Making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Fully Gender Inclusive

Mar 8, 2012Minjon Tholen

On International Women's Day, a proposal that will make sure a vital document includes women's rights as human rights.

"It is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it." - Audre Lorde

On International Women's Day, a proposal that will make sure a vital document includes women's rights as human rights.

"It is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it." - Audre Lorde

The continued battle over women's rights both in the United States and across the world calls for a reaffirmation of the fact that women's rights are human rights. International Women's Day is the perfect time to once again point that out and challenge the gender bias in the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, it was explicitly reaffirmed that women's rights are human rights. The commitment of the United Nations, its member states, and NGOs to this important recognition has become clear in their efforts for the advancement of women and gender equality in their policies and practices. An important example is the institution of UN Women, the gender equity agency uniting the Division for the Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and United Nations Development Fund for Women.

However, this evolving consciousness has not yet been reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself: the fundamental document human rights advocates base their work on. The declaration emphasizes that human rights are indivisible and apply to all members of the human family, and Article 2 explicitly states that there will be no distinction based on gender. Yet Article 1 still reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

Furthermore, almost half of the articles (8, 10, 11.1, 12, 13.2, 15.2, 17.2, 18, 21.1/21.2, 22, 23.3/23.4, 25.1, 27.2, 29.1/29.2) use the male pronouns "him," "he," "himself," and/or "his" as the generic terms to represent all of humanity. This initial gender bias in the declaration is historically understandable, but today needs to be addressed if we are truly committed to the full inclusion of women's rights in human rights. If you are not convinced, imagine all pronouns to be feminine. Wouldn't that sound exclusive of men? Therefore, we should replace the word "brotherhood" in Article 1 with something along the lines of "human solidarity." This term is gender inclusive and reaffirms our shared humanity, which in turn strengthens the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the same way, the words "him," "himself," "he," and "his" should be replaced with "one," "one's," or "their".

This linguistic adaptation will be of invaluable symbolic importance,  as it recognizes the efforts of those working for women's rights and truly reaffirms the United Nations' commitment to gender equity. It is well known that words are not value-free: they simultaneously reflect and reinforce values and attitudes. Moreover, a change in language is not only symbolic, but also has practical value for educational purposes. Gender equity should be integral to the next generation's upbringing and curriculum. When they learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they should not have any reason to read gender bias in the concept of "human."

Since the declaration was always intended to include women, there should be no legal consequences of these changes. And I by no means suggest a complete re-examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is merely an update in the language. Fifteen years after Beijing, it is time to review the Declaration from the perspective of our evolving consciousness regarding women's rights and gender equity. We must recognize the dedicated efforts of millions of women and men around this world for these causes by reflecting their work in the central declaration for human rights, either in the document itself or in the form of an addendum.

Like all gender equality advocates, I am dedicated to the tireless efforts of the global women's movement. I hope to do so with a gender-inclusive Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Minjon Tholen is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and the Training & Development Specialist at Cook Ross Inc.

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Olympia Snowe: Political Polarization Will Turn Women Off

Feb 29, 2012Bryce Covert

Snowe's reasons for leaving are an increasingly divided and uncivil Congress. That will make many women think twice about running in the first place.

Snowe's reasons for leaving are an increasingly divided and uncivil Congress. That will make many women think twice about running in the first place.

Maine Senator Olympia Snowe announced late yesterday that she won't be seeking reelection for her seat. This came as a surprise to a lot of people. As Steve Kornacki says, "This is not a Joe Lieberman situation; Snowe was not out of options." She had a good chance of winning the election and had a viable option to run as an independent. However, "evidently she was out of patience with what her political life had become," he notes.

That's gleaned from her statement, in which she explains:

I do find it frustrating that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.

With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term...

I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.

Jonathan Chait sees some evidence in her remarks that she's headed for a third party candidacy. But for now, let's take her at her word: she's leaving her office because of increased polarization.

As Ezra Klein points out, increased polarization doesn't have to go hand in hand with increased rancor, but it sure has in our current system. The increasing ideological divide has left us more and more gridlocked. Invective is thrown by both sides. Snowe points to "an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies." This is a huge problem for getting things done politically, but it also represents a large hurdle for getting more women into office.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

A study that I've written about before took a deep look at the reasons that women don't run for office. They came up with seven key reasons, but three of those relate to an increasingly acrimonious and divided political body.

Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.

Modern campaigns are shaped by the polarization that goes on in Congress -- Snowe makes reference to this problem both on the Hill and on the trail. In the study, women showed an aversion to many of the less glamorous activities of campaigning, but the biggest differential was for "potentially having to engage in a negative campaign." Sixteen percent of men were deterred by that idea; that number jumps to 28 percent for women. If translated to the actual political arena once they're in, women are going to be less interested in the bile tossed from one side of the aisle to the other. That's Snowe's main complaint: she doesn't want to operate in a body that yells at itself without moving anything forward.

Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.

Snowe says she's a fighter. But a more polarized and gridlocked Congress will mean a more combative -- and thus competitive -- environment that will turn women off. They are at least 25 percent less likely than men to report being competitive, having a thick skin, and willing to take risks. Why would they sign themselves up to enter Congress at a time that, as Snowe says, we've drifted away from an "era of civility"?

Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.

Based purely on perception, women were much more likely to view their local campaigns as competitive. This also translates into the actual machinations of Congress. Women consider the current environment, deduce that the competition is fierce, and decide to stay out. Snowe feels she'll make a bigger difference on the outside, and many women may feel the same way.

There are other reasons women don't run, such as perceived gender bias, the need to care for children, and few of them being approached to run. But as Congress becomes more and more polarized, we run a higher risk of women sitting it out.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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What the U.S. Economy Owes to Contraception

Feb 28, 2012Bryce Covert

This isn't about "moral" objections. Women's access to contraception has been a huge driver of America's economic dominance.

This isn't about "moral" objections. Women's access to contraception has been a huge driver of America's economic dominance.

It's no secret that women's reproductive rights have become a big news item lately, from this to this to this. Contraception in particular is now a campaign issue. George Stephanopoulos was heckled for bringing it up in the New Hampshire Republican debate (to which Romney said we should leave it alone), yet it's since become clear that Rick Santorum, if not the others, has some very... interesting views. In his mind, contraception is "not okay," and he warns of "the dangers of contraception in this country." Meanwhile, a vote is likely this week on an amendment that would allow all employers -- religiously affiliated or otherwise -- to object to insurance coverage of health care services that they feel are out of line with their moral beliefs, targeted at undoing a requirement that contraception be covered for free.

Santorum may see birth control as somehow inflicting harm on the United States, but that papers over the benefits we've all experienced from women's access to contraception. Far from being a simple issue of morality, I've previously argued that it's an economic issue, particularly for low-income women. Yet there's another big reason this is an economic argument. Contraception has had an enormous positive impact on our economy. By freeing women up from unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, women are able to complete education and stay in the workforce -- plus they usually have less work waiting for them at home.

The pill was first cleared for contraceptive purposes in the 1960s. Just five years later, 6.5 million women were taking it. By 1973, that number hit 10 million. Unsurprisingly, birth rates fell significantly during the same time period. The birth rate in the 1950s and early 1960s was 118 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44. By 1980, that rate had fallen by almost 75 percent, to 68 births per 1,000 women. With a safe, legal, and accessible drug that helped women plan and space out their pregnancies, births dropped dramatically.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

Research consistently demonstrates a link between decreased fertility thanks to contraception and increased female employment. And right on cue, women, freed up from unwanted child bearing and child rearing, consequently flooded the workforce after the pill became widely accessible. In 1950, 18 million women were in the workforce. By the 1980s, the pill's impact had had such an effect that 60 percent of women of reproductive age were employed. By 2000, the ranks of women in the workforce had more than tripled since the '50s, rising to 66 million. Overall, from 1970 to 2009 women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to almost half of them.

This change has had a significant impact on women's lives and families, the fallout of which is still reverberating throughout the culture wars. But the impact on our economy is easy to quantify. The private sector has long recognized this fact: consulting giant McKinsey explains that without the huge increase in women's workforce participation since the 1970s, "our economy would be 25% smaller today -- an amount equal to the combined GDP of Illinois, California and New York." As The Economist reports, "In developed economies, women produce just under 40% of official GDP," but if unpaid child rearing work is taken into account, it estimates they account for about half. In fact, its rough estimates suggest that women's entry into the labor market has added more to our GDP growth over recent decades than creating new jobs for men, capital investment, or increased productivity (the other typical drivers).

Contraception also means that women have control over their own reproductive capacities, paving the way for more equal footing with men. And the economic benefits of women's equality have recently been a big topic of conversation from the United Nations to Goldman Sachs.

Conservatives of Santorum and Roy Blunt's ilk may be trying to paint this over as purely about religion and moral objections. But this is a much larger economic issue. Even if women's sexual autonomy makes you queasy, their economic autonomy has impacted everyone. Santorum included. The birth control pill irreversibly revolutionized the American economy.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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Chart of the Day: We Haven't Really Had a Year of the Woman Yet

Feb 24, 2012Bryce Covert

Women have yet to get even a quarter of the seats in Congress, but we make up over half the population.

The first Year of the Woman was 1992, when a number of women were elected to the Senate. A lot of elections since then have been dubbed that as well, and the 2010 midterms were supposed to be another female sweep, yet their numbers actually declined slightly in that election.

Women have yet to get even a quarter of the seats in Congress, but we make up over half the population.

The first Year of the Woman was 1992, when a number of women were elected to the Senate. A lot of elections since then have been dubbed that as well, and the 2010 midterms were supposed to be another female sweep, yet their numbers actually declined slightly in that election.

But taking a step back for a bit, this chart makes it seem a little silly to say that any year has truly been a Year of the Woman for the United States Congress (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

women-in-congress

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

The chart comes from a new report by the Congressional Research Service on the demographics of Congress. Note the highest value in the vertical axis of the first chart is just 18 percent. We haven't broken that mark in either the Senate or the House yet, even though women are over half the American population. It's been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected to Congress (not to mention that we've had the vote since 1920), yet we haven't even taken a quarter of the seats yet.

I've discussed the many reasons women don't run for office before. A lot of them are hardwired through socialization into women's heads at a young age. This is a systemic problem that doesn't have many quick fixes. But it's clear that we're doing a pitiful job of making our political representation look like an actual representation of our people.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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Dorian Warren on The Last Word: Diversity is "An Important National Interest"

Feb 24, 2012Tim Price

News broke this week that, in honor of Black History Month, we may be soon discussing whether white people are discriminated against. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which is likely to rehash a discussion of affirmative action. Although the Court decided that taking race into account in college admissions is legal -- and that the issue wouldn't need to be revisited for another 25 years -- it's not clear the current Court will agree. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word to discuss the potential fallout:

News broke this week that, in honor of Black History Month, we may be soon discussing whether white people are discriminated against. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which is likely to rehash a discussion of affirmative action. Although the Court decided that taking race into account in college admissions is legal -- and that the issue wouldn't need to be revisited for another 25 years -- it's not clear the current Court will agree. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word to discuss the potential fallout:

Why should we care whether student bodies -- or any grouping of people, for that matter -- are diverse? As Dorian puts it, "It's an important national interest to advance diversity, especially when it comes to leadership." Just take a look at the fact that the last time this question was raised by the Court, "that case drew the most amount of amicus briefs in the history of the Supreme Court, from Fortune 500 companies to the military," who all agreed that diversity is vital to what they do.

But even with affirmative action condoned as a tactic for diversifying student bodies, Texas is falling behind. "Roughly three out of the four students at University of Texas are white, even though whites make up only 50 percent of the high school graduates," Dorian points out. "So they're already overrepresented arguably at the university and blacks and Latinos are still underrepresented."

Those kinds of numbers can only get worse if affirmative action policies are struck down by the Supreme Court. We'll have to see what happens in November, when the Court hearings are likely to begin.

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Reducing Abortions: It's the Economy, Stupid

Feb 23, 2012Bryce Covert

If we put women back to work, lifted them out of poverty, and funded social services they rely on, fewer women would turn to abortion.

If we put women back to work, lifted them out of poverty, and funded social services they rely on, fewer women would turn to abortion.

It seems the cat's finally out of the bag these days: conservatives aren't just concerned with saving the babies from abortions when it comes to reproductive rights. They are now outspoken about being against access to contraception -- and some of them have even come out against non-procreative sex. Women's rights activists have long warned that they were coming for our birth control; now it's hard to deny they were right all along.

One big clue this whole time has been a simple fact: if conservatives are so hell-bent on preventing abortions, one of the best things they can do is support family planning services and access to contraception. Yet the last time we saw an openly pro-family planning Republican was the '80s, when George H.W. Bush was in office. Meanwhile, all Republican 2012 candidates have signed personhood pledges that endanger many forms of contraception, Santorum himself has said birth control is bad, and I've lost track of how many times Republicans have tried to defund Planned Parenthood, which supplies contraception to low-income women. But as Irin Carmon laid out, the connection between increasing access to contraception and lowering abortion rates is very clear.

There's another clue that this isn't about saving the babies. It's the blind eye conservatives have turned to the economic factors that are leading more women to turn to abortion. A new report, "Abortionomics: When Choice is a Necessity," shows that "lower incomes and rising unemployment are affecting Americans' choices about pregnancies," and in the recession abortion rates, particularly among poor women, are on the rise. Stephanie Poggi of the National Network of Abortion Funds says, "A lot of women are... telling us, 'I've already put off paying my rent, my electric bill; I'm cutting back on my food.' They've run through all the options." In lean times, a child can seem like an overwhelming expense.

It's not terribly shocking that when incomes are strapped, millions are out of a job, and many are falling into poverty, women are thinking twice about having a child. Raising a kid in this country is not a cheap undertaking. For a two-parent couple making under $57,600, the USDA estimates the costs of raising a young child to be $10,950 a year. The total cost of taking care of that child until he or she turns 18 averaged $226,920 in 2010, up nearly 40 percent over the last decade. As one woman in the report puts it, "I totally cannot afford another child. I knew immediately [upon learning about her pregnancy] what I had to do."

Those without a job don't have the income to cover these kinds of expenses. Over 12 million people are unemployed right now; almost 6 million of those are women. One unemployed woman in the report who chose abortion says, "At this time I am not working and neither is my partner... We are unable to support a child under our present circumstances." If Republicans are concerned about reversing the rise in abortion rates, they need to focus on putting people back to work making decent pay. Putting women to work in large part means spending money at the state level to keep them on public payrolls.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

But even after women are back at work, we still have to wrestle with a big factor: the high number of women living in poverty who seek abortions. One study found that 69 percent of women having abortions in 2008 made incomes lower than 200 percent of the poverty line, while women in that income category make up only 35 percent of the overall population. In fact, the report says, "while abortion rates generally have declined over the last 20 years...rates have increased among low-income women." And a lot of women have been falling into that category lately. Recent Census numbers show that women's poverty rate rose to 14.5 percent in 2010, the highest since 1993. Their "extreme poverty rate" -- those whose income is less than half of the federal poverty line -- is at 6.3 percent, the highest on record.

The link between addressing poverty and lowering the abortion rate may be uncomfortable for conservatives like Mitt "I don't care about the very poor" Romney, but it's one of the most important factors. As the report notes, "low income women often have difficulty affording preventive contraception and sometimes address this problem by reducing frequency or dosage use, thereby increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy in the group most likely to decide they are unable to afford to support an additional dependent."

And lastly, the point conservatives may enjoy the least: we need to increase spending on social services. As the report puts it, "As funding for social services declines, more women may be expected to determine that economic constraints make abortion the only viable option." The report is mostly talking about services that provide access to contraception. But there are other services that we're cutting back on that will impact the decision to have a child. For example, 37 states pulled back on child care support in 2010 due to tight budgets. Yet the average cost of full-time care ranges from $3,600 to $18,200 annually. That's a huge part of the cost of raising a child, but we're giving parents less support to pay for it.

Women choose to terminate pregnancies for all sorts of reasons and should be able to access abortion care when they do. Tight budgets aren't the only reason to choose not to have a child. But economic factors that prevent families from having children should be high on conservatives' list. If we ease those families' financial situations, they may not have to turn to terminating a pregnancy. But instead conservatives are fighting access to contraceptives, cutting off funding for services that would make life easier for women living in poverty, and blocking job creation policies.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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Dorian Warren on Melissa Harris-Perry: Are the Republicans a Viable Party?

Feb 22, 2012Elena Callahan

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's new MSNBC series this past Saturday to discuss whether or not the Republican Party is still a credible political force. Can we have a healthy GOP given the success of the Tea Party in 2010 and the drifting of Republicans to the far right? Dorian answers that while the Democrats have positioned themselves as supporters of diversity and a strong safety net, “Republicans have for a century not cared about the core issues of inequality in this country.”

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Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's new MSNBC series this past Saturday to discuss whether or not the Republican Party is still a credible political force. Can we have a healthy GOP given the success of the Tea Party in 2010 and the drifting of Republicans to the far right? Dorian answers that while the Democrats have positioned themselves as supporters of diversity and a strong safety net, “Republicans have for a century not cared about the core issues of inequality in this country.”


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Dorian notes that throughout the 20th century, "under Democratic administrations, inequality went down, and under Republican administrations inequality increased, including when you look at specific policy." Dorian argues that when it comes to understanding the GOP's dilemma, “there are two things that are important here. The first is that the Republican Party is deeply divided" and the second is that "the Republican strategy is basically to be a white party and a white southern party. The time is ticking on that demographic in this country." Basically, if the party increasingly consists of extremists that are mostly male, old, and white, it's going to be hard to represent America's diverse population and build a broad coalition of voters.

For example, on the issue of contraception, Dorian points out that “the vast majority of women disagree with the Republican Party’s position on reproductive rights and reproductive justice -- 3 out of 4 women disagree with the Republican Party" and that "the Republican strategy decided to go all in for 2012 on getting as many old and white male voters as they can," which could help them in the short term but hurt in the long run. He says he's "not sure what the strategy is medium and long term to actually be a viable party -- a competitive party.” If the Republicans continue to defy the will of the public, their chances of success will continue to diminish.

For more from Dorian, check out his recent article on Salon.com, "America’s last hope: A strong labor movement," as part of the Roosevelt Institute's 99 Percent Plan.

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Honoring Black History by Fighting for Today's Second-Class Citizens

Feb 21, 2012May Mgbolu

prison-wall-150Ex-felons -- who are disproportionately African American -- still struggle to find jobs and obtain equal justice.

prison-wall-150Ex-felons -- who are disproportionately African American -- still struggle to find jobs and obtain equal justice.

Every year, Black History Month celebrates the contributions of African Americans that have broken down barriers and made great strides. The civil rights movement in particular has become a large focus, with people reminiscing about civil disobedience, acts of non-violence, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But many have a distorted image of the progression of African Americans, assuming that civil rights struggles are a thing of the past. Though African Americans have struggled to gain access to full rights as American citizens, a new generation of second-class citizenship has developed. What was once a category based on race has now transformed into a classification associated with those who hold criminal records. And the biggest barrier they face is the ability to get a job after being released.

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement was the largest full-scale response to decades of Jim Crow laws that limited African American participation as citizens. This system of segregation was designed to ensure that black people would continue to be oppressed after the end of slavery and was reinforced through fear, skewed policies, and force. Although these archaic laws have been removed from the books, today's policies have resulted in a new system of mass incarceration that is replicating the second-class citizenry of the Jim Crow era.

Just as Jim Crow once directly targeted African Americans, mass incarceration continues to fall disproportionately on communities of color. Those arrested and incarcerated due to drug offenses are overwhelming African American. As a result, Africans Americans and other minorities are sentenced to incarceration at rates significantly disproportionate to whites. However, this system doesn't just focus on ethnic background -- it also affects low-income communities across the nation at a similar rate.

Although white-only signs and lynch mobs may no longer strike fear into black communities, these Americans with criminal records are faced with the daily fear of being stopped and frisked by officers and the anxiety that the prison door can re-open repeatedly -- not for committing a crime, but for simply missing an appointment with a parole officer or the failure to pay a court fee. While Jim Crow deliberately disenfranchised blacks through literacy tests, today we openly deny ex-felons the right to participate in the democratic process. Voting rights have yet to be formerly restored for all second-class citizens in America.

But the greatest struggle this oppressed community continues to face is the inability to obtain legitimate work due to the negative stigma of criminal records.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

With our prison population nearly 2.3 million, the number of Americans with criminal records is large and on the rise. A criminal record eliminates someone's access to jobs, housing, education, social services, and voting rights. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, explains that mass incarceration operates as the Jim Crow South once did, creating tightly networked systems of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that reinforce a subordinate status. The civil rights movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act were once signifiers of the advancement of equal opportunity for everyone, no matter race or national origin. Yet today individuals with criminal records continue to live in a state of segregation from the rest of society.

I spoke with a friend of mine who falls into this category and has been turned away from job after job after serving seven months in prison for a drug-related felony. He participated in one of Arizona's rehabilitation programs that help inmates prepare to find a job after being released from prison. Yet he struggles daily with looking for a job, being unable to qualify for basic necessities such as food stamps, and the constant fear of harassment from officers, all due to his drug felony.

He explained that after applying to six jobs last week, he was hired as a chef. He was ecstatic to have finally found a job. But the next day the company told him that corporate said they could not hire him.

Our policies suppress all individuals with criminal records through one application question: Have you ever been arrested or convicted? While most Americans have the privilege of overlooking this question, it creates barriers for all individuals with criminal histories, particularly with no federal law prohibiting employers for discriminating against individuals with criminal records. Instead, the question allows employers to immediately disregard an application for merely answering yes. KG explained that employers "try to tell you that this won't affect you, but I know it does." Therefore the "first thing I look at on an application is if it asks for a felony or something. If yes, I won't bother because I don't get called back." Experiences like KG's have become normalized, promoting unequal social standards.

This month, Americans across the nation will celebrate the progress of African Americans in the United States. But we can't neglect the caste system that continues to disproportionately affect this community. Mass incarceration has diminished the gains accomplished during the civil rights movement and expanded second-class citizenship to 2.3 million people confined in prisons and millions labeled as criminals, ex-offenders, and convicts. As we remain certain about the great strides of the civil rights movement, we must understand that a new subordinate group has been constructed. Policies and social standards once explicitly targeted African Americans on the basis of skin color; today they creates barriers to employment, education, social services, and voting due to criminal histories.

May Mgbolu is the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Arizona.

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The Unprotected Class: Filling the Gaping Hole in Anti-Discrimination Labor Laws

Feb 21, 2012Tyler S. Bugg

genderless-icon-144Ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will create a fairer society and a more productive workplace.

genderless-icon-144Ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will create a fairer society and a more productive workplace.

Employment discrimination has a long legacy -- and continues to be a widespread problem -- in the job market. In response, federal legislation has offered what seems a comprehensive body of protections. Among them, the milestone Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects classes of "race, color, religion, sex, and national origin," the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals ages 40 years or older, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects qualified individuals with disabilities, among others. These federal laws have also set solid precedent for state-level anti-discrimination laws.

There is a gaping hole, however. Protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are missing in federal legislation and in much of state law, to the detriment of an ever-diversifying citizenry and job market.

The need is clear. Several studies by the Williams Institute have found that as much as 68 percent of LGBT respondents have experienced workplace discrimination. The impact is undoubtedly wide; reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation nationwide are roughly equal to those based on race and gender. Discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity is equally as pervasive as that against classes already protected under federal law. It should enjoy the same protections.

The public is demanding more protections. A 2007 Gallup poll reported that 89 percent of Americans believed gays and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace. And these protections benefit employers. Human Rights Campaign's "Corporate Equality Index" finds that companies that add anti-discrimination protections into their policies significantly benefit from doing so. Potential employees experience higher security and comfort in their job searches, the careers they choose, and the resources their employers offer -- things like inclusive health benefits, support groups, and diversity councils, among others. Employers, as a result, hire the most qualified people for the job, and the broader economic outlook is positively fostered through effective employee-employer relations.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

The need for adding these protections hasn't gone completely unnoticed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Project, 21 states and D.C. have added classes of sexual orientation to fair employment law. Fifteen of those states have also instituted protections based on gender identity. A sizable portion of the states are taking initiative and rallying in support of more inclusive policies. Their actions are a running start for what should be a huge leap for a nationwide commitment for broader equality.

Federally, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill proposed in Congress, seeks to add federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It aims to eliminate the disadvantaging of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in applying for and receiving jobs based on their identity. Guarding against unfair hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation practices, ENDA ensures a greater level of workplace equality.

This would clearly address the need for comprehensive protection. A long history of congressional bodies, however, thinks otherwise. Congress has reintroduced, but never passed, ENDA in each and every year since 1994. And despite White House support, the bill's acceleration towards passage is slow.

Even if ENDA passed, we also need a stronger Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and more proactive, more transparent reporting mechanisms. Effective enforcement policy -- including an expressed maximum number of days that can pass before a filed complaint is heard or a minimum amount of compensatory damages guaranteed to a target of discrimination -- is the most crucial tool of deterrence against future and continuous workplace discrimination.

A worker's contribution does not depend on any certain notion of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other identity factor. All people, regardless of how they conduct their private lives, can be valuable assets to the workplace, the economy, and our larger society. In short, broader inclusion is both good business and good principle. It enables employers to recruit the most competitive talent for the job, regardless of an applicant's identity, and allows the workplace to be a rigorous example for promoting principles of inclusion, fairness, and equality.

Labor protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are, most directly, a crucial step for ensuring a more equitable workplace environment. But ultimately, they would set a much broader precedent for progressive inclusion in other areas of discrimination law -- college admissions, health and insurance benefits, and marriage equality, to name a few.

Tyler S. Bugg is an Organizing Fellow with Obama for America and a member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network studying international affairs and human geography at the University of Georgia.

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The Census Perpetuates Leave It to Beaver Gender Roles

Feb 16, 2012Bryce Covert

By assuming women are default child caretakers, the Census devalues care work, puts pressure on women, and ignores fathers completely.

By assuming women are default child caretakers, the Census devalues care work, puts pressure on women, and ignores fathers completely.

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to hear that I may agree with Rick Santorum on something. But while he was in the midst of ranting against radical feminists back in 2005, Santorum said this: "We need to value mothers and fathers spending time with their children much more than we do in America." He even makes a point of saying this "goes for men and women." In my twisted reading of what he was actually trying to say, Santorum may be more progressive on this point than our own government. Because when it comes to the Census Bureau's data collection efforts on child care, its definitions are based on long-held, yet unhelpful, ideas of who does the care work at home. (Hint: it doesn't go for men and women.)

The Census regularly reports who cares for children when parents work in its report "Who's Minding the Kids?" A trove of data on child care arrangements in the U.S., given the lack of support for families with working parents and the dearth of affordable options, is exciting. But it goes about classifying things all wrong. On page one of the most recent report, it lays out some basic terms. And, I quote, "In households where both parents are present, the mother is the designated parent." What is couched in the dressing of scientific term is really a judgment: that women are the default caretakers. Minding Johnny and Susie is only dad's concern if mom's not around. Otherwise it's something that she just does. But then it does away with even this term to say, "In this report, unless otherwise noted, the term parent is used to refer to the designated parent." Dad gets booted from even counting as a parent, not just the designated one. So what is dad then? Just some guy who lives in the same house who sometimes stands in as a child care arrangement.

But it gets worse. If mom's not around to talk to the Census, dad isn't even empowered to know anything about how his kids are cared for. "If the mother is not available for an interview, the father of the child can give proxy responses for her." But he will never be a real source of information on child care duties. Because he's rarely ever going to be doing it: "The survey only asked about child care provided by the father for the time the designated parent was working." What dad would deign to care for his kids if mom's around to do it for him?

The Census claims it is simply trying to collect data based on "gender norms," as Lynda Laughlin of the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch told the New York Times' KJ Dell'Antonia. "Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home," she points out. A mother is "not only caring for the child only while Dad works. She's probably caring for the child 24 hours and so Dad is able to go to work regardless."

Laughlin is probably correct in her estimation of the gender norms women face. But why replicate these pernicious ideas? This misconception that women are default caretakers reverberates throughout the entire workforce.

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In a controversial article riffing off the "opt-out revolution" trend of a few years ago, Linda Hirshman talks about the fact that many college-educated women who hold jobs choose to stay home -- sometimes even before kids arrive on the scene. Whether you may quibble with her data-mining methods, she makes a vital point as to why this might happen: women are still responsible for child care and homemaking, a fact that hasn't really changed even as women have flooded the workforce. The fact that women are thought of as default caretakers -- by their husbands, their workplaces, their society, and even themselves -- plays out in very specific ways. Hirshman writes:

The economic temptation is to assign the cost of child care to the woman's income. If a woman making $50,000 per year whose husband makes $100,000 decides to have a baby, and the cost of a full-time nanny is $30,000, the couple reason that, after paying 40 percent in taxes, she makes $30,000, just enough to pay the nanny. So she might as well stay home. This totally ignores that both adults are in the enterprise together and the demonstrable future loss of income, power, and security for the woman who quits.

Hirsman postulates that this is due to a lack of transformation in the home. But it's also a lack of transformation at work. If by and large women are still being paid less than men for the same work, then it will be easier to think of her lower salary as the most expendable. And her family wouldn't be faced with such stark economic choices if we supported parents who work. There's no such thing as guaranteed maternal leave -- the Census itself recently found that half of mothers don't get any leave at all. We have some family leave policies in place but many workers fall through the cracks. And not to mention that there are few quality, affordable, and accessible child care options for parents who don't rely on family members. We're still making it difficult to be a working parent, let alone a working mother.

The fallout from assuming that one gender just naturally "does" care work goes beyond the family. It devalues care work itself. This is a large part of why domestic workers are still fighting to be protected by national labor laws after having been excluded on the grounds that what they do is "babysitting" or offering "companionship." Because of these exclusions, our 1.7 million home care workers have been excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections. That means employers aren't required to pay them for all of their work hours, reimburse them for costs incurred as part of work, or pay them time-and-a-half for working over 40 hours a week. All of this adds up to pathetic pay: in 2009 the median wage of $9.34 an hour added up to just $20,283 a year. President Obama just nixed this exclusion for home health aides, but child care workers are still working outside labor laws.

It also impacts working women by assuming that they will interrupt or leave their careers to care for children without asking whether men should share that burden. A UC Berkeley study on California's child care system puts it this way: "Workers' careers are disrupted because of child care failure -- care that is unreliable, unaffordable, or just unavailable -- and these workers are usually women." This leads to lower pay and benefits, getting us back into the Catch-22 of the gender wage gap.

The opt-out trend wouldn't be that bad, however, if it weren't weighted to one gender. If a parent wants to stay home with the children, fine by me. But it shouldn't be assumed that women will be the ones to do it. We should see just as many stay-at-home dads as moms. The stereotypes that the Census relied on, however, simply add weight to the pressure on women to be the ones to leave their careers. And this obviously harms fathers as well. Why disqualify the care work they do while mom is at home? Why can't we assume that they would want to stay home?

Parroting outdated notions of the workforce, women's roles, and care work makes these problems worse. All it would take is to change a few words and ask slightly different questions for the Census to stop being part of the problem. Shouldn't be so much to ask given what's at stake.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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