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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.

New Research from IWPR Finds Low Literacy Hurts Women More Than Men

By Kevin Miller

In an analysis of data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that was recently published, IWPR found that women earn less than men regardless of literacy level, but that women with low literacy levels are particularly likely to have low earnings relative to men. Higher literacy levels are associated with higher earnings for both men and women, but the “jump” in earnings from low to high literacy is especially noticeable for women at earnings levels that can sustain women and their families.

These findings are consistent with the phenomenon that women need to do more to reach the earnings of men. The gender wage gap remains substantial after decades of measurement, occurs both between and within occupations, and—we now know—exists regardless of men and women’s degree of literacy. In order for women to earn the same amount as men, they must obtain more education and develop more skills than those possessed by men. Low literacy—which occurs at similar rates among women and men—is a barrier to effective education and training that can help low-income individuals obtain jobs that allow for family economic security.

Programs that help women (and men) improve their literacy, obtain job training, and get degrees are key elements in the effort to help low-income Americans get better jobs. Adult and basic education programs, bridge programs that connect teens and adults to college, workforce training programs, and supports for nontraditional students enrolled in colleges are needed to help hard-working Americans get higher-paying jobs. Many of these programs are under threat of budget cuts. Cuts in education and training are short-sighted cost-saving measures that reduce workforce readiness while also threatening one of the few pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans with limited literacy.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Top 5 Findings of 2011

Women with lightbulbsby Caroline Dobuzinskis, with Jocelyn Fischer and Rhiana Gunn-Wright.

In 2011, IWPR released several important findings on relevant topics such as the continuing impact of the recession, increased reliance on Social Security among older Americans, and the value of paid sick days for improving public health. Read the top findings below and continue to follow IWPR or sign up for our e-alerts to stay informed on our latest research on women, families, and communities.

1. During the recovery, men gained more jobs overall than women. Contrary to the image presented by a new, widely-panned sitcom, the recovery is not proving to be easier for female job seekers. Overall, men have regained one out of three jobs lost in the recession, while women regained one of every four jobs they lost. But the last quarter of 2011 saw women making some gains in the job market: men and women had equal job growth in the past three months at 206,000 jobs each.

2. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and some cannot afford to put food on the table. Last September, IWPR released findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security showing that only 43 percent of women and 61 percent of men would have the savings to pay for living expenses for a period of two months. In households with more than one person who experienced unemployment for one month or longer in the two years prior to the survey, 27 percent of women and 20 percent of men went hungry because they could not afford food.

3. Americans strongly support Social Security and have grown increasingly reliant on the program in the last decade. A large majority of Americans (74 percent of all women and 69 percent of men in the IWPR/Rockefeller survey) say they  don’t mind paying Social Security taxes for the benefits they will receive when they retire. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent to equal half of older women in 2009.

4. The number of on-campus child care centers has declined and presently can only meet five percent of the child care needs of student parents. There are 3.9 million student parents pursuing postsecondary education in the United States, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults. Access to affordable, on-campus child care has decreased, partly due to the increase of for-profit postsecondary institutions.

5. Paid sick days would reduce emergency department visits–saving $1 billion in health care costs. Access to paid sick days would eliminate 1.3 million emergency department visits per year and would save $500 million to taxpayers through public health insurance costs because regular doctors’ office visits would substitute for expensive emergency room care. Informed by research from organizations such as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid sick days legislation gained significant momentum across the country last year.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Jocelyn Fischer is Assistant to the President and Rhiana Gunn-Wright is this year’s Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow.

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.

How Does Your State Rank?

KIDSCOUNT Data CenterThe 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book is now available.

By Mallory Mpare

The 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book (a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation) was released today. Similar to IWPR’s Status of Women in the States initiative, the Data Book provides state rankings based on key indicators of child well-being. The message this year, “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation,” focuses on how children and their families are coping post recession. This edition includes data on the status of children with at least one unemployed parent in 2010 as well as data on children affected by foreclosure since 2007.

Past IWPR research shows that early care and education programs are crucial to a thriving economy. The KIDS COUNT Data Book not only serves as a comprehensive resource on the status of children in the United States, but also provides data on the role of investing in early childhood programs in order for the next generation to succeed.

IWPR joins the Annie E. Casey Foundation in inviting you to explore the findings and see how your state ranks!

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Assistant with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Life-Time Self-Sufficiency: Eight Things Every Young Woman Should Know

By Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

An Institute for Women’s Policy Research study analyzing men and women’s earnings over a 15-year span found that women in the prime working ages of 26 to 59 made only 38 percent of what prime working-age men made during the same time span. This major gap is due to occupational segregation, discrimination, caregiving obligations, and other factors, and creates a critical obstacle for women’s economic security throughout their working years and into retirement. Depending on a woman’s socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity, this gap may be even larger. Here are eight things all young women need to know now to be self-sufficient later.

1. Education

Education levels are strongly associated with earnings. The median weekly earnings of bachelor’s degree holders are 65.8 percent higher than those with only a high school degree. Women increasingly recognize the need to further their education and now outnumber men among those graduating with bachelor’s degrees, yet women still earn less than men at every level of educational attainment.  Postsecondary education is therefore an important tool for young women to increase economic security over their lifetime.

2. Reproductive Choice

Since educational attainment is a major determining factor of one’s income levels throughout life, and completing high school or college is difficult to combine with child-rearing responsibilities, a woman’s ability to control her own reproductive life is crucial for her economic security. If you are in school and have children, familiarize yourself with and use the student parent support services available in your school and/or community, and advocate for more such services.

3. Occupational Segregation

Many women work in occupations that are traditionally female-dominated and are undervalued and underpaid compared to male-dominated occupations. As of the 1990s, after decades during which occupations increasingly became more ‘mixed’, further gender integration stalled. There are now proportionately fewer women in Information Technology occupations, which are generally well-paid, than there were 15 years ago. As a young woman choosing a career, explore non-traditional career options and keep in mind the implications your career choice may have for your ability to support yourself into the future.

4. Wage Gap

Women also earn less than men within nearly every occupation, indicating that occupational segregation is only part of the story. The gender wage gap begins early (with young women starting off at lower salaries than young men with comparable qualifications in comparable positions), widens over time, and can be larger or smaller depending on one’s race/ethnicity.  Part of the problem may be that young women are less likely than young men to negotiate for a higher starting salary or a raise.  Also, many employers work to keep pay information confidential; nearly half of all workers say they are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their co-workers. Knowledge is power. So, talk to your co-workers, do research on average pay in your industry, and negotiate your salary. Know what you’re worth and ask for it.

5. Discrimination and Harassment

Research indicates that a significant portion of the wage gap within occupations cannot be fully explained by known factors—such as education or experience—suggesting that gender discrimination is still a significant barrier to women’s economic progress. Everyone has a right to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment based on gender or race/ethnicity. Know your rights under the law, familiarize yourself with the policies and protections at your workplace, and speak up when you feel these rights are violated.

6. Work/life balance

Although the majority of women are active in the workforce, they remain the primary caregivers to children and other dependents. Balancing work and personal life can be a struggle for many women and taking time out of work can have a long-term impact on your earnings and job security. Find out whether your employer offers flexible work arrangements and is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, in order to know your rights and responsibilities when balancing your work life and personal life.

7. Social Security

Compared to men, women rely on Social Security for a longer period of time (because they live longer) and depend on Social Security for a greater share of their income.  Yet, women receive, on average, significantly lower Social Security benefits due to a lifetime of lower wages and periods of decreased employment due to caregiving responsibilities for children, parents, or others. As a young woman, be aware that there is strong likelihood that you will live alone for at least part of your retirement. Educate yourself on how to maximize your Social Security benefits, strive towards ensuring other sources of income in retirement, and work to protect this program which is so vital to so many women and men.

8. Assets, Savings, and Pension Plans

Women face specific barriers to acquiring assets, building up savings, and investing in a pension plan. Women’s lifelong lower earnings due to occupational segregation, the wage gap, and caregiving responsibilities make it difficult to accumulate assets and savings. Women are also significantly less likely than men to have access to and participate in employer-sponsored retirement or pension plans. On top of these factors, women who do receive income from their own pensions receive on average less than half as much as men. To offset reliance on Social Security, start thinking about other ways to supplement your income in retirement early in your life and career.

Be cognizant of how gender inequality impacts your ability to be economically secure.  These inequalities are reflected in policies, institutions, and attitudes that affect all of us on a daily basis.  Know you have the ability to change this by educating yourself and others, and advocating for women-friendly policies. For in-depth studies on the issues described above and many others, visit the Institute for Women’s Policy Research research portal.

Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson are Research Interns at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

The For-Profit College Education: A Not-So-Golden Ticket

By Jennifer Herard

Nontraditional students are often committed and motivated to pursuing postsecondary education, but confront unique challenges. The for-profit college industry has stepped in to fill the demand for education of nontraditional students, but often these schools succeed only in adding to the burdens on nontraditional students.

Nontraditional students—a term that can include those who are working part- or full-time while acquiring an education, student parents, and those who have delayed enrollment—make up a significant part of the overall student population. According to a March 2011 Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report, nearly a quarter (3.9 million) of postsecondary students in the United States are parents—of which 57 percent are low-income. Women make up a significant portion at 78 percent of single student parents and 81 percent of low-income, single parents.

Low-income, single parents face unique challenges and needs, such as access to affordable child care. But for student parents, the hard-fought earning of a degree can provide a significant payoff in the way of increased earnings and educational outcomes for children in the family. For-profit colleges offer student parents what seems to be a golden ticket, attracting a high proportion of student parents—48 percent of students at for-profit colleges have dependent children, more than double the proportion found at public and not-for-profit institutions. However, for-profit colleges often do not provide adequate support to ensure student parent success.

As a result of a noticeable growth in enrollment, profits, and amounts of financial aid funding at for-profit colleges, Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, launched an investigation in June 2010 with a series of five hearings and a document collection to investigate the industry’s practices.

The investigation revealed that for-profit colleges hire droves of recruiters who often use misleading practices to pull in nontraditional students. Senator Harkin asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate recruiting practices and found  “[r]ecruiters are too often encouraged to hide the ball on matters of cost, transferability of credits, graduation rates, and employment and salary after graduation.”

This is only one of the findings of the investigation that raised red flags, particularly for low-income parents. According to the HELP Committee’s investigation, for-profit colleges are actually six times more expensive than community college and twice that of four-year public schools. Low-income students often take out federal loans in order to pay the exorbitant costs of for-profit colleges and then are not able to complete their program, leaving them saddled with a huge amount of debt and no degree to provide better job opportunities.

Adding to this, once students are enrolled, for-profit colleges often do not make available the support services that nontraditional students need to be successful, such as academic advisors or childcare services.

IWPR hosted a July 25th webinar titled Closing the Financial Gap for Low-Income Student Parents: The Benefits of Integrated Service Delivery on Community College Campuses. Ann Lyn Hall, Director of CNM Connect at Central New Mexico Community College and Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Director of the Family Economic Security Program at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut discussed the ways that their institutions support student parents.

Hall said that bundling services—providing two or three of support services such as public benefits screening, academic advising, and achievement coaches—allows a student to achieve his or her educational outcomes at a better rate than when services are provided in isolation. Surprisingly, student parents at Norwalk Community College reported that coaching services are more valuable to their success than financial services.

For-profit colleges are sinking money into recruitment and that is not a helpful service for student parents who already have the motivation and desire to go to college. Instead, these dedicated students need support staff, such as achievement coaches, to help in navigating the college environment.

Jennifer Herard is the Research Intern with the Student Parent Success Initiative, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research project.

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