Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Fom Phila NOW Executive VP, Dee Johnson:

On June 29, 2010, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved The Healthy Birth of Incarcerated Women Act to end the shackling of incarcerated women during pregnancy, labor and childbirth. Gov. Rendell is expected to sign the bill, which would make Pennsylvania ninth state to ban the practice.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), unanimously passed the Senate in March and the House Judiciary Committee in April.

Without a doubt, because of the efforts of all involved, this bill is now on the Governor's desk. We have so many to thank: Sen. Daylin Leach and his staff, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf and the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rep. Thomas Caltagirone and the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Babette Josephs who advocated with leadership to move the bill out of the House, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Working Group to Enhance Services for Incarcerated Women--a coalition of community service organizations and concerned citizens advocating on behalf of incarcerated women, the women who came forward to share their stories about being shackled while incarcerated, and the Pennsylvanians who contacted their legislators in support of the measure.

But it is imperative to give special recognition to Dr. Karen Bojar, former Philadelphia NOW president, whose commitment to improving this situation for women in prison was the impetus for this bill. She was passionate about working to ban the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women in Pennsylvania and helped create positive change.

Special thanks also to Kathleen Creamer, a staff attorney at Community Legal Services, who jumped at the chance to research and draft this bill when we brought it to the Working Group; and Naima Black, a program manager at MOMobile, whose presentation on the issue during a Philadelphia NOW meeting sparked the fire in Dr. Bojar. Without their vision and compassion, we might only still be talking about the problem instead of celebrating the passage of a bill to end it.

But, of course, this change came about because of the efforts of all involved. So, again, thanks to each and every one of you...we did it!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is the future of feminism Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin ? Or is it Hilda Solis, Mary Kay Henry, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women?

Last week I read article after article about the rise of Republican women, sometimes framed as a triumph for feminism. According to this storyline, the feminist message is now so mainstream that even Republican women embrace women’s empowerment.

I had an experience last week, the annual awards event of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), which convinced me that the future of feminism lies in a very different direction.

I was honored to receive an award (for my service as past president of Philadelphia NOW) in the company of women who have done so much to improve the lives of women who have not been the primary beneficiaries of the feminist movement, working-class and low-income women, who are disproportionately women of color.

The extraordinary successes of the feminist movement have not been shared equally. Women with economic/educational advantages have advanced in the professions, business, and politics. Of course there is still a glass ceiling in American life, but as Hillary Clinton famously said, “there are now 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling.”

The cultural change has been so pervasive that many affluent white men have been willing to make room for their daughters--the same men who have fought economic policies which would provide opportunities and a robust safety net for the majority of women.

And it’s not just the men of corporate America who block measures that would improve the lives of the majority of women and who demonize low-income women. Whatever you want to call their brand of female power, Republican women like Whitman, Fiorina and Palin clearly do not embrace the feminist goal of equality for all women. From Joan Walsh’s recent Salon article:

I was disgusted by a horrific Whitman anti-welfare ad that was straight out of Ronald Reagan's 1966 campaign. It was demagoguery: She promised to make welfare recipients seek and take jobs – as though California never passed its own historic welfare reform legislation, doing just that, way back in 1986. It was repellent to listen to her demonize welfare recipients, the vast majority of whom are women and children, at a time when California is already slashing services.

This is sure not my kind of feminism! The definition of feminism has always been contested terrain, and now that even Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist, confusion reigns.

Right wing feminists have argued that however society is structured, women should be equally represented in positions of power. A much more inclusive definition of the feminist project demands equal opportunity for all women and a robust safety net available to all women. We’re not going to get that with Republican women at the helm.

That said, I acknowledge that having women like Whitman and Fiorina in positions of power does normalize the idea of women holding top jobs-–in that sense, it’s a positive.

Much has been made of the fact that two women, Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina, will be competing against each other to be senator from California. Something potentially far more significant got very little attention: two women, Mary Kay Henry and Anna Burger, were the contenders for the presidency if one of the countries largest labor unions, Service Employees international Union (SEIU).

Mary Kay Henry, Newly Elected President of Service Employees International Union

This is not your father’s labor movement. SEIU represents the fastest growing sector of the labor movement and its members are increasingly women, particularly women of color.

Also, we now have a real friend of working women, Hilda Solis, heading the Department of labor:

Granted, the labor movement is far from perfect and I certainly had my problems with the teachers’ union which represented me, but the rise of women in the labor movement may have far more significance for the lives of most American women than the political victories of Republican women like Whitman and Fiorina.