earned her wings in July 2012, just two years after hearing about the Air Force's recruitment of female pilots. She soon after became the first female pilot to serve in Afghanistan's military since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban.
Rahmani's father was a strong supporter of his daughter, but he also warned her about the possible dangers and difficulties ahead of her. "Go for it, but you must be strong," Rahmani remembers him saying. Despite repeated threats from the Taliban and some conservatives to kill Rahmani as well as her parents and siblings, 23-year-old Rahmani refused to quit. "If you don't fight for your rights, they will never give them to you," she said during her visit to the US.
While visiting the United States to receive the award, Rahmani met with from First Lady Michelle Obama, the Navy's Blue Angels, and the CEO of Girls Scouts San Diego. Rahmani then traveled to Miramar to meet fellow commanders and female pilots. Finally, she participated in the 59th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
"We need females to be a doctor, to be in each part of society. And we need female pilots too," Rahmani said. "I have the support of people all over the world. They know what I am fighting for. [The award] is for all the females in my community."
Hillary Clinton's unique social media entrance to the 2016 presidential race dominated news Sunday and was received well by many - especially feminists.
Emily's List, the National Organization for Women, and the Women's Media Center were just a few of those who joined in the flurry of support for Clinton's candidacy announcement yesterday through a video in which Clinton declared that "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."
"Gender matters in the United States today," President of the National Organization for Women Terry O'Neill wrote yesterday. O'Neill welcomed Clinton's candidacy, and said that her campaign "is a powerful message to girls that they can aspire to the highest office, and an equally powerful message to boys that women can be leaders on an equal footing with men."
Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock endorsed Clinton as a "lifelong champion for women and families and the most qualified candidate to be president." Emily's List cited Clinton's longtime commitment to women and families, mentioning her first job after law school with the Children's Defense Fund.
The Women's Media Center asked if the 2016 Hillary race would have the same sexist media coverage as her 2008 race. Indeed, Clinton's campaign in 2008 was filled with comments on her age, looks, weight, and many other aspects of her life that were not raised for male candidates. The WMC, however, believes that women in roles of leadership and in the public eye are "crucial for continued progress."
"From the days that she was the first chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession in 1987, to her days as First Lady when she declared at the United Nation's 4th World Conference on Women that women's rights are human rights, to her days as Secretary of State when she appointed the first Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women's Issues, Hillary Clinton has made women's issues a priority," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "It's no wonder women are excited about not only the possibility of the first woman president, but also that this candidate is a woman who has given high priority to women's issues from the very beginning of her career."
Nevada Republicans, having won control of the state legislature in 2014, are moving to increase barriers to voting.
A series of proposed laws in the state attack voting rights by mandating photographic voter identification cards and proof of citizenship to verify voting eligibility and narrowing early voting windows. These measures would disproportionately impact people of color, women, young people, and the elderly, and could hurt their chances of voting in the 2016 elections.
"What we're talking about here is putting a major obstacle in front of a fundamental right," Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D) told the Associated Press.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 accelerated the voter registration progress by integrating voter registration forms into driver's license applications and state identification forms through the DMV. These Nevada bills directly undermine this federal statue by requiring verification of citizenship by a local county clerk's office. Clerk's offices may request supporting documents that indicate citizenship like birth certificates for individuals that register through the DMV. If these documents are not presented to their office within 15 days an individual will be removed from the state voter registry.
A similar law in Arizona was struck down by the US Supreme Court, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia writing the Court opinion that declared the law conflicted with federal laws regulating elections.
Changes of this ilk to voting laws directly impact the poor and elderly, for whom locating documents and traveling to submit them is made more difficult due to time restrictions and cost. These policies could also disproportionately impact women, who may not have birth certificates that match their married names. If those women are unable to locate and present both their wedding certificate and birth certificate, they could be denied voting eligibility.
The proposed changes to early voting would end early voting on Sundays and force polls to operate only between 7 AM and PM on any given day - despite the fact that early voting currently takes place in Las Vegas, for example, until 9 PM, making voting more accessible for casino workers, a large portion of whom are people of color.
Lawmakers who push voting restrictions often cite voter fraud as their concern, but study after study has failed to find evidence of widespread voter impersonation. Voter suppression and discrimination, however, remain alive and well - and prevent some of the most marginalized people in the country from being heard at the ballot box.
The United States ranks 16th in the recently released 2015 Social Progress Index, which assesses and scores countries worldwide across three categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The US was 21st, 35th, and 8th in these smaller categories, respectively.
The US also ranks 55th in maternal mortality, 32nd in early marriage, defined as the percentage of women who are married between the ages of 15 and 19; 14th in satisfied demand for contraception, with 85% of women able to access contraception if they wish; and 15th in acceptance for the queer community.
The SPI was created in response to the use of GDP as the main measure to judge a country's success. Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism and SPI executive director, is adamant that GDP "shouldn't be a guide to all decision-making." (The economist who invented the concept of GDP has himself written that a nation's welfare can "scarcely be inferred" by using it as an indicator.
"GDP tells us quite a lot about a country's progress," Steve Almond, one of the authors of the SPI, said, "but it's definitely not the whole story."
The SPI was first brainstormed at the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing. The Index's methodology was created by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School with help from from The Economist's New York Bureau Chief Matthew Bishop, Hernando de Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Scott Stern of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The index also includes an interactive map of the world to easily compare each country on these issues and a definition page for each term.
On Wednesday, President Obama announced that his administration condemns "conversion therapy" for LGBT youth.
The statement was in response to a WhiteHouse.gov petition that was created after the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, which gained more than 120,000 signatures. In December of last year, 17-year-old Alcorn committed suicide. In a suicide note that went viral, Alcorn explained that she was forced to undergo "conversion therapy," a program her Christian parents put her in that was created to "change" a person's gender identity or sexual orientation. Alcorn's note ended with a plea:
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, 'That's fucked up' and fix it. Fix society. Please.
"Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember," President Obama's personal message reads. "Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us - on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build." The official White House statement says "conversion therapy" is "neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm." The statement points out that many medical and mental health organizations have condemned the practice of "conversion therapy" as it is shown to be damaging to the individual. A law to ban "conversion therapy," which many are calling Leelah's Law, would require congressional action - until then, states can take matters into their own hands. California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have all already banned licensed professionals from practicing "conversion therapy" on minors. Lawmakers in 18 other states have introduced legislation that would ban the practice. Scott Bixby of Mic wrote in response to the statement that the President could do more. "The President, after opening the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston or holding a round-table conversation on clean energy in Utah, could take a few moments to tell local reporters, lawmakers and voters what he said in his personal attachment to the White House's statement on conversion therapy."
On Friday, Superior Judge M. Marc Kelly of Orange County, California, reduced the mandatory minimum 25-to-life sentence of Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto by 15 years. Nieto, who was convicted last December of one felony count of sexual intercourse with a child and one felony count of lewd act upon a child for sodomizing a 3-year-old toddler, will now only spend 10 years behind bars.
Over objections by the Prosecution, Judge Kelly lessened Rojano-Nieto's sentence to 10 years in state prison, citing that the mandatory minimum sentencing of 25 years to life was "cruel and unusual punishment," as Rojano-Nieto did not "intend" to harm the toddler while raping her.
Rojano-Nieto was playing video games in his garage last summer when the 3-year-old victim wandered away from her home and into his garage. Rojano then sexually assaulted her, at one point covering her mouth to hide the child's cries from her mother, who was looking for her. When her mother finally found her, she was unaware that anything had happened until the child complained of pain, at which point her mother found injuries consistent with sexual assault and called the police.
Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told the City News Service that Judge Kelly considered the full 25 years unconstitutional because Rojano-Nieto did not intend to harm the 3 year old when he sodomized her. "In looking at the facts of Mr. Rojano's case, the manner in which this offense was committed is not typical of a predatory, violent brutal sodomy of a child case," said Kelly. "Mr. Rojano did not seek out or stalk (the victim). He was playing video games and she wandered into the garage. He inexplicably became sexually aroused but did not appear to consciously intend to harm (the victim) when he sexually assaulted her."
Bokosky believes otherwise, saying that the judge should have taken into account Rojano-Nietro's attempt to cover the girl's mouth during the attack. The prosecutor said her office is discussing an appeal of the judge's reduced sentence.
This is not the first time Judge Kelly has shown sympathy for a convicted sex offender. Last fall, Judge Kelly overturned a conviction against former Highway Patrol lieutenant Stephen Deck, 54, for an attempted lewd act upon a child. Deck was arrested after being involved in a sting operation when he drove to the house of someone posing online as a 13-year-old girl, with the intent of having sex with her.
A petition to get Judge Kelly removed from the bench is in circulation, with at least 13,000 signatures so far.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R), who is openly anti-abortion, just signed into law a bill that makes Kansas the first state to ban most second-trimester abortions.
SB95, which was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, will take effect July 1. The bill outlaws a "dismemberment" abortion, which essentially bans any dilation and evacuation procedure; this procedure is used in most second-trimester abortions and in about 9 percent of all abortions performed in Kansas. Pro-choice advocates are not sure if they will challenge the law in court, and are unsure how much of an impact the bill could have because its language is not clear.
"We've never seen this language before," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute. "Itï¿½s not medical language, so it's a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do."
Opponents of the bill also say the graphic language used in SB95 is sensational, is not medical, and is used to gain supporters.
The dilate-and-evacuate method is the safest for second-trimester abortions, according to many professionals. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade says the procedure is "considered the safest across the board for women's health."
"This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients," McQuade said in a statement. "The bill not only fails to improve women's health and safety but puts them in harm's way by denying doctors the ability to provide the safest care available for their patients based on their individual medical circumstances."
SB95 is part of a large ongoing push to outlaw abortion. In the first three months of 2015 alone, nine abortion restrictions have been enacted and 53 abortion restrictions have been approved by one legislative chamber or more. It also isn't the first anti-abortion restriction Gov. Brownback has signed. He told lawmakers to create a "culture of life" when he took office in 2011.
Iranian women will now be allowed to attend major sporting events, Iran officials announced on Saturday.
Although the new policy still holds barriers for women attending specific sports - those considered to be more "masculine" such as wrestling or swimming - this announcement reverses an antiquated rule that forbid women to watch matches attended by men.
Abdolhamid Ahmadi, the deputy minister for sports, told the state news agency on Saturday that the country's national Security Council had approved a government proposal to allow women to watch games this year. It is still not clear which sports women can watch, but they are likely to include basketball and volleyball. In these stadiums, women will have special assigned seating, with mixed seating available for families.
This issue gained international attention last summer when a young British-Iranian woman was jailed for attempting to watch a men's volleyball match. 25-year-old Ghocheh Ghavami was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail and a two-year travel ban, before she was released on bail after five months in prison. Last week, an appeals court dismissed the charges against Ghavami.
Ghavami and other activists are hopeful for what this change could mean for women in Iran. 38-year-old women's rights activist Najiyeh Allahdad celebrated this small victory. "We have done all we could to get our rights back. This should have happened some time ago. It is now clear for me that this government is really trying hard to improve our lives."
Last month, 27-year-old Farkhunda was falsely accused of burning the Koran then brutally murdered after standing up for her beliefs in front of a shrine attendant in Kabul, Afghanistan. She's now being held up as a champion of Islam and women's rights.
Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, decided to speak up against the practice of mullahs selling tahwiz, which are verses from the Koran that are said to bring good luck. Farkhunda said the practice was un-Islamic. The shrine attendant then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men beat her and set fire to her body.
"This is heartbreaking - she was innocent and she was a woman," said Fawzia Koofi, a women's rights activist and politician who is also on the investigation team created by the Afghan president. "This happened to her because of her gender."
But now, weeks after the incident, Farkhunda is being called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. The beatings were caught in cell phone videos and led to an uproar on social media. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin.
"Farkhunda was a true Muslim, a religious hero," said Shahla Farid, a Kabul University law lecturer and a part of the team appointed by the Afghan president to investigate Farkhunda's death. "Here a woman challenged a man and defended Islam." Women in Afghanistan are hopeful that these protests shed light on the injustices women face. "She has improved the status of women in Islam and in our community," Farid said. "I believe Farkhunda is now giving more hope to more women."
But while these protests are encouraging, they do not end a culture that perpetuates violence against women in Afghanistan. "After more than a decade of efforts to improve the standing of Afghan women, violence against them occurs across much of the country with impunity," writes Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times. "A man's accusation against a woman is often the final word, as it was here last [month]."
The shrine attendant, along with 47 other people - including 19 police officers - were arrested in connection to the murder. Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry pledged to stop the selling of tahwiz, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Farkhunda's family to offer condolences. President Ghani says there is no question that Farkhunda was innocent, and 12 attorneys have been assigned to review Farkhunda's case.
Farid's female students tell her that it horrified them to see how quickly a mob of angry men formed to beat Fakhunda. Farid said one of her students told her, "How can I sit here in class with boys? I'm afraid of them."
Six months after Major League Baseball met with the players union to discuss their domestic violence policy, the organization has begun mandatory training on domestic violence prevention.
The brutal and much publicized footage last summer of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his fiance unconscious sparked national dialogue on gender based violence in professional sports. And although much of that conversation centered on the NFL, the MLB quickly became under fire as well. At a Senate committee hearing last December, Senator McCaskill (D-MO) voiced her frustration with the MLB, pointing out "Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has never sanctioned an MLB player for domestic violence, never in 22 years." And although Bud Selig has since been replaced with Rob Manfred, Senator's McCaskill's point was clear: the MLB needs to be taking this issue seriously.
Months later it appears as though MLB is listening. Last month, all 30 major league teams were brought to training sites and participated in domestic violence prevention sessions and workshops coordinated by Futures Without Violence, a California non-profit that strives to end violence against women. Futures Without Violence led sessions to promote healthy relationships, to encourage players to ask for and seek support, and to speak up about violence if they believe it may be occurring. There are plans to continue this training at the minor league level as well.
Advocates and legislators agree that although these actions are promising, much more will be necessary for sustainable change in the culture of violence that seems to enshrine professional sports institutions. In response to violence in the NFL and other professional sports leagues, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create $100 million in funding for domestic violence prevention programs- paid for by closing a tax loophole used by the NFL and other professional sports leagues to enjoy a tax-exempt status that has been around since the 1960s.
4/3/2015 - Malta Passes Law to Ban 'Normalization' Surgery on Intersex Infants, Allow Self-Determination of Gender
Malta's parliament just passed new legislation that allows self-determination of gender (with a simple process to legally change gender), and outlaws unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. This bill makes Malta the first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.
Intersex is a term used to describe a variety of people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fall into society's expectation of either male or female. Intersex babies around the world often undergo surgery, either at the request of the parent or the recommendation of the doctor, to remove parts of their genitalia. In almost every case, the procedure is completely medically unnecessary and denies the child the ability to make choices about their own body. Some people call the surgery "normalization" surgery, which is a term that falsely implies there is something wrong with being intersex.
"To say that this Act is a groundbreaking human rights milestone is almost an understatement," said Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. "It provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards."
The new law also allows people to change their gender identity on documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, which ends the requirement for surgery in order to legally identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. The process of changing one's gender in the system, under the new bill, won't take more than 30 days.
"Demanding sterility, divorce, a mental health diagnosis in legal gender recognition or completely lacking procedures are more and more an inacceptable [sic] thing of the past," said Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe. "Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action."
"The GIGESC Act creates the conditions for an equal society as it recognises and protects trans and intersex persons in all spheres of life," adds Alecs Recher, who is also co-chair of Transgender Europe.
In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture announced it condemns unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. "The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments," the UN statement reads, "including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, 'reparative therapies' or 'conversion therapies,' when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned."
Maltese officials and medical professionals are now working to come up with guidelines to make sure all surgeries done on infants are medically necessary and not "driven by social factors without the consent of the minor."
Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, has been found guilty of feticide and neglect and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus - there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage.
Indiana law bans "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" in any case except to produce a live birth, clear out a dead fetus, or to perform a legal abortion. Since Patel was accused of using illegal abortion drugs, and of abandoning a live fetus, she was convicted under this Indiana law.
The only evidence prosecutors used against Patel were text messages she sent to a friend talking about online abortion drugs. A toxicologist could not find any evidence of these types of drugs in Patel's body or in the fetus. The only evidence used by prosecutors on the second charge was that the fetus, at 30 weeks old, could potentially have survived outside the womb, and its lungs passed a "floating test" that could possibly have suggested the baby drew breath at one point (the science of this test, which was developed in the 17th century, is highly contested).
"It's an absolutely discredited test," said Gregory Davis, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky. "It boggles my mind that in the 21st century ... this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead."
Patel received care at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center's maternity ward after she was bleeding and showing an umbilical cord. Dr. Kelly McGuire, who later testified against Patel, called the police. Patel told doctors she has a miscarriage and left the fetus in a dumpster outside a shopping center. McGuire followed police cars to the scene and pronounced the fetus dead on arrival. Patel says she felt cramping that resulted in bleeding and a miscarriage. She says she tried to resuscitate the fetus but was unsuccessful, then was in too much shock to call the police and "didn't know what else to do" because she didn't want her parents to find out, so she put the fetus in the dumpster and went to the hospital.
"Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, 'Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?'" David Orentlicher, a medical ethics specialist and former Indiana state representative told PRI. "If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you're not helping fetuses, you're harming fetuses."
Patel's attorney plans to appeal the verdict.
4/2/2015 - Louisiana Personhood Bill Would Ban Some Forms of Birth Control and Give Fetuses Full Legal Rights
Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory (R) pre-filed a personhood bill this week calling for a constitutional amendment that would give full legal rights to a fetus, ban many forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, as well as some health care procedures for pregnant women. Senate Bill 80 would add a section to the Louisiana constitution defining personhood as "a human being from the moment of conception."
The Louisiana state Senate is in session starting April 15, and is in session until June 11. SB 80 will be voted on in the Louisiana primary October 24, 2015, rather than in the general election in November.
Guillory, who just two years ago switch parties and became a Republican, is running for lieutenant governor against Billy Nungesser (R), President of Plaquemines Parish, and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden (D). While Nungesser and Holden are showing campaign funding in the millions, Guillory is running a campaign in debt for the second year in a row.
This personhood bill is the latest in a long series of attempted restrictions for women seeking abortion care in Louisiana. Just this December, under the administration of Governor Jindal, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals issued a letter to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast refusing to allow its new state of the art clinic in New Orleans to perform abortions on the legal "excuse" that it did not show a need for a new facility to perform abortions in Louisiana. In 2012, Jindal's administration passed a state law requiring abortion clinics to show that there is need for another clinic before applying for a license.
Similar personhood bills have been introduced in other states, including Colorado, North Dakota, and Mississippi, all of which defeated the proposed personhood bills over the past year.
Today marks the sixth annual International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), a designated day for the trans community to share and celebrate their lives and experiences.
Visibility for the trans community is crucial in a world where 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school, 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, and where 50 percent of trans people have been raped or assaulted by a romantic partner. It is important to amplify the experiences and successes of trans people in order to create community for trans people, and to encourage a space in a society that might otherwise push trans identities and experiences to the side.
TDoV contrasts Transgender Day of Remembrance in that is it not a day for mourning, it is instead a day for the trans community to be recognized and empowered. Rachel Crandall, the head of Transgender Michigan, created TDoV after wanting an event for trans people that is celebratory.
"The Day of Remembrance is exactly what it is," Crandall said. "It remembers people who died. [Transgender Day of Visibility] focuses on the living."
In one example of the bigotry the trans community faces, Marshall High School in Michigan began receiving complaints from parents who were uncomfortable with TDoV support from students. A bulletin board was decorated for TDoV and featured facts about trans people and words of encouragement for the trans community. The board was taken down by school officials.
Trans advocates are taking to social media and using the hashtags #TDoV and #TransDayOfVisibility to share their photos and experiences with others.
President Ashraf Ghani and a delegation of some 70 plus Afghan leaders came to the US this week to urge Congress and President Obama to extend the deadline for removing support troops from Afghanistan. Afghan public opinion polls have shown that Afghans' top priority is currently security.
"Many Afghan women leaders, as well as other Afghans, have also expressed their concern over security and safety. They fear that pulling virtually all American troops would send the wrong signal to the Taliban and the gains Afghan women and girls have won would be lost if the Taliban was emboldened," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and President its sister action organization, the Feminist Majority. "This is why we recently began a Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign with Afghan Women and Girls Campaign urging President Obama and members of Congress to extend the deadline and keep the remaining US support troops in Afghanistan."
"This is no time to pull out virtually all support troops when women and girls are making progress and the new unity government, pledged to democracy, women's empowerment and rebuilding the nation, is trying to move forward," Smeal continued. "We applaud President's Obama decision to delay the 2015 removal of US troops from Afghanistan."
At the beginning of this week President Obama changed the timeline for removing US support troops. Instead of removing some 5,000 of remaining troops in Afghanistan by December 31, 2015, as had been previously planned, the President announced the US will keep some 9,800 troops through 2015. At this time, he has not changed his decision to remove all troops by December 31, 2016.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's address yesterday to a Joint Session of the United States Congress commended the decision by President Barack Obama to delay the withdrawal of US support troops in Afghanistan and to allow the current level of troops to remain through the end of 2015.
President Ghani's address highlighted the extraordinary progress that Afghan women have made since 2001 when, under a system of gender apartheid, women and girls were not allowed to attend school, hold a job, receive medical care, or even go outside of their homes without being covered from head-to-toe and accompanied by a male relative. Ghani pointed out some of the current gains of women such as today some 3 million girls are in primary school; women's maternal mortality rate, although still high, has been dramatically reduced; and some 38 percent of the voters were women, despite threats of violence, in the recent provincial and presidential elections. He pledged "to increase to parity the number of women graduating from high schools and colleges."
Ghani said women's rights were a central foundation block for Afghanistan to recover from some 40 years of war. He said women's rights were not only a "matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity," he said. "No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away, uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity, and drive to national development."
3/27/2015 - Senate 'Vote-A-Rama' Passes Amendments for Equal Pay, Pregnant Workers, Paid Leave, Benefits for Same-Sex Couples
A bipartisan majority of Senators this week voted in favor of budget amendments that show growing momentum for paid sick leave for employees, social security and veterans benefits for same-sex couples, equal pay, and fair treatment for pregnant workers.
The votes, though significant, are symbolic. None of the amendments are binding. The bipartisan votes, however, show the popularity of these policy proposals and signal that both Democrats and Republicans realize that these issues are a priority for the American public.
One amendment to the budget resolution tracks the Healthy Families Act, sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA) and in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), which allows employees to earn seven days of paid sick leave. Prospects for passing the Healthy Families Act were seen as slim in the GOP-majority Senate, but Thursday's 61-39 vote in favor suggests bipartisan support is possible.
Sens. Pat Rooney (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) surprised the measure's supporters by voting in favor - backers of the paid sick leave amendment did not expect the measure to receive 61 Senate votes. Wisconsin has banned paid sick leave laws on the local level, but Philadelphia has recently changed to mandate employers give workers one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.
Another amendment, which passed 56-43, calls to establish a "deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to promoting equal pay" that would apply largely to preventing sex discrimination and would prevent retaliation against employees who discuss wage information. A similar but stronger version of this amendment (vote 82), which tracks the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), was rejected 45-54. Vote 82 would have allowed for punitive damages and limited the "other than sex" exceptions to the 1963 Act.
The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers - just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Young v. UPS which set out a legal roadmap for pregnant workers discriminated against in the workplace to vindicate their rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Additionally, the Senate "Vote-A-Rama" supported an amendment to the budget that would give same-sex married couples access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and Social Security benefits.
"Gay couples legally married in any state should be entitled to veterans and Social Security benefits identical to any other married couples. [This week], eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in a statement. "We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights."
These budget amendments are mostly symbolic, but provide insight into where Senate members stand on crucial issues. No Democrats voted for the final budget, but the budget passed anyway at 3:28 AM by 52-46.