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One-on-One: Filmmaker Brings to Light the Equal Rights Amendment

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Kamala Lopez, Founder of Heroica Films, Inc.

This month is Women’s History Month and yesterday marked a milestone: March 22 marked the 40th anniversary of when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) first passed the Senate and was sent to the states for ratification. ERA is a proposed Constitution Amendment—first written in 1923 by suffrage leader Alice Paul—that would affirm the equal treatment of women and would prohibit discrimination based on gender.

IWPR interviewed activist and filmmaker, Kamala Lopez, who has made informing citizens about the ERA part of her mission as the founder and president of Heroica Films, Inc. Lopez is also the Founding Director of GlobalGirl Media’s Los Angeles Bureau , is the recipient of the 2011 Women of Courage Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus, and was recognized in 2012 as the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award by Women’s eNews.

Lopez, who has been acting since the age of seven, came to activism on the ERA through almost happenstance circumstances: while promoting her film about the first Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, she was shocked to learn that gender equality had not been ratified under the Constitution. In 2011, she connected with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who is also the lead House sponsor of a bill reintroducing the ERA. Maloney asked Lopez to help her create a campaign to build public support for bringing ERA up for a vote, which hasn’t happened since 1982.

A brief history on the ERA: First introduced in 1923, the ERA passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives and was sent to the states for ratification on March 22, 1972. Immediately after its initial passage in 1972, the ERA gained 22 ratifications, but the momentum quickly slowed as opposition formed. In 1976, no states ratified the amendment and, so far, only 35 of the necessary 38 states have ratified.  The ERA has been subsequently reintroduced in every session of Congress since the year the ratification deadline passed in 1982. Each time it has been reintroduced without a ratification deadline. The 2011 Walmart v. Duke sexual discrimination case shed new light on the ERA.

Lopez’s production company launched a multimedia campaign called the ERA Education Project that includes a website with news and information, as well as several PSAs (like this compelling one). “The problem with talking about the ERA is that people don’t connect it to their lives right now,” said Lopez. “There is a real lack of urgency about it.” Lopez has upcoming projects aiming to get women “on the offense” on the issue of equality under the ERA.

Lopez spoke with IWPR about her start in filmmaking, her inspiration for activism, and her upcoming projects. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

IWPR: Tell me more about your background and how your experience lent itself to your current role as a filmmaker?

Lopez: I moved to Los Angeles after [graduating from Yale with a bachelor’s in Philosophy and Theatre Studies] to pursue acting. After several years as a working film and TV actor, I came to the realization that if I didn’t want to remain in a powerless position, I was going to have to work on new skills and attempt to create and produce material.

I produced my first short film in 1995—the same year I formed my production company Heroica Films. Since then I have produced many short films, internet media campaigns, and the feature film “A Single Woman” about the life of first Congresswoman and pacifist, Jeannette Rankin.

I am in the process of putting together a documentary about the state of women’s rights in the United States and what we can all do to change the situation. I plan to cross the country talking to women about the issues that affect them and educating them on the need for ERA.

IWPR: What inspired you to start the ERA Education Project?

Lopez: Whilst doing women’s history research to incorporate into the film [about Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin] I learned that—although Alice Paul had written the ERA soon after women achieved the vote and believed this was the next necessary step towards women’s full participation in our society—it had not been ratified. That really stopped me dead in my tracks. It was as if a very large invisible elephant in the room had briefly become visible.

When I got back from DC [after showing the film, “A Single Woman”] I started doing some cursory research into the situation and was truly and finally aghast at what I perceive to be one of the greatest injustices of all time. And one that I believe is simply in place because people, like myself, are not aware of it.

Lopez with several interns from the National Organization for Women (NOW) at a press conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the ERA on March 22, 2012, in Washington, DC.

IWPR: What do you think that passing the ERA would achieve for women?

Lopez: Passing the ERA would do multiple things for women. Primarily, it would enforce equality in wages, health insurance, pension and Social Security…I believe that acknowledging women’s fully equal status would have a quantifiable effect on very serious issues that are undermining and injuring women every day. Issues such as international policy and the ratification of the [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women], domestic violence and crime, rape, healthcare and reproductive rights, cultural bias, media exploitation and denigration, lack of childcare, maternal rights, religious oppression and discrimination within the military, among others.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

One-on-One with Former IWPR Leadership in Democracy Fellow Intisar Al-Adhi

By Amanda Lo

Intisar Al-Adhi is a former Leadership in Democracy Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The competitive internship program was sponsored through an American university. Intisar assisted with IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) project in the spring of 2009, helping to prepare for a SWMENA workshop in Lebanon. In an e-mail interview from Yemen, Intisar shared experiences as the founder of All Girls Society for Development, an organization that aims to educate and empower girls in her home country, as well as her views on how the Arab Spring has affected Yemeni women.

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Intisar Al-Adhi with fellow staff at IWPR's office in Washington, DC.

IWPR: What has been your experiences and background with women’s issues?

Intisar Al-Adhi: I have been working with women in particular and young people since 2003 to plan and implement development programs of interest related to Yemeni women’s issues. We also advocate socially and politically for educational issues.

IWPR: I know that you founded an organization in Yemen to help girls. Could you tell me why you started it, and what is the organization’s goal and work?

Al-Adhi: I have a great interest and purpose in my life to be an effective leader in society and to do my best in women’s development and serve as an advocate for women’s issues. I had the opportunity to establish the All Girls Society for Development after receiving a diploma in Management of Non-Governmental Organizations. I am able to apply what I have studied to support development on the ground.

There is also a great need for Yemeni women in development and awareness programs to contribute to the development of personality of girls and increase girls’ self-confidence.

All Girls Society for Development aims to cultivate the personality of the Yemeni girl with a desire to empower her and enable her to play her role in society in the most effective manner. This is achieved through programs and activities designed according to the inner potential of the girl. We are interested in education, community development, and youth and awareness.

IWPR: What is All Girls Society for Development’s latest project?

Al-Adhi:  All Girls Society for Development in cooperation with the Responsive Governance Program (RGP) funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, Save the Children, and CHF International, [implemented] the “Back to School Campaign” from August to September 2011. The campaign includes many activities and events to raise social and community awareness about the importance of education in general and girls’ education in particular.

Image of building in Yemen with banner

A banner is displayed on a building in Yemen featuring the All Girls Society's "Back to School" campaign.

The “Back to School Campaign” outreach and awareness successes include:

[Producing] TV clips on girls’ education and support from important Yemeni figures, distributing 435 banners (shown in photo above) in 11 governorates, [being featured] in 38 radio programs on 12 local radio stations, and producing a TV program session.

IWPR: How has the Arab Spring affected women’s situation in Yemen? What kind of changes has happened?

Al-Adhi: The Arab Spring led to a large increase in awareness about women’s issues in Yemen that has not occurred for 20 years. Despite what is known about Yemeni society as a traditional community, meaning the majority adhere to established customs and traditions when dealing with women’s issues, the first result of this revolution is a shift in social awareness. We see a lot of men becoming more open-minded. Yemeni men did not find it problematic to encourage their wives and female relatives to go to [public] squares and participate in the demonstrations.

In the recent past, the role of women is beginning to emerge, regardless of the speed of its emergence or the quality. There are signs that women roles are changing. We see women currently leading and participating in the revolution. It is a sign of their ability to take high positions, which has enabled her to break the barrier that hinders equality with men in political life. I consider this as a good indicator that women will have the chance to take leadership positions in the future modern state of the Yemeni people.

Educated women have the most mature understanding of the revolution and are heavily involved in improving women’s situations in their respective fields. Doctors work in the field hospital, human rights activists and lawyers work on human rights violations, and political activists work to raise political awareness in tents and through daily lectures.

The Arab Spring has led to positive changes in Yemeni society. It has opened up the horizon and gave an area for ​​women to express her views. We have seen real participation of women in the revolution such as in the planning and implementation. There is a growing trend that men acknowledge the importance of women’s involvement in various aspects of life.

However, the Arab Spring also has its downfalls with respect to women’s plight. There are women who have lost their jobs because of the change in economic conditions and, as a result, their way of living has deteriorated. In addition, some families have lost their breadwinner due to violence in the demonstrations, such as being hurt by other demonstrators, the killing and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Furthermore, the fear and anxiety of possible violence, both armed violence or collective punishment such as the interruption of electricity, water, and the insecurity and instability caused by oil scarcity, have worsened their present living conditions.

IWPR: How has your experience at IWPR in Washington, DC, been relevant in helping your work in Yemen?

Al-Adhi: During my time at IWPR, I benefited from the working environment and from working with employees. It helped me identify effective communication methods in a team. I had a wonderful and useful meeting with Heidi [Hartmann, president of IWPR,] who responded to my questions with support and patience. I will not forget when she encouraged me to continue working. I liked the attention towards research and I took advantage of this kind of research that seeks to improve the lives of women. I also learned about the relationship between research organizations and the media. Lastly, I try to add the internship component in most of the projects for All Girls Society programs. I believe that internship experiences are essential in building the capacity of girls and youth.

Amanda Lo is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

One on One with Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the U.S. DOL Women’s Bureau

Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. DOL

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

IWPR was honored to have Sara Manzano-Díaz as keynote speaker at a launch event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for our latest report on immigration, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change. We also had the opportunity to interview Ms. Manzano-Díaz, the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), for this blog on her work championing for the rights of working women and for families.

Ms. Manzano-Díaz’s resume includes judicial, state, and federal titles: Deputy Secretary of State for Regulatory Programs at the Pennsylvania Department of State (appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell), Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights and Litigation at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant Attorney General in New York, and a Judicial Assistant and Pro Se Attorney in the New York State Judiciary. She also served as co-chair of The Forum of Executive Women’s Mentoring Committee, which mentors young professional women as they begin their careers, and participated in Madrinas, a program that provides mentors for at-risk Latina girls to encourage them to finish high school and attend college. Ms. Manzano-Díaz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and Communications from Boston University and a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law.

IWPR:  Please tell me about your background: What led you to pursue a degree in law?  What inspired you to pursue work in the civil service—specifically for women and families?

Sara Manzano-Díaz:  Since the age of five I envisioned myself becoming a lawyer. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I became the family translator at a very young age. As a result, a love for advocacy grew from that experience. I became an advocate for my own family, which fueled a passion to advocate for all working families and women. Now, I represent 72 million working women as Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

IWPR:  What influence do you think the Women’s Bureau has on policy?  How does it help to empower women?

SMD:  When the law was passed in 1920 creating the office, the Women’s Bureau was given authority to formulate standards and policies that promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve safety and working conditions, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment. One of the agency’s early achievements was the inclusion of women under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which, for the first time, set minimum wages and maximum working hours.  As the advocate for women within the Labor Department, the agency was also instrumental in the development of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

In the 21st Century, our vision and the policy direction of the program still remains one of empowering all working women to achieve economic security. That translates into preparing them for high paying jobs, ensuring fair compensation, promoting workplace flexibility as well as helping homeless women veterans reintegrate into the workforce. Empowerment of women makes the world work and strengthens the American economy.

IWPR:  What are your goals for the Women’s Bureau?

SMD:  During my tenure, I want to see the Women’s Bureau continue to make a real difference in the lives of women of all races and to help families who have suffered in this economy. Our four priorities include: equal pay, workplace flexibility, higher paying jobs for women and assisting women veterans experiencing homeless. Lucrative jobs exist for women in the skilled trades, green sector and other non-traditional industries. Our goal is to link women to occupations in high-growth and emerging industries that can move them and their families into middle class status. Later this spring, we expect to publish a guide that links women to the green job sector nationwide. Another project will help Latino women, the fastest growing female population in America, achieve financial security through a financial literacy course in Spanish.

IWPR:   The anniversary of Equal Pay Day will be on April 12th this year. How far do you think we have come since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act? What do we have left to accomplish for gender equality?

SMD:  Women continue to make great strides since passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This administration supports the Pay Check Fairness Act and we are working hard every day towards economic security for women. In 1963 women earned $.59 on average for every dollar earned by men, today women earn $.81 on the dollar (based on the 2010 Census). As part of the President’s Equal Pay Taskforce, we are working to ensure that women have the tools to get fair pay in the workplace.

IWPR:  You have had a very accomplished career. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

SMD:  As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating for the voiceless. President Obama and [Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis] share that vision and passion to care for the most vulnerable members of society. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work for two historic individuals and know that the work we do will impact the lives of working class women and families. As Director of the Women’s Bureau, I get to advocate on a national scale and represent women of all ethnicities in the fight for their economic security, from rural women to single moms to homeless women veterans.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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