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Marvel’s First Deaf Superhero: A First Step for Disabled Filmmakers


Makari is also the first Black Deaf female superhero to be portrayed in a major picture series on the silver screen.

November 30th 2021, 8:05 pm

During these 16 Days of Activism, Don’t Leave the LGBTIQ Community Behind


Although this time period is typically viewed as a fight for women and girls, it also needs to be inclusive of LGBTIQ people. Especially now!

November 22nd 2021, 9:31 pm

Working with the Taliban for Women’s Rights: It’s Like Speaking to Fish about Land!


The fight does not lie in convincing them of progressive ideals; the fight is to get the best outcome for those directly impacted by Taliban rule.

November 21st 2021, 5:00 pm

One Week From Today: Our ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Annual Awards Gala!


We're providing you with a Sneak Peek at this year's Gala Program!

November 9th 2021, 1:25 am

Saying Goodbye to Safety: All-Female Mills College Turns Co-ed


When Kate Valente packed for college, she did not pack pepper spray. Now, she may have to add to her packing list.

November 4th 2021, 2:19 pm

Longing to Leave Texas? These Firms Can Help!


This job fair will showcase the many roles available in PR and communications, in places that don’t subject women to dangerous restrictions or impose reckless vigilante justice on women’s bodies.

October 31st 2021, 6:15 pm

Child Brides: Closer Than You Think


In most U.S. states, the minimum marriage age for minors that have parental consent ranges from 12 to 17 years old.

October 28th 2021, 12:25 pm

Child Brides: Closer Thank You Think


In most U.S. states, the minimum marriage age for minors that have parental consent ranges from 12 to 17 years old.

October 27th 2021, 11:56 am

Announcing the Recipient of the Edie Windsor Champion for LGBTQAI+ Equality Award, 2021


Karine Jean-Pierre is the first openly gay woman to serve as the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

October 9th 2021, 9:01 pm

The Equal Rights Amendment and the Equality Act: Two Equality Measures Explained


As the ERA gains renewed momentum and as sexual minority groups gain recognition and visibility in the sex equality movement, the same fear tactics that were used to stall the ERA in the 1970s and 1980s are being repurposed to once again pit women against each other, particularly when it comes to the Equality Act.

October 5th 2021, 7:25 pm

All-Inclusionary Theater: Where The Show Must Go On!


"Our vision is an anti-racist, trauma-informed, accessible, ensemble production that embodies the complex identities and outstanding talents of our team."

September 29th 2021, 10:24 am

SATURDAY 9/25: Global Day of Solidarity Action For and With Women of Afghanistan Take Place Worldwid


Events in Mexico, Croatia, Eswatini, Congo, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Italy, UK, Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jamaica, Guatemala, Thailand, Nigeria, Portugal, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Zambia, Austria, and the United States.

September 22nd 2021, 6:59 pm

Hey Texas Dads: It’s Time to Get NIPPed


The Non-Invasive Pre-natal Paternity test (NIPP) couldn't be easier: It's requires just a simple cheek swab, guys, so get in line!

September 21st 2021, 5:44 pm

No Justice, No Freedom: Medical Abuse in Private Prisons


Almost one year later, survivors of these horrific abuses are still in precarious situations and require immigration relief.

September 16th 2021, 8:26 pm

‘Not Going Quietly’ – By Losing His Voice, He Speaks for Others


This film allows Ady Barken to freely explore the disabled experience, illustrating how disabled people refuse to be defined by tragedy.

September 15th 2021, 11:25 am

Texas Abortion Ban: Further Endangering Sexual Violence Victims


When a woman does not have control over her own body, she no longer has control over her own life. Abusers know this, which is why they want power over reproductive choice.

September 6th 2021, 7:17 pm

New ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Honorees Announced, as the 2021 Event Goes Virtual


Here is the list of our second outstanding group of honorees!!

September 1st 2021, 1:21 pm

ADHD: Too Often Misdiagnosed in Females


“It wasn’t until mid-10th grade [after the ADHD diagnosis] that I actually realized that I am smart and capable of doing things that everyone else can.”

August 29th 2021, 6:06 pm

How Three Armed Teenage Girls Provided Five Leadership Lessons


Women have traditionally been portrayed as victims but they are actually better leaders in times of conflict and crisis.

August 26th 2021, 10:52 pm

Sliding In Sideways: New York’s First Female Governor


Governorships have remained particularly elusive for females, regardless of their successful track records, regrettably for them...and for us.

August 22nd 2021, 10:47 pm

Female Olympians Face Extra Hurdles


'One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind.” - Megan Rapinoe

August 12th 2021, 9:16 pm

Indigenous Women Speak Out: August Podcast


"I’m super raw and candid because I think it’s important not to sugarcoat things - that will not create the change that is necessary." -Kluane Adamek, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon Regional Chief.

August 2nd 2021, 5:32 pm

Disability Discrimination: Innocent but Blatant


The feeling of separation hurt me; I saw myself as capable, intelligent and equal, and that this odd leg should be a characteristic that was overlooked...

July 26th 2021, 3:09 pm

The ‘Reverse Selfie’: Blurring the Lines of Reality and Fantasy


"By design, these tools have led young women to fixate over supposed problems with their appearances that they'd never previously been concerned about,"

July 22nd 2021, 9:48 am

From Scientific Bombshells to Scientific Breakthroughs: Women are in the Lead


“The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact.” - Dr. Anthony Fauci

July 14th 2021, 8:45 pm

Announcing: Our First 7 Honorees for ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ 2021!!


Join us on Tuesday, Oct. 19th at The Glass Ceiling in NYC!

July 6th 2021, 7:24 pm

As We Leave Afghanistan, Don’t Abandon Women and Girls


Countries retreating from Afghanistan show little concern for the dark future they are leaving behind for women and girls. Let us not look away.

July 1st 2021, 1:35 pm

What is Women’s Health? It’s More Than You Think


When we hear “women’s health,” we should picture everything from the food labels that warn us about the hidden, unhealthy ingredients in packaged food to the policies that ban smoking in public spaces to the birth certificates that grant girls access to education.

June 28th 2021, 6:48 pm

Welcome to our New Series and Podcast: Indigenous Women Speak Out


The descendant of four chiefs, leadership is in her veins.

June 22nd 2021, 7:51 pm

From the Executive Director: Welcome to our New Website!


Learn about our New Website, the '21 Leaders for the 21st Century' 2021 Gala, and How YOU can get Published in Women's eNews!

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

South Asian Authors: Opening Minds Beyond the Page


These authors possess the drive to write stories that reflect our multihued and multicultural world.

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

In Honor of Pride Month, our Executive Director Comes Out…Again


Because there is nothing as powerful a true life story, our Executive Director recalls 'coming out' to her college professor, 33 years later...

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

Boy Scouts: Will You Earn One More Badge?


The Boy Scouts is at a crossroads of preserving its future and atoning for its past.

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

Join Us at THE GLASS CEILING: Oct. 19, 2021


Announcing our Honorary Gala Chair and Co-Chairs...

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

Book Review: The Rooftop Party


Admit it…how many of us have fantasized about taking revenge on a man, any man, who brushed up a little too close against us at a business lunch, placed his hand on our body without permission at a company cocktail party, or tried to get us to have one drink too many at a corporate retreat? Well, for one writer, this fantasy came true, at least on paper.

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

ReelAbilies Film Festival: The Best Summer Ever


Despite the significant number of disabled characters in the film, it never addresses disability directly, but also does not avoid it completely; instead, it incorporates and normalizes it.

June 22nd 2021, 11:14 am

On Mother’s Day: Never Gone


As a child, I adored my mother. As a young woman I judged and criticized her life’s choices. But since she passed from this earth, I have longed to understand her. 

I was seven years old when I decided never to become my mother in any way. Even at a young age, I recognized the toxic relationship she had with my father. I grappled with the need to look up to her for protection and guidance but was always left disappointed. I knew, without a doubt, she loved me. I knew that from the way she smiled at me; the way her eyes met mine when I needed her to acknowledge me. It was as if I swam in her love. Her love was genuine. She took her role as mother seriously but her toxic relationship with my father turned her into someone I couldn’t count on as a female role model. So when my father beat her to unconciousness one night while she pleaded with me and my siblings to stay under the covers to stay safe, I also knew I will never become my mother. 

When I turned eight years old she disappeared. ‘She had to escape‘, is what I kept telling myself. I awoke one day, and she wasn’t there. Poof. Gone. Vanished. She’s gone. We were later told that Papa’s abuse didn’t stop at home; he had crippled her financially. Mama was the breadwinner as the owner of a pharmacy business, but she had allowed him access to her money. He squandered it through many failed business ventures until there was no more money to risk. Bankruptcy was the cancer that ended her financial independence. She therefore left her home and children to join her sister Maria, the first one to leave the Philippines and make America her new home. I believed that she had to make the painful decision of leaving her five babies to earn the mighty dollar in the land of opportunity—the USA. Her survival and ours depended on it. She had no choice. She had to escape. I had to continue surviving in my father’s regime. If I didn’t, I might be the next to disappear.’

It wasn’t until four years later, at twelve years old, when I was reunited with her in the USA. My siblings and I were snuck out in the middle of the night with the help of our uncle and nanny. From there, we took a secret trip to Manila where we were greeted by a petite, light-skinned woman, who I recognized as my mother. It wasn’t until then that I realized that four years of letters and phone calls couldn’t substitute for a physical mother by my side. She wasn’t there to show me how to become a woman when my menstruation cycle arrived at nine years old. She wasn’t present for any competitions, awards, or celebrations. She wasn’t there to protect her children from the wrath of my father and from the world. But that would change now. That’s what I told myself. 

I shook the past four years away and jumped into my new life to be the daughter that she needed. As the second oldest of five, I was expected to be responsible. Be the second mother. My mother seemed to be shrinking under the weight of being a poor single mother in a one and a half bedroom apartment in Newark, New Jersey. Food stamps helped feed us, along with the miscellaneous odd jobs she took on the weekends and her 9-5 as a lab technician. But it took its toll. 

Three years after our reunion she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, ravaging her physically and mentally. Within two months she succumbed to the disease’s unforgiving nature. Death was inevitable. I stood by her bedside making another promise to her and myself. I will be the mother now

I gained full custody and guardianship of my baby brothers, and at only 21 years old I bulldozed through life for the next 10 years, ultimately attaining financial success as an entrepreneur. But my inner child still yearned for a mother to be there for me. That launched me on a journey to understand who my mother was, in order to develop a healthy perspective of what a mother and child relationship could be. I did so through psychotherapy and coaching, including traditional talk therapy, mediumship sessions, and energetic intuitive practices. That’s when I finally accepted the reality: my mother was gone. She had done her job. She rescued us from our father. She had done the best she could with the resources she had. I am here–alive and well–to live the American dream from the sacrifices she had made. It doesn’t negate the unhealthy choices she made in love and marriage. But that was her journey. I didn’t have to repeat it. I decided to honor her memory and existence rather than criticize and judge her. This process revealed the gift of healthy boundaries. 

Today, as the mother to a sassy, stubborn, headstrong and impressionable five-year-old girl, the most important characteristic I provide as her parent is to be present. I do not project my past onto her, but I also don’t deflect my truth. My trauma was mine and not hers. My healing journey towards my mother showed me that as a parent, I do not know it all. I am humble enough to learn from my child, while setting safe and healthy boundaries. Society will judge her. Life will challenge her. But home is where she can feel safe, secure, and live without judgement. In hindsight, I thank my Mama Eva for allowing me to blossom into the mother I am today.

About the Author: Krista Nerestant is the author of Indestructible: The Hidden Gifts of Trauma

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

STEMMing the Tide of Women’s Progress


            Women and girls weren’t doing very well in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine) before the Covid 19 pandemic. Despite accounting for over half of the college-educated workforce, women in the United States made up only 29% of those employed in science and engineering occupations in 2017. Further, a 2018 report from Microsoft found that girls and young women were still less likely than boys to imagine or pursue careers in STEMM.

            But now comes the really bad news. A new National Academies of Sciences study finds that the pandemic may “roll back” women’s gains in STEMMResearchers concluded that although women had been making some gains in the past few years, “these trends have been hindered as difficulties with remote work and increased caregiving responsibilities have piled up during the pandemic.” One associate professor quoted in the report said, “I am on the verge of a breakdown. I have three children doing virtual school full time who need my attention throughout the day. . . . I try to wake up before them and work after they sleep, but this is hard given they wake up at 7am for school and don’t go to bed early.”

            Meanwhile, the group Girls Who Code reports that by 2027, this ongoing decline will mean that only 24 percent of girls will remain in computer fields. Additionally, a report in the Journal Nature finds that, “Early analyses suggest that female academics are posting fewer preprints and starting fewer research projects than their male peers.”

            This all comes in the light of an ongoing media storyline over many years  that  “Science” finds great differences between men and women, especially in the areas of math and science. This myth is like a chimera: lop off one head and two more pop up to replace it. Columnist George Will wrote,  “There is a vast and growing scientific literature on possible gender differences in cognition. Only hysterics denounce interest in these possible differences.”

            And a Google engineer, James Damore, caused a national uproar in July 2017, by posting an online  claim that women’s biology makes them less able than men to work in technology jobs. Columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times found his scientific arguments intriguing. Damore said that many men in the company agreed with his sentiments. That’s not unexpected, because the idea that women just can’t hack it in math and science has been around for eons. It has been argued that women’s lack of a “math gene,” their inherent psychological traits, and their brain structures make most women unfit for STEMM careers.

  Such ideas are nonsense, as we wrote in Recode at the time of the Google dustup. “We have been researching issues of gender and STEMM  for more than 25 years. We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEMM fields.” Despite the facts, bias against women in these fields keeps growing. It’s disturbing to hear that Covid is yet another brick in the wall of discrimination against women in science.  Such bias is especially rampant in the booming high-tech industry. 

             Professors at Columbia, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, found that two-thirds of managers selected male job candidates, even when the men did not perform as well as the women on math problems that were part of the application process. Ernesto Reuben, assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School, writes, “…our experiments show …that hiring managers possess an extraordinary level of gender bias when making decisions and filling positions, often times choosing the less qualified male over a superiorly qualified female.” 

            Another major issue is that many women in tech believe that when they fail, they don’t get second chances. This fear was uncovered by the Athena Factor project in 2008, sponsored by IBM, Microsoft, Dell, and Cisco.  Athena found that for females, jobs are “Hard won and easily lost.” Just getting a job with high status isn’t enough. you have to keep it. Keeping a high-level job is easier for men than women; Men’s mistakes are often forgiven. Not so with women. One mistake, and you may find yourself on the skids. As one of the researchers, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, noted, “In tech firms, that the way to get promoted is to do a diving catch:  Some system is crashing in Bulgaria, so you get on the plane in the middle of the night and dash off and spend the weekend wrestling with routers and come back a hero.”

            But what if you don’t make the catch? 

            “Women have a hard time taking on those assignments because you can dive and fail to catch. If a man fails, his buddies dust him off and say, ‘It’s not your fault; try again next time.’ A women fails and is never seen again.” One female engineer says, “Men play differently…men will make decisions to move forward and do things that are high risk. That’s because men are able to walk away unscathed from a mistake—women aren’t.” So women wind up in a lose-lose situation that they didn’t see coming.

Our research found much the same. As cited in our book, The New Soft War on Women,: ‘Tech leaders often see themselves as the “good guys “ of the corporate world. “Don’t be evil” is Google’s motto. But in the tech industry and the startup community, the level of sexual harassment and its health consequences for women are very high. In First Round Capital’s 2017 survey of venture-backed startup founders, HALF of the founders told of a personal experience with sexual harassment. They also split on public perception of the issue: 70% of female founders said sexual harassment in the industry is still underreported vs. 35% of male founders. And men were four times more likely than women to say the media’s overblown the issue (22% vs. 5%).

            In some instances, sexual-harassment training has even been shown to backfire. One study from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, found that while training increased knowledge about what constitutes sexual harassment, it also sometimes had a corrosive effect on workplace culture. “What was disturbing was that the males who had gone through training showed a backlash effect …they said they were less willing to report sexual harassment than the males who had not gone through the training,” noted Time Magazine. Perhaps male participants who took part in the training, identified with the men, circled the wagons, and blamed the women. Research finds that when men focus on the advances women have made, they often do just that. 

       McKinsey reports that during the pandemic women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. “One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.” Further, Global Trends writes: “Given trends we have observed over the past few months, in a gender-regressive scenario in which no action is taken to counter these effects, we estimate that global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector.”

            Concurrently, super smart computers are taking jobs away from human beings at a stunning rate. Hod Lipson, director of the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, says, “Automation and AI will take away pretty much all of our jobs…If not within our lifetime, then within our grandchildren’s lifetime. This is a new situation in human history, and we’re not prepared for it.”  In this process, women are more at risk than men. In 2019, the first study of job consequences of Artificial Intelligence for women by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that while women make up just under half the U.S. workforce, they will make up nearly 60 percent of the workers at highest risk of being displaced by this technology.” Worse news: these cuts will be in relatively high-paying positions, the ones that women use to get ahead in a work culture that favors men. Add the pandemic to this problem and things look very bleak.

            The chair of the committee behind the Academy of Sciences report, Eve Higginbotham, told STAT that the ongoing pandemic could have worse effects on women’s careers in STEMM in the future: “If institutions do not aggressively correct for this, then we will see fewer women being promoted to professor, to leadership positions. It’s just going to look like the 1950s again. So I would say that it would be the gender recession that we’re seeing in corporate America.”

            And the fairy tale that women can’t do science and math could live on for many years to come.    

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Don’t Miss: Mothers & Daughters – Women Writing About the Women Who Shaped Them (May 15-16)


In honor of Mother’s Day, mothers and daughters can now explore this special relationship…

It was just three ago when I signed up for a writing workshop with author, speaker and writer, Amy Ferris. It turned into my first of many, since it allowed me to honestly, and transparently, write about my relationship with my mother. I left feeling lighter, freer, empowered.

Knowing and understanding our relationships with our moms and, in turn, our daughters, provides insight into who we are, often releasing previously untapped creativity. With annual Mother’s Day celebrations just behind us, these feelings in us are now even more fresh, raw and, even, pure.

Here’s a little bit about the workshop, and you can learn more by clicking the link below:

Saturday, May 15: This class features two mother/daughter duos who have made their mark in writing and production. Legendary television writer and producer Marta F. Kauffman and her daughter Hannah Canter are a real-life creative team on the hit series Grace & Frankie and Marta’s company Okay Goodnight. And Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines co-authored the book Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. They’ll share their stories of collaboration, along with writing prompts about the conversations you had—and didn’t have—with your mother or daughter.

Sunday, May 16: Kristine Van Raden and Molly Davis, co-authors of Letters to Our Daughters (featured on Oprah), will lead a discussion on writing about and to your mother or daughter. And Alka Joshi, author of the New York Times bestseller The Henna Artist, will share an intimate look at getting to know her mother as the two traveled to their native India for Alka’s book research. These celebrated authors’ prompts will help you use writing as a tool for understanding, healing and celebrating one of the most essential relationships a woman can have.

The weekend will include plenty of writing prompts, Q&A and opportunities to share your writing within a creative and supportive community.

Learn more by clicking here

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Don’t Miss: ALL ARTS Presents Past, Present, Future Dance Film Festival with Accessibility Features,


For the inaugural Past, Present, Future dance film festival, ALL ARTS collaborated with choreographers Kyle Abraham of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, Pam Tanowitz of Pam Tanowitz Dance and the artists of Kinetic Light and filmmakers Dehanza Rogers, Liz Sargent and Katherine Helen Fisher to illuminate how dancers interpret various stages of time as motivation. The three films that comprise Past, Present, Future premiere Sunday, May 9 – Tuesday, May 11 at 8 p.m. ET nationwide on the ALL ARTS app and, and in the New York Metro area on the ALL ARTS TV channel (channel lineup).

ALL ARTS is committed to access for the Past, Present, Future festival including audio description and captions for all films and one film with American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. Marketing efforts for this festival also integrate access, including photo descriptions. To ensure accessibility, ALL ARTS tapped Bridge Multimedia to provide closed captions and audio descriptions.

You can view the trailer here.

The choreographers and filmmakers all created their works during a time complicated by the uncertainty and constraints of the coronavirus pandemic. Past, Present, Future provides a rare opportunity to witness a time capsule of the thoughts, processes and artistry of the choreographers, including how these artists view their field at a challenging present moment, when the future holds numerous unknowns.

“This year’s festival allows ALL ARTS to employ choreographers and filmmakers at a time when COVID has led to a lot of canceled work,” said Diane Masciale, Co-Executive in Charge of ALL ARTS. “We’re also happy to be shining a light on some of the most impactful choreographers in dance today. We encouraged their full freedom of expression and really couldn’t be happier with the results. Each film is completely different but equally inspiring.”

The screen is divided into a grid of 5 sections. Alice is repeated in three sections. Alice, a multi-racial Black woman with coffee-coloured skin and curly brown hair, is flying intently towards the camera. Alice arcs so her belly is to the floor and wheels rise behind; thick black cables connect to her from above. The energy feels electric, jolted. In the top corner sections Brandon, a mixed race Black artist, signs multiply in front of a bright white backdrop. Alice Sheppard of Kinetic Light; still from One + One Make Three/Safety Third Productions.

The Past, Present, Future dance film festival lineup on ALL ARTS features: 

“If We Were a Love Song” (Sunday, May 9 at 8 p.m.):

“If We Were a Love Song” is produced by Dehanza Rogers for ALL ARTS. Music by Nina Simone. Choreography by Kyle Abraham. Directed by Dehanza Rogers. Performed by Kyle Abraham, Tamisha A. Guy, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Claude “CJ” Johnson, Catherine Kirk, Jae Neal, Donovan Reed and Gianna Theodore. Featuring The Bell Family, Leton and Amari Hall and Niara Sterling. Kyle Abraham is Creative Director and Executive Producer. Kirby Griffin is Director of Photography. T.J. Alston is Gaffer. Dehanza Rogers is Editor and Colorist. Additional Photography by Gyasi Mitchell.

“DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape)” (Monday, May 10 at 8 p.m.)

Conceived by choreographer Kyle Abraham and set to some of Nina Simone’s most intimate and stirring songs, If We Were a Love Song is a dance film that offers a cultural portrait of his company and community. Created in collaboration with A.I.M and filmmaker Dehanza Rogers, this series of poetic vignettes strips down Abraham’s idiosyncratic and emotionally-driven movement to match the raw power of Simone’s music, showing that deep grief and profound love often live in the same quiet moment. This film will be closed captioned and audio described.Captured by filmmaker Liz Sargent’s verité lens, choreographer Pam Tanowitz and her dancersreturn to rehearsal during 2020’s pandemic. Tanowitz ponders the fleeting nature of performance and reimagines the future of her work on film. Audiences are given a rare look into the choreographer’s creation style. For its finale, the film shifts gears and features fully fledgedexcerpts from “Every Moment Alters,” which features music by Caroline Shaw. In contrast to therehearsal process, Tanowitz describes the style of the final dance as polished and cinematic. This film will be closed captioned and audio described.

“One + One Make Three” (Tuesday, May 11 at 8 p.m.)
Director Katherine Helen Fisher’s documentary/dance film, with acclaimed disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light, includes innovative experimentation in which access is as challenging, provocative, and beautiful as the art itself.
According to Diane Masciale, Co-Executive in Charge of ALL ARTS,  “As with the other choreographers ALL ARTS invited to participate in the Past, Present, Future festival, Kinetic Light was selected because of the undeniable impact of their work. In addition to being blown away by the film that was created, we are grateful for the crucial role Kinetic Light has played in advocating for the entire festival to be more accessible. They’ve inspired and guided us in establishing new practices for increasing the accessibility of the other films in the festival and future programming on ALL ARTS.” This film takes audiences behind the scenes, into the studio, and into the air. Dancers partner, spin, and soar, as they reflect on art, dance, and disability as a creative force. Featuring dance artists Jerron Herman, Laurel Lawson, and Alice Sheppard; artist/ASL interpreter Brandon Kazen-Maddox; and audio describer Cheryl Green. The broadcast version of this film integrates ASL and Open Captions and optionally available Enhanced Audio Description. The film is available in four versions online: ASL + Open Captions + Audio Description; ASL only; Open Captions + Audio Description; and Open Captions only. An audio file of Audio Description and transcripts will also be available.

Leadership support for ALL ARTS is generously provided by Jody and John Arnhold and the Arnhold Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, The Jerome L. Greene Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Anderson Family Fund and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.


ALL ARTS is breaking new ground as the premier destination for inspiration, creativity and art of all forms. This New York Emmy-winning arts and culture hub is created by The WNET Group, the parent company of New York’s PBS stations. With the aim of being accessible to viewers everywhere, ALL ARTS’ Webby-nominated programming – from digital shorts to feature films – is available online nationwide through, the free ALL ARTS app on all major streaming platforms, and @AllArtsTV on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

New York area TV viewers can also watch the 24/7 broadcast channel. For all the ways to watch, visit

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Mom, I Always Knew You Were a Lesbian


(originally published on Dec. 16, 2016 in The Huffington Post.)

It had been six years since I delicately disclosed to my teenage son that I was dating a woman for the very first time. But my surprise announcement was quickly eclipsed by his sardonic response. “Mom, I always knew you were a lesbian!” he quipped, without a hint of surprise.

How did he know? I soon learned that while I had spent close to two decades teaching him the importance of living authentically, I was actually revealing parts of myself that had long been buried, years before he was even born.

It was, in fact, because of his birth that my truth was ultimately exposed. You see, ever since my son was a toddler, I thought he may be gay. Perhaps it was because most of his childhood friends were girls; perhaps it was because he shied away from anything stereotypically masculine, like competitive sports; or perhaps it was because I saw how he struggled at the beginning of each school year when it came time to selecting a class notebook. He would always first choose the kind covered in pink and purple Technicolor, only to place it back on the shelf, while sighing, “I don’t want the other boys to make fun of me.”

So, as he grew, I made it my mission to point out when someone else chose to live inauthentically, only to regret it later. In 2004, for example, when former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey made headlines for declaring his homosexuality long after being married to a woman and having children, I reiterated the importance of being honest with oneself from the very beginning. Whenever a headline splashed across a newspaper’s front page announcing yet another LGBT youth’s suicide due to bullying or some other form of reproach, I reassured my son that I would always accept and love him for who he is. So, years later, when I received that long-anticipated phone call from my then college-age son announcing proudly, and decidedly, that he was in his first relationship with ‘someone named Michael,’ I knew my job was well done, at least for him. There was still one more person who needed to come out.

“I always knew you were a lesbian,” my son continued, “because when I used to tell you that I thought I may be attracted to the same sex, you said that you felt the same way when you were my age. Even though you said it was natural for all teenagers to feel that way,” he continued, “I knew you were really hiding something.” While, at the time, I had certainly convinced myself that I was solely expressing my feelings to help him feel more secure with his, I did later discover that I was actually revealing my own.

Thinking back, I recall being attracted to girls from the time I was a pre-teen, only to repress it due to my parents’ strict religious rule that I only ‘marry a Jewish boy.’ Being the dutiful daughter, I did as I was told, twice in fact, and buried my attraction for the same sex so deeply that it disappeared from consciousness for over 30 years. But repressing my true self influenced more than just my relationship choices. It also affected how I related to others, in a myriad of ways.

I was constantly on edge, struggling to resist reacting out of anger over the most minor of circumstances. Whether it was driving behind another car that was traveling below the speed limit, or an error in calculation at the local food market’s check-out counter, or a meal that was not prepared ‘just the way I like it’ at my favorite restaurant, my outbursts were over-zealous, and far-reaching.

It was only by reaching back into my long-time studies and training in the field of psychology that I fully understood why. I recalled, as a former Adjunct Professor of Psychology, teaching about Carl Jung, the early 20th Century Swiss psychiatrist known for his breakthrough theories about the importance of leading an authentic life. “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are,” Jung wrote, and trying to be ‘normal when it violates our inner nature is, in itself, a form of suffering.’ More recently, I read about how inauthenticity can also lead to extreme anger and violence in James Gilligan’s, Preventing Violence. After studying the most violent of criminals, Gilligan found that the basic cause of violent behavior is the wish to eliminate feelings of shame and humiliation. “It is not surprising that people will hide who they truly are,” he surmised, to avoid feeling ‘insulted, disgraced, teased, or taunted.’

Now that I am living a more authentic life, I no longer experience those spontaneous spouts of anger but, rather, those of inner peace and comfort. Still, I often wonder how my life would have been different had I never feared being rejected and unloved. What if my family had provided me with unconditional love and acceptance, regardless of my orientation? What if I had felt free to make my own decisions, rather than forced to make theirs? Fortunately, I’ve now discovered that all of these ‘what ifs’ can easily be answered just by looking in the direction of my grown son, where honesty, purpose and pride prevail.

Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Women’s eNews, and an award-winning author. She is in the process of turning her experience into a book about the importance of coming out later in life.

April 26th 2021, 6:47 pm

The Covid-19 Vaccine: To Fear or Not to Fear


            As I passed my neighborhood Walgreens, I paused momentarily, peering nonchalantly in the large storefront window hoping to catch a glimpse of people getting their Covid vaccinations. After more than a year of masking, quarantining and social distancing, I was finally eligible for mine and yet, I kept putting it off. Would today be the day? I scanned the room. There were the uneasy and the anxious, the relieved and the relaxed. Just as I was trying to read their faces and their minds, someone exiting the store held the door open for me. I quickly turned and left. 

            As I walked home, I wondered why I was hesitant to receive this lifesaving, life-changing vaccine? Everyone I knew was already fully vaccinated. Inquiries from family and friends kept coming and I was running out of excuses: I’m waiting until I’m eligible. I’m waiting until they have more availability. I’m waiting until more appointments open up.

            Clearly, I was waiting. But for what? I have always fancied myself a pragmatist who trusted science and believed in facts. My reluctance was becoming an existential crisis. I began questioning my values, beliefs and how I would look in a tinfoil hat. Before I slid further down the rabbit hole of total personal excoriation, I needed more information. 

            One in four Americans say they will refuse a coronavirus vaccine. Another 5% are “undecided.” The numbers were highest among Republican men and residentsof rural areas, but a significant number of people across all ages and demographics claim they will say “no.” If being lockstep with the demographic “Republican men” wasn’t enough to make me run screaming back to Walgreens with my sleeves rolled up, I’m not sure what would.

            No one is immune to the unique challenge pandemics pose. They expose just how profoundly our fates are entwined. “Scientists estimate that 70 to 90 percent of the total population must acquire resistance to the virus to reach herd immunity. About 31 percent of adults in the United States have now been fully vaccinated.”

            While vaccines eradicated Smallpox and Polio, that was before Big Pharma began peddling prescription drugs for profit. When asked who owned the patent on his polio vaccine, virologist Jonas Salk said, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Salk’s refusal to patent his polio vaccine is unheard of today, as drug companies market medications to the public the way Nike sells sneakers or used car salesmen try to move the last Buick off the lot. There are only two countries in the world where direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is even legal: The United States and New Zealand. And who can forget “Pharma Bro” Martin Shreli’s cruel and unconscionable 5,000 percent price hike of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750.  

            While skepticism toward the pharmaceutical industry may be justified, we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was recently suspended after eight cases of serious blood clots were reported, but this was after 7.4 million Americans received the shot. 

            We may never fully understand what motivates people to act or not to act. Maybe some don’t want to return to the way things were. Maybe viruses are Mother Nature’s calling card for a course correction. 

            During the lockdown, nature appeared to be healing. Wildlife seemed to revel in the empty streets, while less traffic resulted in cleaner air. “This spring saw a 17 percent dip in CO2 emissions as people stayed home and didn’t drive…Inequity and systemic racism for many years have created “environmental mosaics of inequality” – pockets of greater ecological harm in poorer and more marginalized communities.”

            The spring of 2020 showed us the promise of long-term systemic changes to our lifestyles. Maybe we need inoculation against a more insidious virus that continues to put the population and the planet in peril. Maybe we need to reconsider our relationship to the earth and each other. Or maybe this was just another rationalization to stall the inevitable. 

            One night, while looking through old vaccination records, I came across a letter my mother sent me during a particularly rough period in my life. I was facing an avalanche of anxiety over a difficult decision. It said simply: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s having the fear and doing it anyway.”

            Not long after I found myself back at Walgreens, but this time on the other side of the window – waiting to be vaccinated. No one is immune to fear but there is courage and clarity on the other side.

Barbara Jacobs is a New York based writer and commentator. She is also an award-winning songwriter whose work has been featured in film and television. 

April 22nd 2021, 5:25 pm

It’s Time to Prioritize Women’s Rights in Senegal


Senegal, long admired for its history of political stability, should have been celebrating its “exceptional” democracy along with 61 years of independence on April 4. Instead, last month’s deadly riots further imperiled the West African country’s status, already downgraded last year by Freedom House to “Partly Free.” The hope that Senegal’s year-old law criminalizing rape brought has recently collapsed due to nationwide protests sparked by a 20-year-old masseuse’s charge that she’d been raped by presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko. The woman, Adji Sarr, has received death threats and was disparaged on social media. 

The landmark rape law was a victory long in the making. In May 2019, the rape and murder of two young Senegalese women, Bineta Camara and Coumba Yade, led to a national and international campaign to address gender-based violence in Senegal and ensure that rape was treated as a serious crime.

The Sarr-Sonko case is a very public test of the new law’s implementation. While on his way to a court appearance to address the rape accusations after his parliamentary immunity was revoked, Sonko was arrested on March 3 on charges of disrupting public order following clashes between police and demonstrators.

The 46-year-old politician, who finished third in the 2019 presidential elections, is an anti-establishment 2024 presidential hopeful. His opposition party PASTEF (Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity) is popular among youth discouraged by President Macky Sall’s broken campaign promises. Sonko has denied the rape allegation, saying it is fabricated as a political ploy by Sall to eliminate opposition. 

First elected in 2012, Sall is serving what should be his final term amid speculation that he may seek a third term by changing Senegal’s constitution. Sall has previously imprisoned other political rivals, including opposition leader Karim Wade, the former president’s son convicted of corruption in 2015, and former Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation) for embezzlement in 2018. Protesters therefore viewed Sonko’s arrest as emblematic of government corruption and continued (mis)use of courts to squash dissent.

At least 10 people died when Senegalese security forces aggressively tried to quell the protests, led by Sonko’s supporters – predominantly young men. Sonko was indicted for rape and death threats and released from police custody on bail under judicial supervision on March 8, after which street demonstrations subsided, but tensions in Senegal remain high. Sarr gave a March 18 interview to Senegalese media, coming out of hiding and saying she had become pregnant from the rape.

In Senegal, women face especially difficult challenges on multiple fronts. The nationwide riots shut down the country during the first half of March, the rape charges having given way to finger-pointing by powerful male politicians. Sarr has been called a liar and women supporting her were harassed and silenced. Calls to #FreeSenegal must not ignore women’s rights. 

Senegal is in the midst of an economic crisis in addition to a political one. The economy has performed extremely well under Sall, who addressed energy shortages and built new infrastructure. With annual economic growth rates above 5%(prior to its 2020 fall), global investment – notably from China and the Arab Gulf – has benefited Senegal’s elite. 

However, youth unemployment and poverty remain widespread and the pandemic has widened wealth disparities. The informal sector, where many women make their livings and which comprises more than 80% of Senegal’s economy, was hit particularly hard by “dusk-to-dawn” curfews

Covid-19 also increased gender disparities globally, including a rise in sexual violence in Africa. Senegalese women had already accused Sall of not taking gender parity seriously.

The #MeToo movement has struggled to gain traction in Senegal, where victims of sexual abuse are stigmatized and women remain underrepresented in politics. Senegalese women have learned to use sex and submission as tools of negotiation. The OECD’sSocial Institutions and Gender Index scored Senegal “medium” on its gender discrimination scale. Senegalese girls face high primary-school drop-out rates and early marriages and motherhood.

Women’s rights must rank higher in the Senegalese outcry. To be sure, the increasing authoritarianism of Senegal’s leaders is also cause for concern. Violence by government-deployed security forces against mostly peaceful young (male) protestors and their arbitrary arrests has raised alarm among human rights groups. The government shutdown of social media platforms and private television stations – in a country that has embraced freedom of press – is troubling. The justice system is in disarray

Demonstrations and strikes have long been effective at keeping the abuse of power in check and defending Senegalese democracy. Disenfranchised youth have found a way to make their voices heard, but their preferred candidate Sonko’s future is now threatened by the rape allegation. This has created a problematic position for Senegalese women, forced to choose between showing support for victims of sexual abuse or male-dominated democratic institutions. 

These two matters cannot be in conflict. Women’s voices are crucial to the restoration of democracy in Senegal and women’s rights must be prioritized in national reconciliation. Senegal’s reputation as West Africa’s democracy is at stake.

Mara A. Leichtman is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Muslim Studies at Michigan State University and is a 2020-2021 Luce/ACLS Fellow in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs.

April 20th 2021, 8:16 pm

Women’s History Month: A Daughter Discovers Her Voice


“She thinks just like her father, just like a man,” I remember, as a girl, my grandmother saying proudly, above clicking knitting needles, about my mother, as if this were the highest possible compliment she could bestow upon her daughter. 

I understand why the analogy came in handy. Mid-20th century society lacked the language for my mother, a STEM pioneer, the first woman to earn a degree in Civil Engineering from M.I.T. and later, as head of her own contracting firm, overseeing the construction of buildings throughout New England.  When she was the first woman elected to M.I.T.’s Chi Epsilon Honor Society, they called her, simply, “Brother Natalie.”

But it makes me wonder who is served when we characterize the way a person thinks as if it is better suited to a different gender, or someone else.  What would it mean if we said, “he thinks just like a woman?”  Why can’t we all just be comfortable thinking like ourselves, whoever we are?

For my mother, numbers, angles and structures were the secrets to unlocking life’s treasures.  At 16, a star math student at Brookline High, her high school yearbook entry read, “I want to be an engineer, just like Daddy.”

She was eager to follow in the mud-hardened work boots of six generations of builders.  Yet when she did, the press would trivialize her with headlines like “Cute Brunette is Successful Contractor!” or “They got a Dame Running the Job!” that focused on her femininity, how she adorned the landscape rather than how she was changing it.  

This fixation on her femaleness irked her.  I wonder how she felt, when the way she naturally thought was assigned outside of herself, as if her mind could not be hers, as if she could not lay claim to it.

I, of course, revered her; wanted to slide into her every footstep.

But for me, letters and words were the gemstones of my heart, my way of making sense of the world. The undulating rhythms of sentences, like portals to enchanted waters, helped me feel a connection as strong as any reinforced steel beam.

Our different ways of thinking would collide one day on the living room sofa, when she was helping me with a high school algebra problem. As she pressed me to calculate how many miles a bird, zig zagging between two oncoming trains, would travel before the speeding locomotives crashed, my mind emptied.  My words seemed to waft away on a spiral of steam. I recall my searing humiliation, as an exasperated look of disappointment washed over her face and I interpolated her thoughts:  She had given birth to a girl-child who showed little promise of thinking like a man.

I felt betrayed, naked, especially because these were called “word” problems – and I was supposed to be really good at words. 

It was like an irritating bit of grit, a grain of sand, had wedged into the soft flesh beneath my fingernail.

My relationship with words would be tested again, as I contemplated my future after college. In a senior English essay, I expressed gratitude for writing for “giving me my own special skill, my own voice,” while also divulging in the next sentence that mom “didn’t approve” of it.”

“Grandpa, who brought mom up as an engineer, didn’t think the arts were a worthwhile investment,” I ventured.  I mourned the banishment of other writer-relatives; Uncle Arnie whose admission to the Iowa Writers Workshop was forsaken so he could become a construction bookkeeper; and my mother’s own sister who’s prize-winning story about a Depression-era family that favored a mathematically-gifted daughter struck a bit too close to home.

“Mom and Gram would never forgive Lilla for writing it,” I penned. “So writing, particularly about the family, was out.  It wasn’t safe.  And it certainly wasn’t nice.”

I decided to approach my future from a more secure angle: I would learn to think like a man.  So, I mastered the Bernoulli trial, Modigliani-Miller theorem, and Poisson distribution in business school classes in Statistical Analysis and Inference and Managerial Accounting and Financial Control. At times, I would feel like a fish in the wrong ocean in classes filled mostly with men; bankers and investors. 

But I was my mother’s daughter: I figured out how to succeed.

 Later, I used words strategically to drive growth at the Fortune 500 companies whose brands I marketed.  It was always the way I used words that propelled me upward.  They never let me down.

A pearl is formed from a piece of sand, wedged between the clasped shell of an oyster, that silently incubates it, layer upon layer, over time.  Extracting the pearl must be done carefully, patiently, so as not to damage the host.

Not long ago, I came across that old college essay.  The typed paper still held its sheen, the hue of a seasoned pearl.  I slipped it out, carefully, from its folder.

I read the scrawled handwriting of my college writing professor, now long gone. I could almost hear his voice echo: “Whatever your parents say about your writing, I encourage you to work on it, and work hard.  You have a gift…”

Something within my heart seemed to loosen. My throat eased; seemed to clear.

In a curious astrological twist, my mother and I reconvene – in spirit—every year on this day, March 26th, the day I was born to her, and, decades later, the day she departed from me.

As we commingle again, I can see now that the fact that we interpreted the world differently really did not matter. If anything, it strengthened us, helped us grow.

What mattered in the end was the purity and intensity of our love for each other.

And that has been the greatest gift of all.

About the author:  Julie Vogel is a freelance writer and sexual assault prevention advocate. Her upcoming novel, Pinned, set during the pandemic, tells the story of a star high school wrestler who newly discovers remorse and compassion after his rape of a childhood friend. 

April 20th 2021, 8:16 pm

NYC: A Dream or a Nightmare for People with Disabilities?


New York City is a difficult city to navigate and reside in for many, but it can be even more challenging for people with disabilities. I moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to Manhattan in the fall of 2019 to attend graduate school at New York University. My mom worried about me, a wheelchair user, leaving the highly accessible city of Las Vegas to move across the country to NYC, but I had found the city to be fairly accessible during my previous visits here. I quickly realized that my prior visits to the city were filled with tourist activities, all of which were built for a wide variety of people and therefore, offered better accessibility. Once I moved to NYC on my own, I soon became frustrated that I couldn’t experience many of the trendy restaurants and bars in my area because they only provided steps, and often no elevators. Further, many sidewalks were uneven, curb cuts (the ramps on street corners) were inconsistent, and the front wheels of my wheelchair would often get caught in the cobblestone streets. Public transportation was hard to navigate and inaccessible and when it snowed it made it more difficult for me to leave my apartment. I was dealing with a new world of challenges I had never before experienced as a life-long wheelchair user.

I am not the only one. Jacqueline Wentworth, an occupational therapist with cerebral palsy who has lived in New York City off and on for many years, has not only struggled herself, but has also witnessed similar struggles amongst her patients who live in New York City. “What’s so hard about NYC, is that it’s created to be a walking city,”  she says. Wentworth, though ambulatory, has trouble with excessive walking. “The winter is especially difficult because cold affects spasticity, which makes it more difficult to walk, and the snow slush on the corners of all the blocks…it was an actual nightmare for me.” According to a recent New York Times analysis, 550,000 New Yorkers living in the City have difficulty walking, and two-thirds of them live far from an accessible subway station. Further, only 25% of NYC subway stations are accessible, the lowest percentage of any major transit system in the world, and even accessible stations with elevators have been found to break down at an average of 53 times a year. Public buses are more accessible but require much longer travel time than subways, and other options like rideshare services and taxis, which can be accessible, are more costly.

Yet people with mobility issues are not the only ones facing challenges in New York City. For the hearing-impaired population, captions and subtitles are not always available in NYC. Emily Aronica, who was born deaf, enjoys going to live shows and seeing movies in the theatres, but she says, “There used to be captions—but it’s not as common nowadays and even when they are provided through a device, it often doesn’t work.”  Transportation has also proven to be difficult for her, particularly when there are “—unexpected announcements, but there are no auto or manual subtitles made for me to understand.” Further, due to the pandemic, Aronica can’t read people’s lips with their masks on. 

Housing is another major concern for people with disabilities living in New York City. NYC is known to have high rent apartments with limited space. According to a recent report by RENT Café, Manhattan boasts the highest average rent in the United States ($4,210/month), three times that of the national average ($1,463/month). In Manhattan, the typicalstudio apartment measures 550 square feet, while the average one-bedroom apartment measures 750 square feet. Limited living space often translates to smaller apartment doorways and bathrooms not sized to fit wheelchairs and walkers. This means that residents requiring these types of aids must be able to afford additionally needed space (i.e. more expensive) apartments. Further, people with disabilities must also consider a housing’s proximity to public transportation, while keeping in mind that few subway stations are accessible. 

Unfortunately, businesses in New York City are not fairing much better when it comes to providing accessibility accommodations despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was put into law over three decades ago. This is because the law allows for flexibility, with Title II of the ADA stating that buildings do not have to “take any action that would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the service, program, or activity in question or that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens.” Although not explicitly stated in the ADA, many businesses and city governments interpret Title II as the “grandfathering clause” claiming their business is “grandfathered in” when a building is built before a certain year to avoid making costly alterations and to preserve the history of the building. 

Yet some other large cities, including Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, are making headway to accommodate people with disabilities. Andy Arias, a wheelchair user who works in federal policy as a government advisor in Washington D.C. and previously worked in ADA compliance for California, says that L.A.’s accessibility is far more advanced than what he’s experienced on the east coast. “I have never had to call places in L.A. to see if they’re accessible, but in New York or D.C.? Daily!” Arias recalls. “The subways [in L.A.] are completely accessible. We work with advocates, groups, and cities to make sure the subways are flat and anywhere the subway goes, there’s an elevator. Even the gates, they open for us. If you’re in a wheelchair, you wave and the doors open for you. It’s fully accessible,” he continues. “In San Francisco, they have the big buttons on the floor so you can even push it with your wheelchair. It’s very different. If New York was like that, I would probably be living in New York right now.”

Other major cities, like Philadelphia, can also serve as models for improvement. This city provides a grant available to businesses to cover up to 50% of the costs for accessibility renovations. “If an owner doesn’t have the money to become fully accessible, you have to apply for the money of course, but Philadelphia will subsidize the accessibility costs and help you become accessible.” Arias says. “If somebody can’t afford it, then they’ll chip in. People get taxed for it, but I think that’s fair because you’re making it accessible for the city, not just for an individual. I don’t understand why all cities don’t have a program like this.” These are solutions that address the willingness of business owners to be considerate of the 26% of the population that could help expand their businesses and add revenue. “I think disability needs to be looked at as part of our culture…in reality everyone’s going to be where we are in 10, 15, 20 years,” Arias continues. “—People are afraid to look at the reality that disability will happen to all of us.” Arias also recommends instituting tiers of accommodations and a listing of where businesses land in terms of providing accommodations. “If you had a website that was like the Zagat guide of accessibility, where it showed ‘this place is accessible tier 1 or tier 2 or fully accessible,’ I would even settle for that because that would even show that we’re making steps to move forward.”

Clearly, ADA laws are not enough to require businesses to make big changes overnight, but there are smaller changes that can be made in major cities like New York to accommodate disabled people, as demonstrated by San Francisco, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and others. Arias believes equity for the disability community is imperative to cities prioritizing accessibility. “People need to look at us as equal before it’s really going to change.” Arias says. “Think about it, if your housing is accessible, but you can’t get anywhere with public transit, what good is that? And if public transit is accessible, but you have to live in a $3,000 place then what good is where you’re living? It’s not good. Your community is not whole.”

About the Author: Cheyenne Leonard is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

April 20th 2021, 8:16 pm

Where Are the “Other” White Men?


Years ago, the pork industry ran a campaign touting its product as the “other white meat.” It was angling to ally itself with the “chicken-is-healthier-than-red-meat” crowd. Most people saw it for what it was: a cynical ploy. Today, when it comes to white men, the sound and fury is all coming from the red meat crowd—riot-endorsers Sens. Josh Hawley and flyin’ Ted Cruz, and Cong. Louie Gohmert, to name a few. (No, Tucker Carlson, this is not an assault on hamburgers.)

So where are the “other” white men? Who wear masks, believe in gender equality (and science), raise their children, don’t “babysit” them; workingmen volunteering in their communities? There are plenty of them below the media’s radar, and many like them are in BIPOC communities.

For anyone who knows men like these, support them! No one can afford to remain silent about the dangers posed by white supremacist men who dominate the news. Especially in light of the insurrection at the US Capitol, we need to hear from the “other” white men and their allies. Now. 

Consider: Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson describes the primarily white male supremacist rioters as “patriots” and says he was never afraid, conveniently ignoring their violent attack on Capitol police, including murdering officer Brian Sicknick.

How is it possible that once again—just as in mass shootings—few commentators state the obvious: virtually all the white supremacists in the spotlight are men, ultra-right foot soldiers pledging allegiance to the United States of White America?  Since Joe Biden’s inauguration, the ‘Trumpublicans’ haven’t gone away; nor have the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Boys, and Oath Keepers, among others.

We cannot ignore a flashing caution light, especially one that turned blood red on January 6. Until or unless we acknowledge the connection between those violent men and their establishment counterparts—co-conspirators like Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsay Graham—it will be harder for the “other” white men to join President Biden’s battle for the soul of America. Without men of peace modeling an alternative, insurrection supporters—including those in states passing new laws to suppress the vote—will continue to feel emboldened to seek fresh recruits.

It may be imprecise cultural shorthand to describe the “former guy” and President Biden as examples of old and new expressions of masculinity, especially since at 78 Biden is an unlikely poster boy for a kinder, gentler manhood. Nevertheless, he is a good choice, providing cover for white men—and BIPOC allies—to stand behind a platform promoting a new masculinity. 

In the political world, insurrection lovers Hawley and Cruz are jockeying for pole position in the 2024 presidential race, allying themselves with the former guy’s base and its expression of manhood emphasizing toughness, aggression, and violence. The “other” white men and their allies have an opportunity to expose how extreme that posture is. To remain silent would be morally inexcusable.  With COVID-19 finally being responsibly managed there is space for another kind of treatment focused on youth, particularly boys and young men. 

There may not yet be a schedule for vaccinating youth, but by embodying compassion and empathy, men can be inoculated against the Trumpublican virus of callousness, abuse, and violence. It’s on us to prepare youth for “transformation of masculinity” treatments, urging parents, educators, coaches, and faith leaders to develop programs to nurture young men’s emotional growth. 

I’ve long advocated that the CDC pilot a program at Head Start for preschool teachers to cultivate boys’ emotional intelligence. Perhaps now, with the contrast between the brands of masculinity so stark, Congress will enact a bipartisan supported bill, the Healthy Boys Initiative.

It won’t be easy. Nevertheless, there are hopeful developments. Even within the narrow world of electoral politics, the number of women winning elective office—and being confirmed as cabinet secretaries—is a powerful antidote to patriarchy’s poison. They are a corrective to four years of misogynous rants, still audible from Trumpublicans with smaller bullhorns. 

Still, empowered womanhood is suspect, branded as feminist. Despite feminism simply denoting “a belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” chauvinists denigrate it as a virulent virus. Now, with Kamala Harris as vice president, and early trials of a Biden healthy masculinity vaccine showing promise, conditions are ripe for men to begin receiving feminism antibodies, an essential treatment in combating the white male supremacy pandemic.


Rob Okun (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes about politics and culture. He is editor-publisher of Voice Male magazine.

March 21st 2021, 3:35 pm

Women in Biden Cabinet Need to be Seen and Heard


Twelve women with different backgrounds and areas of expertise are advancing into top leadership roles in President Biden’s Cabinet. Eight are women of color. As advisors to the President, they will be the first women ever to serve in key posts, including Treasury, Defense, and Veterans’ Affairs, all non-traditional sectors for women. Biden has also hired the first all-female White House communications team. The first female appointments to these positions of power and influence will disrupt conventional expectations regarding women’s roles in government, but for them to succeed, they will need the public, the media—and you—to help them be seen and heard. Why?

Some might say that the women nominated or appointed to the Cabinet have already pierced the glass ceiling. The women will participate in debates that will shape the future in health care, national security, justice, the economy, global warming, housing, racial equality, immigration, childcare, and public education, among other issues. That’s why the public needs to hear their ideas and consider what they advise. These will be complex debates at a difficult time for the country, given the disequilibrium resulting from Covid and the inequality, racism, and polarization which threaten our democracy. As a result, these women also face a “glass cliff” at a time when all the variables indicate that women leaders’ risk of failure is high.

The Biden administration promises to be more transparent; journalists will have multiple opportunities to evaluate the performance of diverse cabinet members from their appearances in televised press briefings and hearings. But will the women themselves get a fair hearing? Despite the increasing prominence of women in American politics, it’s disappointing to realize how little has changed in how public exposure to diverse women’s voices takes shape. For example, the majority of journalists who covered the 2020 presidential race were white males subject to their own, even unconscious, gender bias.         

A double standard remains for how women and men should look and sound as public figures. When women speakers take a stand or advance a bold idea, their opponents often describe them as strident, shrill or abrasive. By contrast, men who take a stand are typically seen as leaders with every right to assert their positions, no matter how bold.

Audiences, including women, also tend to be more critical of women’s speaking styles– especially when women present ideas that threaten the status quo or express concerns about controversial policies or practices. Biden’s female appointees will be expected to do both, and we deserve coverage that is primarily descriptive of their ideas and less about their  speaking style, marital status, and appearance.

Research indicates that women who assert themselves in public presentations have to navigate a fine line between being seen as tough minded, direct, and logical, while at the same time appearing to be relatable and “likable.”  The contrast with men is clear: We don’t expect men in leadership positions to smile. We expect them to  act authoritatively.  When they speak up, men usually don’t have to earn credibility as a voice of authority. They start with it.

In the 2020 presidential election, the media consistently described female candidates more negatively than their male counterparts. For example, Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Presidential candidacy was never given prominence by the media, which was belatedly surprised by her performance in the New Hamphsire l debate, chalking the performance up to “Klomentum.”  Commentator Frank Bruni was disappointed in then Kamala Harris’ “flat, desultory recitation of her biography and philosophy,” wanting her to be more emotional even though after Hillary’s presidential coverage, women leaders were again reminded of the perils of being seen as “emotional.” 

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was called a “moralizing scold” during the 2020 Presidential campaign, but after the Iowa caucuses, she was virtually erased from news coverage. When a woman like Senator Warren, who is an expert in bankruptcy law, a field historically dominated by men, is asked to appear on a panel with all men, her opinion is too often drowned out or “mansplained.”

It takes guts for women to agree to live a public life. All of President Biden’s new cabinet appointees deserve to be respected for their willingness to make themselves vulnerable to public scrutiny.  Fair-minded journalistic coverage will be key to their success. To ensure that happens, we also need to see more women of diverse backgrounds, races, and cultures covering the diverse women leaders who will be making headlines.

All of us have a role to play in ensuring that today’s female political leaders are respected for what they represent, say, and do. The principle applies broadly, not just at the national level. When women are outnumbered by men on a panel, for example, attendees can use the Q & A period to ensure that the woman or women are given a full opportunity  to elaborate on their ideas. We should ask whoever plans a public hearing or a conference to be sure to include women and ask, “Where are the women?” when they don’t. Showing direct appreciation to a woman for her impressive presentation or accomplishment enhances her leadership status.  

When deserved, thank organizers, producers, and editors for being inclusive and unbiased. If we don’t all play our parts as proponents of fairness and equality, harmful stereotypes will continue to infect the coverage and undermine the success of the many diverse women who are now entering the top tiers of government. Take action when you see women leaders being ignored or dismissed by sexist coverage by calling it out. Today, more than ever before,  let your voice demand that their voices are heard.

About the authors:

Lois Phillips, PhD, is founder of Antioch University Santa Barbara and faculty representative for Antioch University’s Women in Leadership program. Her essays have appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press and Pacific Business Times. She provides regular commentaries about gender issues in public speaking at  and with co-author Anita Perez Ferguson on the Women Seen and Heard podcast

Anita Perez Ferguson, PhD, is a Visiting Fellow at Council of Independent Colleges, and advisor to the Inter American Foundation, consultants on Diversity Programs and Board Development. As the former President of the National Women’s Political Caucus, she speaks often at state and national conferences.

March 15th 2021, 2:56 pm

Choosing People AND Planet: Are Women in Your Definition of Sustainability?


Never have we had so many opportunities to make ‘good’ choices for the planet. Certified bananas and coffee in your shopping cart, an array of eco-friendly vacations (when we can travel again!), t-shirts made of recycled materials—even your sex life can be greener with these sustainable condoms.  

But as the sustainability market grows, so does competition to define “sustainable” in our lives. Amidst a sea of “green” and “should this” and “don’t that,” it’s people—and women, specifically— who get buried in an everchanging conversation. As we all strive to factor sustainability into our daily choices, it can feel increasingly like we are having to choose whether we care more about people or planet—as if somehow this could even be a choice.   

So, what is “sustainable,” and how will you define it in your life?     

Last year amid this seemingly endless pandemic I was celebrating having worked in the “sustainability” world for 20 years. Back in 2000 when I first set out it was not sustainability that was the buzzword of the day, then we talked of international development and ending poverty. Or, if you worked for an environmental charity—being “green.” And strangely it was rare for those inherently interconnected worlds to overlap.     

Despite everything that 2020 threw at us, according to polls people realized that people and nature are inextricably linked—the wellbeing of one is central to the other and vice versa. Many are realizing now that sustainability is the true intersection of people, planet and profit—and this gives me hope for the future.   

But still as an individual it can be hard to know if our actions are making a difference—what is the one thing I should be doing? Do I swap out my lightbulbs or urge my employer to partner with a women and coffee organization? The answer: It’s both!   

Too often we think that just knowing about a problem will make people act differently. If we just knew that children worked in the cocoa fields that supplied our favorite brand of chocolate, we wouldn’t buy them, or if we knew workers picking our bananas didn’t earn enough, we would choose apples instead – but the truth is knowledge is rarely the barrier. It might be price, or taste or convenience that drive our behavior. And it is the same at scale—companies, workers and governments can be driven by everything but what is actually happening on the ground.     

So, if we could begin to understand why people act or make the decisions they do, then, couldn’t we start to make a positive step forward together? What if we could all stay connected to sustainability as a practice in our everyday lives, not some intangible to-do list hanging over our heads?    

Taking things a step further, with all the (important!) talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’re all but totally missing a massive force to combat climate change—women! It is often cited that the key to changing the world is investing in women, and study after study has demonstrated that educating girls is ranked as one of the top ten most powerful ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

Women make up over half the people working in agriculture in developing nations. But simply providing them with knowledge is not enough – it is critical that they have the access to land and ownership to then be able to use this education on the ground. When I visited Côte d’Ivoire, I met Solange, a cocoa farmer who works with the Rainforest Alliance, who told me: “There is a huge difference of welfare and confidence between a woman owning her plot of land and a woman working on her husband’s land.”    

If we just stop at education, we will not have gone far enough.     

So what does this mean for us as individuals? We cannot possibly know the full picture of every producer we rely on, or company we buy from. How can we ensure we put people first in our daily choices?    

The answer is simple – the first person to start with is you. Why do you want a more sustainable world? Is it because you still want to be able to enjoy the wonders of the forests and beaches for years to come? Is it because you love avocados or can’t live without chocolate, two crops threatened by climate change?    

Once you know your personal inspiration you can start to think about the simple steps you might take. Choosing a certified product over another, looking for a new food waste recipe or supporting a project helping put people—and especially women—at the heart of change. The list goes on, and it matters.   

We can’t save the world with a grocery cart, but we can make smarter choices for people and planet.      


Emma Harbour is the Director of Global Advocacy at the Rainforest Alliance, where she oversees the organization’s advocacy work at a global, regional and local level.     

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization working in more than 70 countries at the intersection of business, agriculture and forests. The Rainforest Alliance is creating a more sustainable world by using social and market forces to protect nature and improve the lives of farmers and forest communities.    

March 5th 2021, 4:07 pm

The ERA: The Amendment is Just the Beginning


It’s been 100 years since the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced as the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution, but recently renewed interest has caused it to inch much closer to ratification. Why?  One reason is that policymakers are becoming more aware that by adding specific protections against sex discrimination to the Constitution, it would prohibit the current and future Supreme Court from interpreting the Constitution in a way that weakens or eliminates constitutional sex equality protections. 

To help ensure that it does, a new project bringing cutting-edge research, strategy and legal resources to the fight for gender-based equality was instituted at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law (CGSL) just last month. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Project, a law and policy think tank which will develop rigorous academic research, policy papers, expert guidance, and strategic leadership to support the ERA to the U.S. Constitution, along with the broader project of advancing gender-based justice, is the brainchild of former ERA Coalition board members Marcy Syms, Wade Leak and Liz Young. “After the ERA Coalition succeeded in getting Virginia to become the 38th state to ratify the ERA in January 2020, we realized that there is no law school currently deliberating about how the original language in the ERA would be interpreted,” says Marcy Syms, who previously chaired the ERA Coalition and The Fund for Women’s Equality. “It needs its own think tank under the auspices of a recognized law school to study what the ERA would mean to the law.”

Syms, Leak and Young therefore approached Prof. Katherine Franke, who founded the CGSL in 2004, with their proposal. She quickly agreed, as did the Dean of Columbia Law School, Gillian Lester. “It is important to include academic expertise encompassing a range of disciplines to effectively convey what the ERA should and would do,” Dr. Franke says. A total of six former ERA Coalition board members have since joined the project.  “And it is growing with twelve distinguished law professors from law schools all over the country on our faculty advisory board,” Syms added. These professors represent such major law schools as UC Berkeley School of Law, Duke School of Law, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale Law School and Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law to advise the Project on the meaning and scope of the ERA. 

Given that Columbia Law School is well known as the preeminent law school for the study of and specialization in the law of gender and sexuality, it is an even more appropriate location since “the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 had strong ties to Columbia Law School as both an alumna and former professor” Prof. Franke adds. “We are therefore honored to create the first and only academic home for ERA-related work at Columbia Law School.”

Yet it is not only women who would benefit from the amendment’s ratification. The ERA would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in multiple forms including discrimination against men, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex or gender stereotyping (such as discrimination against a person because they are a masculine woman or a feminine man), as well as discrimination in access to health care, including reproductive health care. Essentially, the ERA would make sex-based equality explicit in the US Constitution for the very first time, and benefit everyone.  “It is not a women’s rights amendment, it is a sex equality amendment,” Prof. Franke adds.

Brief History of the ERA

In 1873 the Supreme Court held in Bradwell v. Illinois that an Illinois law that barred women from being licensed to practice law did not violate the US Constitution. Three of the justices explained the ruling: “[t]he natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life… The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.” 83 U. S. 130, 142 (1873). 

In 1971, in Reed v. Reed, the Supreme Court found for the first time that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment (no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) did indeed prohibit sex discrimination. The Reed case involved a challenge to an Idaho law requiring that “males must be preferred to females” in appointing administrators of estates. The Court ruled that Idaho’s law specifically making a distinction based on sex “establishes a classification subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.” However, the Court applied the lowest level of scrutiny to the sex-based classification, known as rational basis review, inquiring “whether a difference in the sex of competing applicants for letters of administration bears a rational relationship to a state objective”? 

In 1976, in Craig v. Boren, the Supreme Court ruled that sex discrimination cases brought under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment must be subject to a higher level of scrutiny than that adopted in Reed v. Reed. In Craig v. Boren the Court applied intermediate scrutiny to an Oklahoma law that imposed a lower alcohol drinking age for women than for men (the law prohibited the sale of “nonintoxicating” 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 but allowed it to be purchased by females over the age of 18). 

In 1996, in one of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s most important decisions while sitting on the Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Virginia, Justice Ginsburg ruled that “sex based classifications may not be used, as they once were to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women.” Rejecting the Commonwealth of Virginia’s justifications for an all-male military academy, Justice Ginsburg analogized the case to racially segregated colleges and universities that also failed the constitution’s requirement of equal protection of the laws based on race. She concluded with “the Commonwealth has shown no ‘exceedingly persuasive justification’ for withholding from women qualified for the experience premier training of the kind VMI affords …” Many have referred to U.S. v. Virginia as creating a de facto ERA. 

The ERA Today

When Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA just one year ago, which completed the requirement under the U.S. Constitution (Article V) that 3/4 of the states ratify an amendment, it has allowed the amendment to inch closer to approval, although several additional steps remain in order for it to be officially added to the US Constitution as the 28th Amendment. Still, proponents of the ERA, like the ERA Project, are already considering that if it is passed, what has to happen next, 

While the ERA Project will not engage in lobbying, it will develop academic, legal, and policy expertise to support efforts to expand protections for gender-based equality and justice.  “There were previously no academic resources to answer questions like, ‘Why do we need it?’ and ‘What would it do?’”, Dr. Franke continues. “It is important to bring in academic expertise with a range of disciplines to provide a broad and comprehensive framework of what the ERA should and would do.”

To inspire equality in all areas, the ERA Project’s board includes leaders in a variety of fields, from law to business, and from politics to social justice:

Susan Bevan retired from a career as legal counsel for a Wall Street firm and has since served as an advocate for women in a variety of endeavors. As co-chair of the Republican Majority for Choice, she worked to protect reproductive health rights for all Americans. Formerly a board member of Alpha Phi International Fraternity and Foundation, her focus remains on developing leadership opportunities for collegiate women. Susan has co-produced two independent films with strong female protagonists, Equity and An Acceptable Loss.

Nia J.C. Castelly is a graduate of Spelman College and Columbia Law School ‘00, and currently serves as senior counsel at Google where she leads a team focused on user privacy rights. Nia participates in and supports the efforts of a number of employee resource groups, including the Civil Rights Group, Black Googlers Network and Women@. Throughout her career, Nia has both founded and led initiatives that help ensure women and minorities not only have access to the law but also can thrive in the practice of law. 

Wade Leak is a graduate of Columbia Law School ‘89 and Deputy General Counsel at Sony Music Entertainment. He is the vice president of the Columbia Law School Alumni Association and credits the school with awakening his commitment to pursuing equality for all. He supports many organizations that promote social justice and equal rights. 

Marianne Stack is a former Communications Director for the ERA Coalition. She is a political activist who has helped elect women candidates running for national, state, and local office. Marianne previously worked for ABC News for 16 years where she won two national news Emmy awards and produced many stories on women’s issues. 

Candy Straight is a political activist, retired investment banker, and film financier. Candy co- produced Ain’t I A Woman, a documentary on the ERA premiering later this year, and executive produced Equity, a film about women on Wall Street which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. Equity was purchased by Sony Pictures Classic.

Marcy Syms grew Syms Corp, becoming the youngest woman president of a NYSE company. She is founding trustee and president of the Sy Syms Foundation and is often involved with philanthropic startups. She has chaired the ERA Coalition and The Fund for Women’s Equality. She is an author and independent board member and has been recognized for her work in the area of women’s rights with honors of distinction. 

Liz Young As a board member at Donor Direct Action, she took advantage of her business background to help create funds for front line women’s rights activists around the world. Liz is a former EVP and global head of Communications at Bertelsmann and Sony. 

“Getting the ERA over the finish line will be just the beginning,” Prof. Franke continues, “Rather than packing up and declaring victory the day the archivist adds it to the Constitution, it is our job of dreaming, imagining and framing it as a national conversation.”

February 24th 2021, 12:40 pm

More Than Just Trauma: How Autistics Navigate a Neurotypical World and Still Find Joy


When most people think about autism, it is not positive. A 2017 study found that first impressions of autistic people are generally negative, and being misperceived has been found to increase poor mental health and societal isolation in autistic people. Too often, when autistic people are seen more positively it is because they are socially inept savants and superheroes at the service of neurotypicals, or people whose neurocognitive functioning falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.”

In contrast, autistic people generally don’t see autism as inherently bad for them. Steff Hanson, a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, believes the determination and passion that autistic people derive from their special interests actually helps them succeed. She credits those qualities for her success in taekwondo, in which she earned a third degree black belt and competed internationally. But she isn’t quiet about the difficulties of being autistic, either. “It’s like a two-sided coin. There’s a good part of autism, there’s a bad part. It’s a balance,” Hanson says. 

This leads to a dilemma. On one hand, autism is not inherently bad, and autistic people have fought for decades to be better understood. On the other hand, autistic people are discriminated against and marginalized, which has a tremendous impact on their wellbeing. Studies have found that autistic people are more likely to be mistreated by peersexperience depression, and have adverse experiences in childhood that have been linked to long-term health disparities and mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The impact magnified for multiply-marginalized autistic people, like autistic women and girls, autistics of color, and LGBTQ+ autistic people.

Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hanson recalls that during first grade she was forced to spend several days a week locked alone in a room completing worksheets because her teacher was not trained to handle behavioral issues in autistic children. Hanson recalls watching other children having recess across the street through the window in the room, causing her to feel like she was in jail. “It was just this overwhelming sense from teachers, where they were just like, ‘what is autism?’” Hansen says. The experience affected her confidence, and made her feel like an outcast. “It does stay with you, it really does,” she adds. 

Many autistic people don’t realize they have been traumatized due to subconsciously absorbing ableism and discrimination against disabled people. This happened to Kayla Smith, who became an autistic activist. “I was broken, and I didn’t realize it until I [thought] about it, looking back on my life,” she says. In addition to experiencing significant trauma, people’s misconceptions of autism harm and exhaust autistic people on a daily basis. Growing up, Smith often felt like the odd one out despite her efforts to fit in, and was bullied in school for being placed in special education classes. Now being employed in the retail industry, she fears being misunderstood. “Most likely, they’re going to misinterpret something that I don’t mean to say, or my expressions. They don’t know that I’m autistic. So, I have to suppress it so I don’t get judged or bullied,” she says. 

Julia Bascom, the executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), believes that society does not produce non-traumatized autistic people. “We need to identify the ways society is traumatizing autistic people and knock it off,” Bascom says, emphasizing the need to ensure that every autistic child grows up feeling safe, well-supported, and thriving. 

There are a number of studies showing the link between traumatic experiences, abuse, and autistic people, leading to increasing research about the relationship between autism and PTSD, since both conditions share certain behaviors and mechanisms. This is problematic since scientists are currently unable to separate which are actually core autistic traits, and which are common responses to a traumatizing environment. Bascom stresses the need for more research in this area, as mental health professionals tend to treat autistic people’s mental health needs as behavior problems, especially if they are nonspeaking or have an intellectual disability. The research also needs to be translated into practice, since there are very few mental health supports and resources available to people with developmental disabilities. “It’s inhumane. We deserve high-quality, trauma-informed mental health care, just like everyone else,” Bascom adds. 

However, there is room for hope in reducing the stigmatization associated with autism by showing a fuller picture of the autistic experience. Autistic bloggers sharing their experiences have helped autistics find community and acceptance. In 2018, #AutisticJoy emerged on Twitter, and has continued the legacy of those pioneering bloggers. There are tweets from autistics talking about their special interests, autistic youth posting videos of themselves stimming, and more. “It’s all about recognizing the way our joy is just as much a defining part of us as anything else. It’s an approach that can build acceptance and resilience and help create spaces that affirm, rather than traumatize, autistic people. It’s transformative,” Bascom continues. “The conversation has expanded so much and so beautifully.” 

#AutisticJoy is deeply connected and has grown out of Black joy, which pioneered the idea that un-contained joy of Black people is inherently defiant in a world where systemic anti-Blackness and white supremacy has and continues to be relentless. This is due to the hashtag’s origins; the tweet that launched the movement was written by Kayla Smith, a young, Black, and autistic disability rights advocatewho used the hashtag to help describe her happiness in seeing more Black autistics like herself in the autistic community on Twitter. Although not the first to ever reference autistic joy or use it as a hashtag, Smith’s tweet gained traction that previous iterations did not, and it only grew from there. Along with several others, Smith has pioneered the conversation about Black and autistic joy online, with the most prominent hashtags on the subject either created or inspired by her. 

Artist, art educator, and activist Jen White-Johnson is also known for popularizing the hashtag in her design work and tweets about her autistic son, Knox, and his joy. She began using it to increase the visibility of Black autistics, other autistics of color, and their families. “I noticed the same type of pity party and complaint driven narratives. It was exhausting to see,” White-Johnson says. “As an artist I [asked] myself, ‘What can I do?’ I knew my story needed to focus on joy and what we didn’t see being portrayed.” 

Hashtags like #AutisticJoy also help neurotypicals better understand and accept autistic people, especially neurotypical parents of autistic children. “I’ve had parents come to me crying full come-to-Jesus-tears hoping that their child can be ‘healed,’ hoping that they can one day adapt and conform,” White-Johnson says. “I want to believe in some small way I helped to embolden a community, putting forth a virtual safe space to exist and to also create a cultural call to action.”

Further, autistic joy can help non-autistics live their truth. White-Johnson is neurodiverse and disabled, which took her a very long time to accept. She credits Knox for helping her be true to herself. “He sees through the noise and encourages me each day to practice joy and freedom.” 

Katrina Janco

About the Author: Katrina Janco is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

February 22nd 2021, 10:00 pm

Real Mad Men: The Latest Episodes


          A growing wave of most forms of violence and harassment against women is putting huge strains on health services around the globe. 

         The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the internet is “peopled with hundreds of websites, blogs and forums dedicated to savaging feminists, in particular, and women, very typically American women, in general…they are almost all thick with misogynistic attacks that can be astounding for the guttural hatred they express.”

         As Covid 19 spikes across the U.S. and much of the world, a “shadow pandemic” is growing alongside it: domestic violence. And with the pandemic, “Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries.” UN Women reports. “And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services, essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have reached capacity.” 

         On Aug. 10, 2020, Tulane University researchers released a study finding that the virus has resulted in a major spike in domestic violence. Of the women surveyed, 59 percent of those who experienced violence prior to the pandemic reported an escalation of violence. 

On July 19, a lawyer who had openly identified with anti-feminist groups shot and killed the son of a federal judge in New Jersey when the 20-year-old young man opened the front door of the family house. The gunman’s main target was Judge Esther Salas, according to a list found on his body after he shot himself. The shooter, Den Hollander, described himself as “an anti-feminist” and had published blog posts in 2006 arguing that women were inferior to men and advocating physical violence against them. In one post, he said “women should be strapped to missiles and dropped in the Middle East.” 

         On October 8, 2020, the FBI arrested 13 men who were planning to kidnap and murder Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and in mid-August, when a teenage girl in Dallas, Georgia posted a picture of a crowded hallway in her high school showing few kids wearing masks, she received online threats. Hannah Watters told CNN that those threats included:  “We’re going to jump every girl named Hannah in the tenth grade,” and, “Hannah is going to have a rough day at school on Monday.” 

         On the steps of the Capitol building  in Washington, D.C.,  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was approached by a fellow member of the house in mid-July. Ocasio-Cortez reported that Ted Yoho, a Florida Congressman, hurled insults at her:  “He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous.” Also, she said, “There were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters Rep. Yoho called me, and I quote, a ‘f*****g bitch.’ “

         Mad Men, it seems, are getting madder. There is a growing belief in our culture that men are losing power to women across the board, and the voices resisting women’s new ambitions are multiplying, Perhaps the most extreme statement of male madness comes from Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist under former president Donald Trump. As the editor of the alt-right website Breitbart, he published the anti-feminist article: Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer? and once complained to a journalist, “The anti-patriarchy movement…is a powerful political force that will undo ten thousand years of recorded history. You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. It’ll never be the same going forward.”

         Further, MIT’s Technology Review reports that “Men from the less extreme end of the misogynistic spectrum are drifting toward groups that espouse violence against women.” Researchers at Binghamton University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University College London, Boston University, and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics also found that “online platforms are increasingly exploited to spread hate, extremist ideologies, and weaponized information, and have been repeatedly linked to radicalization leading to real-world violent events.”  Tech Review also warns, “Indeed, it seems that not only are older, less-violent groups dying off, but membership in… younger, more toxic communities have seen a spike.”

         In fact, many of the people worrying about men and boys today are male psychologists. One of those is Dr. William Pollack of Harvard Medical School. He writes in his book, Real Boys: “The ‘Boy Code’–society’s definition of what it means to be a boy–demands that boys suppress or cover up their emotions. As a result, boys develop a “mask of masculinity” to hide their shame, vulnerability and the other feelings they cannot express publicly. The inability to show true emotions hardens a boy until, ultimately, he loses touch with them.” Today’s boys, Pollack writes, are “only allowed to lead half their emotional lives.”

         It seems that Mad Men are created in boyhood, so how do we, as a society, deal with the growing numbers of angry males?” The American Psychological Society suggests, “We have to dismantle the box that traps too many boys thanks to the mask of masculinity. We must foster a peer culture ethos that motivates everyone to get involved in challenging and interrupting all forms of abuse, and helping to create a climate in which abusive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are seen as unacceptable, uncool and unwelcome. “

        Psychologists Michael T. Schmitt and Jennifer Spoor at Queensland University in Australia found that when men focus on the gains women have made over the past 50 years, they report high levels of anxiety, as well as a strong identification with their own gender. There’s a tendency to circle the wagons, to exaggerate how far women have come and how far men have fallen. This reaction can easily translate into hostility. But when men focus instead on all the discrimination women have faced in the workplace, they are far less likely to be anxious, and more likely to root for women to succeed.

         In fact, rooting for women can have substantial benefits for men. As future managers who will have responsibility for hiring, firing and promotions, men need to fully understand how important women are to the health of their companies’ bottom line. Deloitte and McKinsey report that companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment than companies that lag on this front.

         We need a society-wide effort to help boys from feeing that they always have to wear the mask of masculinity, more training for law enforcement in how to handle online threats against women, and more scrutiny by web platforms to take down threats. We also need “an earlier analysis of when and how men’s rights get radicalized,” says Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor at Binghamton University. 

         Turning down the temperature that Mad Men have raised is good for the mental and physical health of men, women and children.

About the authors: Dr. Rosalind  C. Barnett is a senior scholar at Wellesley College and Caryl Rivers is a professor of Journalism at Boston University. They are the authors of The New Soft War on Women. (Tarcher/ Penguin.)

February 17th 2021, 7:56 pm

The Global Gag Rule: Will HER End It?


On his ninth day in office, President Biden repealed a Republican policy that barred millions of women and girls from life-saving healthcare and led to increased rates of abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and risk of maternal death. With the swoop of his pen, he dramatically shifted US policy on reproductive health and rights, at home and abroad. But analysts say it could take years to overcome the damage inflicted under four years of the former Trump administration’s policy.

“There’s a lot more work to do,” says Seema Jalan, executive director of the Universal Access Project and Policy at the United Nations Foundation. 

First implemented under President Reagan, the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) banned US funding for international organizations that perform abortion services, counseling or referrals. Every Democratic president since has repealed it; every Republican has reinstated it.

“What is really clear about the global gag rule is that it doesn’t reduce the number of abortions. In fact, perversely, it increases the number of abortions in countries that are impacted by it,” says Shannon Kowalski, International Women’s Health Coalition director of advocacy and policy. Pre-Trump gag rules led to a 40 percent increase in abortions, a 12 percent increase in pregnancies, and critical risks of maternal mortality in the countries most affected, according to a 2019 study published in The Lancet. “And so, despite this policy being put in place by people who are trying to protect life, it actually has the opposite impact,” Kowalski adds.

Yet Trump took gag rule restrictions to new heights. While previous iterations applied only to family planning funding, he expanded the policy to affect almost all US foreign health aid—more than $7 billion in 2020 alone, hitting programs in everything from child nutrition to HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention. 

The gag rule is “a weapon that kills many women,” says Abebe Shibru, country director for Marie Stopes Ethiopia, part of a global network of reproductive health providers that refused to comply with the gag rule and consequently lost significant US funding. Shibru ran the organization’s Zimbabwe program when Trump’s gag rule went into effect, and the group had to cut its healthcare sites in half, from 1,200 to 600—mostly in rural areas where many women have no other access to healthcare. 

The pandemic exacerbated everything.“COVID is another gag rule,” Shibru continues. In many places, lockdowns have prevented women from traveling to clinics. In Ethiopia, women have delayed necessary care because they fear getting the virus. Contraceptives—mostly manufactured overseas—have run short in many parts of Africa. Trump’s gag rule worsened the toll. 

All told, MSI Reproductive Choices (the Marie Stopes parent group), estimates that continued US funding could have helped prevent 6 million unintended pregnancies, 1.8 million unsafe abortions, and 20,000 maternal deaths. 

Further, fatalities can occur through self-induced abortions among women—or young girls—who don’t have access to care. “They’ve done this using knitting needles, sticks, coat hangers, medicines—I mean, I could go on. It’s incredibly harrowing,” says Sophie Hodder, Marie Stopes Kenya country director. “Infections or hemorrhaging can kill. It’s heartbreaking.” 

At home and abroad, Trump’s policies fueled distrust among many who wonder, “What has happened to the ethical compass of the United States?” says Dr. Jeanne Conry, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics president-elect. “I feel like there’s been a loss of faith.” 

The gag rule wasn’t the only method Trump implemented to attack reproductive healthcare. In the US, he implemented strict new rules for organizations receiving funding under Title X, the only federal grant program dedicated to reproductive health services—including cervical and breast cancer screenings—for low-income patients. This “domestic gag rule” jeopardized care for 1.6 million patients nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive policy research group. Trump also withdrew the US from the World Health Organization (Biden rejoined) and halted US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (President Biden committed to reviewing and restoring it.) 

This on-again, off-again approach to federal policy wreaks havoc with long-term budgets and plans. “Every time we get a new president in the US, all the progress that has been made around integrating services is torn apart. So we need a permanent fix,” says Terry McGovern, professor and chair of Columbia University’s Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health.

That could come in the form of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, which would prohibit all future versions of the Global Gag Rule. Introduced in 2019 by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), it’s sitting with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Advocates are hoping for cooperation across aisles under the new administration. 

Reframing the issues may help. For example, research shows that restrictions on reproductive health services contribute to maternal mortality. Every day, more than 800 women die preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, according to the World Health Organization. As Conry puts it, that’s “the equivalent of a couple of jumbo jets crashing, filled with pregnant women, every single day.” The Global Gag Rule and policies like it contribute to those deaths. Viewed that way, “I have to believe that some of the thinking Republicans would support a permanent fix,” McGovern says.

She also calls for money—now. “Just revoking the policy and not providing any kind of funding or support to fix the damage is kind of only doing a quarter of the job,” McGovern adds. President Biden ordered that “all steps necessary” be taken to implement the administration’s commitment to reproductive health, but there’s a lag between words and action, and “the clock is already ticking,” Jalan says.

When women and girls can’t access healthcare, entire countries suffer. When 14- and 15-year-old girls become pregnant, “that’s the end of their education. They don’t take six months off and come back. That’s it, they’re done,” adds Hodder.  Overwhelming evidence points to the economic benefits of women in the workforce and leadership roles, but “you can’t get to leadership in a country if you’ve had to drop out of school at 15 because you’re pregnant.”

Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—reducing poverty and hunger, fostering good health, education, and gender equity—rely on sufficient reproductive healthcare. “Without family planning, it is unthinkable to accomplish or to meet the sustainable development goals,” adds Shibru. Like so many health workers around the world, he pins his hopes on the new US president to support the full potential of women and girls. 

“With the Biden administration, we know what needs to get done,” Jalan continues. “This is the moment for this administration to make historic changes in how we conduct our foreign policy in a way that’s better for everyone living on the planet.”

About the author: Karen Coates is an independent journalist and author in New Mexico who covers food, environment, health, and human rights globally. She’s an International Women’s Media Foundation fellow, a contributing editor for Archaeology Magazine, and an editor/producer on the forthcoming film, Eternal Harvest, which documents the lasting effects of the US bombing campaign in Laos.

February 10th 2021, 6:04 pm

Vice-President Kamala Harris: Partner-in-Chief


Kamala Harris’ vice-presidency is already iconoclastic: A woman of color standing one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. With a death-dealing plague, a shattered economy, and a polarized populace… the job of governing was going to be big. When the Capitol was invaded, it got bigger.

A helluva a lot bigger. 

Carrying the weight of these crises is nigh to impossible, but only in the last half-century have there been four shoulders instead of two to bear the load. Most of us assume that the President and Vice-President of the United States were meant to be true collaborators. Not so. For most of our history, the VP was chosen mostly for political balance—usually geographic and ideological. But in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton tapped his political doppelganger, Al Gore: Young, Southern, moderate, Ivy League—even a born-again Baptist. Senator Gore brought the Arkansas governor federal chops. Their legendary collaboration was dubbed by Harvard and Brookings political scientist Elaine Kamarck a “partnership presidency.”

The words sound intuitive, but it’s a hard balance to strike. Post Clinton, Presidents Bush and Trump shared the White House with heavy-handed Cheney, and hopelessly helpless Pence. But of note, from 2009 – 2017 the world was enthralled by a partnership that became a full-out bromance. In an alchemy of power, a Vice-President’s DC experience seasoned a President’s audacity of hope. Political power sharing hit a new high. Biden was Obama’s alter ego—the first and last “in the room where it happens.”

Given this backdrop, it’s no surprise that Joe Biden has had Kamala Harris standing firmly by his side. The new administration is not called by one name, but hyphenated like a modern marriage: “Biden-Harris.” Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, is a highly respected leader in Black women’s political empowerment. She calls these optics “hopeful and necessary signs on the heels and in the midst of some of the darkest hours in our country.” In fact, a few days before the Inauguration, Harris boldly but carefully chose her words as she told National Public Radio that she and her new boss would be “full partners” in governing.

The VP swore her oath at no ordinary time. Obviously, there’s concern that the President will be an octogenarian by the end of this term. But as the attack on the Capitol (and insurrection across the nation) remind us, in addition to the vicissitudes of age, he faces unprecedented threats against his life. Not only must the new VP stand with Joe Biden. Unlike any vice president in recent history, she must be ready to step in.    

The Vice President will be strong and stretched in the coming years, up against crises caused by foreign forces, domestic devils, and a micro-menace that in a calmer time would be all encompassing. She will continue to be loyal to her presidential partner. Her political fate will be impacted by the success of the administration in bringing stability and some semblance of reunification to the nation.

I’m betting she’ll thrive as Vice President, and if she gains her party’s nomination post-Biden, Kamala Harris will join Hillary Rodham Clinton not just as a presidential nominee who is female, but also enormously qualified. That said, she’ll have to take on malignant forces similar to HRC: social toxins like sexism and racism; and—please God, not Trump as her opponent?

Despite the storm already upon us, the Biden-Harris presidency will right the ship of state. Let’s hope that with the rising tide of women’s political power, and a swell of marginalized voices, a Harris presidential run would be a fair fight; whether or not, our new vice president will revolutionize our notions of the nation’s top leadership. 

She won’t be blowin’ in the wind. In the best of ways, she’ll be the wind.

Photo by Lynn Savarese

About the Author: Swanee Hunt, former US ambassador to Austria, is founder of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and founder of Seismic Shift, an initiative dedicated to increasing the number of women in high political office.  

January 25th 2021, 5:48 pm

Disability in Media: Where Misperceptions Loom Large


It was a full year ago that I applied for a background actor role for a major network’s television show. The casting call specifically stated that they were looking for people who used mobility aids such as a wheelchair, cane, walker, etc. I, as a life-long wheelchair user, applied and got the job. I showed up on the day of the shoot, filmed one scene which lasted about an hour, and then awaited instructions for the next scene. We were then told to go outside to take the bus to the next set. I had no idea the next set was in a different location, but I assumed since they were casting for disabled people and knew I was in a wheelchair, they would provide accessible transportation. Unfortunately, I was wrong. A production assistant soon approached me with what she said was ‘good news and bad news.’ “The bad news is that the transportation to the next set is not accessible,” he said, “The good news is that you’re wrapped early for the day!” I was astonished and I was angry. They knew I was in a wheelchair, yet rather than providing alternative accessible transportation, they decided to send me home, thereby denying me the opportunity for more experience on the set, screen time, and consideration for my accessibility needs. I wish I could say my experience is a unique one, but performers with disabilities often face many levels of discrimination and ostracization. 

Although disabled people constitute 26% of the U.S. population, disabled characters represent only 5% of television characters. Additionally, 95% of them are portrayed by nondisabled actors. A University of Southern California study on representation in film and television from 2015-2019 found that of the top 100 films of 2018, over half (58) did not include a disabled character in any role, and 83 films did not include a female character with a disability. Further, of all films that included a disabled character over the past four years, 72.5% were male, 63.1% were white, and only two were LGB (lesbian, gay, or bisexual), further demonstrating a significant lack of diversity.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by The Ruderman Family Foundation, disabled actors with nonvisible disabilities were more likely to get auditions and roles than visibly disabled performers. When questioned about their experiences in the entertainment industry, 75 of 177 disabled respondents said they had a negative experience. One anonymous respondent said, “The largest challenge I’ve had is folks’ preconceptions. When they find out I’m low vision they worry that I can’t do the job as well as others. I was told by many directors that I respect never to tell other directors about my disability because I won’t get called in.”

“Cripping up” is a term the disability community often uses to describe nondisabled actors playing disabled characters. Some well-known examples of cripping up include Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Daniel-Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Notably, all of these actors won Oscars for their portrayal of disabled characters. This is not surprising since nominated non-disabled actors playing disabled characters are nearly 50% more likely to win. 

Little thought is given, however, to how cripping up affects the disabilities community. Even when there are disabled characters on-screen, they are often negatively portrayed. Films such as Me Before You or Million Dollar Baby portray main characters who become disabled as feeling that life is not worth living, sometimes even expressing the desire to end their lives. Will, the wealthy main character in Me Before You, becomes a quadriplegic in an accident, falls in love with his caretaker, and has plenty of opportunities and money to do whatever he wants in life, but ultimately decides to commit suicide because he does not wish to livedue to his disability. Similarly, Million Dollar Baby is the story of Maggie, a female champion boxer who, after becoming a quadriplegic, begs her trainer, Frankie, to help her end her life. After Maggie attempts suicide on her own but fails, Frankie fulfills Maggie’s wish by killing her with a fatal injection of adrenaline. Films such as these have been boycotted by disability activists for their harmful messages. In the recent remake of the movie The Witches, actress Anne Hathaway, who plays a witch, uses an old trope of making her visibly evil by making her hands split, which resembles the disability ectrodactyly, a limb difference characterized by missing fingers or toes that creates a claw-like appearance. Disabled people, especially those with limb differences, protested the film by posting pictures with the hashtag #NotAWitch to signify that disability is not synonymous with evil. Hathaway responded on Instagram with an apology, but the film still remains a reminder of how the media can misrepresent disability. Additionally, Sia’s new movie Music, which she wrote and directed, has caused controversy since the film centers around an autistic character but is played by the non-autistic actor and dancer, Maddie Ziegler. Sia was met with criticism by autistic people for working with the group Autism Speaks, a highly problematic organization, for not casting one of the many autistic actors in the role. Sia, in turn, lashed out at autistic actors on Twitter in several angry tweets, one of which was a reply to one who questioned her decision to not cast an autistic person in the main role, to which Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

It also seems clear that poor on-screen representation of disabled people is reflective of the lack of off-screen representation. Disabled people often experience difficulty attaining employment in all fields, and working behind the scenes of the entertainment industry is no exception. “Nothing about us without us”, a phrase that originated from South African disability rights advocates in the 1980s, is now being used as a hashtag by disabled people demanding the entertainment industry consult and hire them, especially if films include disabled characters. 

Fortunately, some disabled people have recently broken through the entertainment industry, such as Ali Stroker, an actor and singer who was the first wheelchair user to perform on Broadway in the show, Spring Awakening. She was also the first person in a wheelchair to win a Tony award for her performance in the play Oklahoma!, Kiera Allen was the first woman in a wheelchair to star in a Lifetime Christmas movie, Run, RJ Mitte, who plays Walter White Jr. in the series Breaking Bad, has cerebral palsy in real life, and Millicent Simmonds, who starred in the 2018 film A Quiet Place, is actually deaf.

Yet diversity still has a long way to go, since all of these actors are Caucasian, Representation of intersectionality within the disability community regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. has yet to be addressed. As Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a non-profit media organization for people with disabilities, notes: “Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. With just 1.6 percent of speaking characters having disabilities in film, compared to 25 percent of American adults having a disability, we will continue to work with entertainment leaders to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. Disability impacts every gender, race, age and sexual orientation. We want the film industry to understand that accurate, authentic and diverse portrayals of disability benefit everyone.”

About the Author: Cheyenne Leonard is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

January 21st 2021, 1:18 pm

On Inauguration Day: A Look Back, and a Step Forward


It was twilight; a chill January morning.  I was wedged into a charter bus packed with strangers — no masks — barreling along the highway on the seven-hour pilgrimage to D.C. to protest the outcome of a presidential election I could not – and will never — accept.

Call me a fanatic:  I don’t care a whit.  I could have joined a local protest, saving me from equipping my backpack and abandoning my husband and four kids for the 24-hour round-trip, but the Capitol’s pull – like Mecca –was too powerful to resist.  If I were to lay down my flesh in sacrifice so the greater Powers could hear my anguish, I figured, I’d be damned if I was going to do it at a satellite altar and not the central hub.

At dawn the morning of January 21, 2017, my cohort unloaded at RFK Stadium, two miles from the Capitol, on the brink of what would go down in history as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history: The Women’s March on Washington.

Now, reflecting on the January 6th election protest in D.C. that left six dead, 120 arrested and our Capitol bolted shut; the meaning of the march I attended four years ago becomes clearer.

I went to D.C. to express my hurt that a man who spoke so degradingly about women had assumed the most powerful position in the world.  Hearing Trump repeatedly judge women by their appearance conjured up the humiliation of a high school girl who’s worth equaled a number from 1-10 held high over a lunch table of guffawing boys.

“Look at that face!” Trump jeered about Carly Fiorina. “Sadly, she’s no longer a 10,” he gibed at Heidi Klum. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” he tweeted above side-by-side photos of Heidi Cruz in an unphotogenic moment and Melania in an airbrushed one.  

And I worried that handing the poster child for toxic masculinity the authority to impact the lives of the sexual assault victims I advocate for would be unbearably triggering for them. And it was traumatic: calls to crisis centers skyrocketed after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced.  By Trump’s inauguration, a colleague of mine who survived childhood trauma had already moved to Canada.

Approaching the Capitol, I likely shared much in spirit with some of the anguished protestors as they approached it last week: heartbreak, disbelief, fear, betrayal, suspicion of nefarious forces.  

A sort of jack-hammering of the soul.

Something grips you on the brink of bold action.  Adrenalin trounces jetlag.  The gut whispers, but it’s hard to decipher what it says.  Purpose has yet to coalesce.  There is a thrum, a quest for agency:  to march, holler, move the physical frame through space; a powerful urge to act.

Navigating a strange city in a mob is daunting, vulnerable. (Is it the Silver, Blue or Orange Line that runs from 19th St. to Capitol South?)  One probes adjacent spaces like a blind insect would through hyper-sensitive antennae; glomming onto faces and voices that seem to know the ropes; decoding cues from anyone who projects authority – especially anyone in uniform.

I wonder how my skittish cohort would have reacted if a trusted, powerful figure descended from the heavens in Marine One, and stoked our urge to act with a clear directive to race to a building, barge our way in, and do harm to the traitors inside who had betrayed us.  I wonder if I would have been carried  along by the momentum of the crowd.

But that is where the protest of January 2017 and the riot of January 2021 parted ways.  Although the 470,000 participants at The Women’s March dwarfed the 3,000 to 20,000 participants at the siege of the Capitol, the blanket of peace and calm that antecedent day was palpable.  There were no arrests.  

Mourners at a funeral have no appetite for wilding.

We were so sardine-packed along the route from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument that moving one’s physical frame forward was all but impossible.  So we stood, wedged, as updates from a distant stage traveled the grapevine: “Gloria Steinem is speaking now!”  “Scarlet Johannson is at the mic!”

At one point, my eyes lifted to the only open space, the field of view just above us, decorated with what looked like streams of colorful, Tibetan prayer flags.  They were hand-crafted posters, like speech bubbles, enabling their holders to express their pain and hopes, receive validation,  strength and support from the community.  

One poster featured an Angela Davis quote, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.  I am changing the things I cannot accept.”  Another floral collage soothed, “Take Your Broken Hearts and Make Art.”  A prescient one quipped, “You’re fired 2021!”

It was while standing with my neck craned that the purpose of my pilgrimage coalesced.  

I realized that I hadn’t spent a sleepless night on a bus to show up and complete a defined, bold action. 

We were there to be there; among those towering Neoclassical white columns, to feel the strength and comfort of a sacred place we trusted would welcome us and care about what we felt and had to say.  We were there — as were our fellow citizens gathering that same day at Capitol buildings throughout the nation and the world — to be soothed and strengthened by each other.  We needed time to process and collect ourselves so we could figure out how to act — but that would come later.

We certainly weren’t there to rip the places to shreds; to set things back.

The past four years, and past weeks, have brought new meaning to that day, including a realization that moving forward can sometimes require staying completely still; and that meaningful momentum initiates from within.

More than anything, they have summoned a deep gratitude for our nation’s heart of democracy along the Potomac — and its satellite Capitol buildings in every State — where we can go and bare our hearts.

 And a fervent prayer that we can keep them all open.

About the author:  Julie Vogel is a freelance writer

January 19th 2021, 7:15 pm

Cheating on the Country: A Matter of Presidential Integrity


“So what if he cheated on his wife with an intern?” I asked my dad in 1998, carefully skirting the word “blowjob” that had entered our culture’s lexicon as acceptable everyday language, as “pussy” later would in Donald Trump’s America.

“It’s not like he’ll cheat on the country.”

I said it with the smug certainty and perceived sophistication of a teenager who’d voted in her first election and as such has superior knowledge of politics over her forty-something year old dad, who knew nothing. Because he was old.

He was a staunch Republican and I thought his response (“It shows his moral character and lack of integrity”) was partisan sour grapes. He hated Bill Clinton, as conservatives in that era did. He’d later hate Hillary too.

Let’s just say I disagreed. Loudly. 

He was a John McCain guy, and I liked Obama. When the 2008 election was called, I rang him up, ready to gloat. 

“He’s a class act, baby,” he said, throwing me for a loop. Obama was a Democrat. My dad’s guy lost a hard-fought, grueling election that exposed the raw nerves of racism. Wasn’t he supposed to disparage him? Wasn’t he mad that he lost?

The Obama Presidency played out, twice, although my dad was only alive for the few short months of his first term. I’ve wondered, often, what he would think of Donald Trump. Of course, we’re New Yorkers, so he knew Trump. I think he might have liked his brash, say-it-like-it-is speaking style, the unorthodox approach to debates and campaigns. A veteran from the Vietnam era, I have to feel he would have rolled his eyes at the bone spurs. Working class kids like my dad had no such “out” of the draft. I suspect he’d have lost some respect there.

When the Trump supporters of this generation overtook the Capitol, trampling each other, assaulting police, smearing feces on the walls and parading firearms and Stars and Stripes outfits and flags that replaced “America” with “Trump” in a misguided understanding of what the word “patriotism” means, I thought of the old man again. Now I’m forty-something, with a politically-minded kid who will vote in the next election. 

And finally, I think I learned something he tried to teach me more than twenty years ago. 

It’s about moral character. It’s about integrity. Without either, if you take away accountability, the country is no longer safe. This is why the “grab ‘em by the pussy” brag mattered, the cheating on his postpartum wife with a porn star mattered, the stealing from a children’s cancer charity mattered, not paying workers for their work mattered, lying mattered, insults mattered, cruelty mattered. It wasn’t separate from the inciting of riots and the five dead bodies in DC; it’s not unrelated to his inability to accept what was clearly and inarguably a free and fair election that he lost. It’s not a far jump from seeing deaths from Covid as a personal attack on his presidency, instead of the biggest challenge and responsibility of his life. 

It’s about moral character. It’s a lack of integrity. 

Going forward, I will use that as my barometer to elect political leaders from all parties.

I get it now, Pop.

Jaime Franchi

About the author: Jaime Franchi is the former Executive Editor for the Long Island Press, and was recognized as a 2017 recipient for Writer of the Year by the New York Press Association. Jaime’s work has been published in the New York Times, Salon, and The Huffington Post, and is a contributing author to two award-winning anthologies, including “These Winter Months, The Late Orphan Project” and “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.” 

January 14th 2021, 5:06 pm

Who is Worth Saving? Medical Inequities in Disabled Communities


In the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, child neurologist, cancer and stroke survivor, Diana Cejas, shared to Twitter in August 2020: “I worry that my doctors won’t believe me. Every time. Every appointment. Every doctor. Even the ones with whom I have a good relationship. Why? Because once, when I was sick and needed them the most, my doctors did not believe me.” Cejas, a woman of color, found a lump on her neck that turned out to be a malignant tumor. When she asked her doctors about it, “They continually reassured me that nothing was wrong or that I was worrying about something when I shouldn’t be,” she recalled. A number of Twitter users responded to Cejas’s story with similar claims of confrontations with medical providers who were dismissive of their symptoms from what turned out to be debilitating illnesses.

The medical field has a history of discriminatory biases that view, for example, disabilities as a health issue that needs to be resolved, and assume Black people are considered more resistant to pain, which has contributed to the inequitable care and treatment that these communities receive. 

The issue of medical bias, and the consequential culture of distrust towards healthcare providers, is now more urgent since it has been found that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are three times more likely to die if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 compared to others, according to The New York Times. Although those surveyed were enrolled in private Medicare plans, the database did not include patients on Medicaid, the government plan for low-income earning people that covers one in 35 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). For a vast majority of those with IDD who receive Medicaid and live in congregate settings, the Covid-19 case-fatality rate is much higher, according to a recent California study reported in Disability Scoop.

States must turn to their state-wide Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) guidelines when determining which groups of people with critical needs will be considered high-priority in the Covid-19 vaccine allocation. Crisis standards of care, as defined by the CDC, is a report that focuses on current concepts and guidance that can assist state and local public health officials, healthcare facilities, and professionals in the development of systematic and comprehensive policies and protocols for crisis standards of care in disasters where resources are scarce. Some states’ CSC guidelines, however, have contained discriminatory language and policy against disabled people and the elderly, such as the states of Washington and Alabama. The CSC guidelines for the state of Alabama, for example, originally stated that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.” Another section reads: “Persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support.” The policy has since been revised and resolved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as of April 2020, due to such discriminatory language originally contained within.

Barkoff has worked with state leadership and the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to remove such discriminatory language and policy from CSC guidelines since the rise of Covid-19 cases in March.  “Sometimes, it’s really an intentional discrimination in terms of excluding people who have certain types of disabilities, or certain limitations, from even getting in line to get treatment, like ventilators, or other things,” Barkoff continued,“Whereas sometimes, the way that plans are set up, it in practice deprioritizes people with disabilities, and particularly disabled people of color.” According to The New York Times, the fatality statistics reported for people with IDD in congregate settings are even higher than those reported for Black Americans. 

Current CSC guidelines may further deprioritize disabled people by allocating ventilators and vaccines to those whom medical providers predict will have a longer lifespan following treatment. Unfortunately, people with IDD are often wrongly assumed to have a lower quality of life due to their disability. Sam Crane, a legal director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, has suggested that doctors look at whether the degree to which the individual will benefit from the treatment, instead of the length of time they will live beyond treatment. She also suggested these measures be considered on an individual basis. Currently, doctors use a mortality prediction score, called a Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA), to ration medical care and resources. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Los Angeles County’s public hospitals have prepared “triage officers,” consisting of critical care and emergency room doctors, to decide which patients can benefit from continued treatment. “One of the considerations in the SOFA score is what is called the Glasgow Coma Scale,” said Crane. “And the Glasgow Coma scale included questions like: Can this person speak? Can this person voluntarily use their limbs? That might be a relevant consideration if you’re dealing with someone who normally can speak and move their limbs, but they’re so ill that right now they can’t. But if you have someone who was paralyzed before they became ill, or someone who had developed mental disability before they became ill and couldn’t ever speak, or had difficulty speaking, then that person being unable to speak isn’t reflective of critical illness in the same way.” 

Looking ahead to the vaccine rollout, many people of color with IDD, particularly Black people, are now skeptical about receiving Covid-19 vaccinations during its early rollouts due to historical medical bias and mistreatment. Kausha King, the mother of a young adult son with autism, expressed fears for his safety if he were to be given the vaccine in its early stages. “For me, we’re talking about systems that have said, ‘You’re always last,’” said King. “My child, he’s always last when it comes to something. If they say he’s up first, that concerns me. That concerns me because why is he up first all of the sudden? What’s wrong with that?” 

Cejas, who has recently been vaccinated, is publicly informing her social media followers about the treatment process in an effort to provide transparent information to Covid-19’s most vulnerable communities. “I’m sure that there’s a population of people within this vaccine-hesitant community who are looking at it from the ‘anti-vaxxer’ lens,” said Cejas. “But I don’t think that’s the case most of the time. I think it’s that people are coming in and they’re remembering these stories. They’re remembering this history. They’re remembering how the medical community has treated them in the past, and they’re like, ‘What is to say that you’re going to keep me safe now?’”

In October, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities created a set of vaccine allocation principles for the disabled community, to advocate for non-discriminatory value assessments in vaccine allocation prioritization. This also includes simple language access to vaccine information, and the prioritization of residents and staff in all long term care settings. The committee addresses health disparities impacting disabled people across age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and primary language parameters. To further hold medical institutions accountable, critical health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who have received the first phase of Covid-19 vaccines are also informing their communities about the vaccination process on Twitter with the hashtag, #IGotTheShot, thereby ensuring pertinent information and care are accessible to the most vulnerable. 

Natalie Crystal Doggett

About the Author: Natalie Crystal Doggett is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

January 11th 2021, 11:45 am

And the Sign Read: JESUS 2020


I am not a religious person. I’m not even a Christian, but as I watched the storming of the US Capitol yesterday on live television, there was one rioter holding up a large sign that caught my attention more than any of the others. 

It read: JESUS 2020

Since no one named Jesus was a candidate in the 2020 Presidential election, I can only assume that the purpose of this sign was to equate Jesus Christ with Donald Trump, since some of Trump’s most die-hard fans have attempted to convincingly compare the two, including his son, Eric, who recently declared that his dad “literally saved Christianity.”

But, again, although I am not a Christian, I have read a few things about Jesus Christ, particularly that he advised his disciples to heal the sick, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons without payment, and even stated: “Freely you have received: freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

Clearly, he is considered a person who manifests caring, kindness and compassion so, even more clearly, he would not have supported the actions of yesterday where violence, chaos and disruption were employed in an attempt to destroy freedom and democracy.

The fact that a comparison of the two men was even made defies logic, but logic tends to fly out the window when anger and rage overtake common sense, as was the case with yesterday’s failed coup.

Many women, including myself, have recently expressed, mostly in private, that living under the Trump presidency was very much like being in a domestic violence situation, particularly if we’ve been in one before, as I have. I was a child then, the only daughter of a violently abusive father living under his complete authoritarian control. While Trump couldn’t physically hurt me, as my father did, many of the same painful emotions were again triggered, like feeling depressed, powerless and even hopeless by an insecure and hostile hyper-masculine male who possessed merciless authority to rule over my life, and of those I loved.

Upon leaving my father’s home decades ago, I promised myself that I would never be in such a vulnerable position again, and never thought I could, as an independent adult. But Trump reminded me very much of my father, exemplified by his rampant racism, misogyny and deep insecurity. Perhaps that is why I fled, fled to Canada, to escape just three months before the election. As a child living in an abusive home, one learns to protect oneself by becoming acutely aware of the slightest sign of impending violence in order to survive. Deep down in my gut, I could not shake the feeling that the Trump presidency would escalate to a level of mass violence before it would end. Many friends who were also survivors of domestic violence confided that they felt the same.

It is actually quite common for the escalation of violence to crest at or near the point of conclusion, so yesterday’s assault is not surprising. “The most dangerous time for a woman is just at the time of escape, because she’s escaping control,” says feminist and activist Gloria Steinem. She also believes that another very “dangerous time is after winning a victory: particularly when there is a majority change in consciousness.” Yesterday’s backlash was therefore bound to occur due to the Democratic party’s victory over Donald Trump in the November presidential election, coupled with its success fewer than 24 hours before the failed coup inside the Capitol when both Democratic challengers in Georgia won their senate seats to two hotly contested campaigns, eliminating Republican majority control of the Senate.

And just as we would never ask a domestic violence survivor to reconsider her decision to flee despite the increasing threat to her safety, we would not expect any political leader to succumb to hostile threats by a small minority of citizens to defeat democracy.

And, I suspect, that’s what Jesus Christ would have wanted as well.

Lori Sokol, PhD., is the Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews. She is also the author of She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World (She Writes Press, 2020)

January 6th 2021, 8:09 pm

As Online Gender-Based Violence Booms, Governments Drag Their Feet


Strange men came to the place where Kang Yu-jin (names are pseudonyms) worked, looking for her after her ex-boyfriend impersonated her on social media, posting sexual images and saying she wanted to find men to have sex with.

Lee Ye-rin’s boss gave her a clock as a present. Sometime later, she looked up the model and discovered it was a spy cam that had been streaming inside her bedroom to his phone for weeks.

Oh Soo-jin was a student short on cash when she took a job as a nude model with a contract that stated that none of the photos would ever be shared. They were posted and sold on the internet anyway.

All three women are survivors of a growing wave of online gender-based violence that governments and companies are failing to tackle effectively. Yu-jin, Ye-rin, and Soo-jin are from South Korea, where Human Rights Watch has documented how a combination of rapid technological advances and deep gender inequality is accelerating the spread online of gender-based violence. 

But the internet and technology are global—as is misogyny—and the problem of online gender-based violence is a global one. Helplines in Pakistan and the UK have had sharp increases in calls this year. Politicians have been targeted by leaked sexual images in countries including FranceGeorgiaIndia and the US. The United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women wrote in 2018 that the need to protect women’s rights “has now spread to the digital space of social media…. New forms of violence have also developed, such as the non-consensual distribution of intimate contents …obtained with or without consent, with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or harming the victim.”

Of course, there is nothing new about gender-based violence, or about governments failing to take it seriously. As technology and the internet flourished, spreading into all aspects of our lives—especially during the Covid-19 pandemic—we could have anticipated that it would create new opportunities for perpetrators of violence, most targeted against women. 

Governments, predictably, have been slow to respond. The South Korean government, and some others including AustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaGermanyJapanPakistanSouth Africa, and the UK—have taken different steps toward trying to curb online gender-based violence, but major gaps remain in most countries, leaving many survivors feeling helpless.

Government and law enforcement officials—most of whom are men—often seem to fundamentally misunderstand the severity of online gender-based violence and see it as something minor that “only” happens online. This misconstrues both how online gender-based violence is often linked to other forms of violence, and perpetuates the notion of an online/offline dichotomy that is no longer relevant in a world where our phones track our movements, and our transactions and communication increasingly happen online. 

Perpetrators of online gender-based violence in South Korea usually avoid jail time. One survivor told us she was so frustrated by the police refusal to register her complaint that she asked an officer, “Do you want to act only if I get physical or material damage from this?”  “Yes,” he replied.

The impact of online gender-based violence is devastating, and sometimes deadly. If an image has appeared online once, anyone who viewed it could have captured it, and anyone who captured it can repost it—at any time, for the rest of the survivor’s life. 

Survivors often find themselves searching online constantly for new attacks. After the men came to Yu-jin’s job, she quit work, fled her home, and kept searching  for new posts. “For two months I think that’s all I did for the whole day,” she said. “And while I did this I really wanted to die—I wanted to jump in front of a car or train.” The father of a woman who died by suicide after being secretly filmed by a colleague said, “She worried: ‘What if someone has seen it?’ Every time she got a phone call.”

All governments need to act to meet international legal obligations to promote gender equality and protect people from violence.

Companies also have an obligation to help. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 state that “The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises…[a]void causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts” and “[s]eek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services.”

Challenging the entrenched gender inequity that persists in almost every country and fuels online gender-based violence requires more than services or arrests—it requires deep cultural change through steps like comprehensive sexuality education for all children covering consent, gender equity, and responsible digital citizenship. It also requires significant cultural change within technology companies where products are too often designed by men who fail to consider and guard against how they can be used to perpetrate gender-based violence.

The growing role of the internet in our lives has highlighted how urgent it is to end abusive attitudes toward women, and how far we still have to go in this struggle.

Author Healther Barr is interim co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.

December 17th 2020, 9:42 pm

Making College More Accessible Post-COVID: How Virtual Classrooms Can Help Autistic Students


As the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncontained and continues to spread around the world, millions of college students have been forced to attend classes remotely. While they have struggled to adapt to this new mode of learning, the format can provide unique upsides for autistic students that can be adopted post-pandemic to make college more accessible. 

Many of the difficulties autistic college students face may not be obvious to ‘neurotypicals’, or people whose neurocognitive functioning falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.” Most notable of them is that neurotypicals aren’t suppressing their unique neurology and tendencies to fit in, something autistic people employ to varying degrees — better known as masking or camouflaging.

“It’s kind of living your life with flow charts in your head. You can never just do what’s normal,” says Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, an autistic advocate, college professor, and PhD candidate. “Neurotypical people want to think that everyone thinks and behaves the way they do, and if you’re different, something is wrong.” 

A common example of masking is the suppression of stimming, or repetitive actions and/or body movements. Everyone stims ; playing with one’s own hair, compulsively clicking a pen, and nail-biting are all forms of stimming. For autistic people, however, one of stimming’s primary functions is self-regulation, which is necessary for navigating an overwhelming world. Unfortunately, some of ways many autistic people stim, such as hand-flapping, fidgeting, and body-rocking, are highly stigmatized. As Maverick*, an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky, explained, “I knew, [before I realized I was autistic between fifth and sixth grade], my urge to stim would alienate them from any future partners, friends, or work I had.” Like Maverick, Caralynn, an undergraduate student in Boston, had a similar experience growing up, and learned to mask well before she was diagnosed with autism at 13. 

Masking is particularly prevalent among autistic females, who mask far more than do autistic males. It’s something Dr. Amy Edwards, the director of the Drexel Autism Support Program (DASP), often witnesses. “Girls have this nature to fit in, kind of like a lizard or a chameleon can change their skins, whereas a boy is going to outwardly behave negatively to get attention.” 

That also partly explains why females are far less likely to be diagnosed with autism – by successfully mimicking their neurotypical peers, they remain undiagnosed and hence suffer in silence, since they don’t meet the standard criteria for autism that has been historically defined by how autistic males act and think. This was true for Giwa Onaiwu, who displayed many autistic traits as a child, but was not diagnosed until she was much older. “I didn’t like Thomas the Train, I wasn’t a programmer and I didn’t have savant skills ….some of the things that autistic people are supposed to be good at – programming, STEM – didn’t apply to me at all.” 

Further, the current autism research has limitations, since it typically excludes nonbinary, trans, and other autistics who don’t adhere to a binary gender identity, despite the fact that transgender and gender diverse people are up to six times more likely to be autistic. How one’s race affects masking is yet another under-researched, yet critical topic. For example, when autistics of color, especially Black autistics, interact with police, they can be falsely perceived as dangerous due to systemic racism. Coupled with their autistic behaviors that are often misunderstood by police, masking decreases the chances of the conflict escalating into police brutality. 

Even if masking can make life easier, having to constantly pretend to be someone else can prove exhausting. Before Helen Rottier, an autistic graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, learned she was autistic during college, her mental health significantly suffered. She now studies and researches education access for disabled and neurodivergent college students, and masking comes up frequently in her work, even though it is never a specific focus. “A lot of students share [their experiences] about masking, especially when they have to give presentations, or they have to lead discussion for the class, and this impacts them in terms of [their] energy later in the day, and [in their] mood.” 

Oddly enough, however, virtual learning provides some opportunities for autistics who forego masking because it’s more accessible and less draining. “Some of them have relaxed [and] they’re not masking as much. Others love the fact they can turn off their camera, and don’t worry about stimming. I think it just depends on the student,” Edwards says. Previously, students had to worry about all of the things leading up to just getting to class; like getting ready to leave the dorm, having to get to class on time, and possibly bumping into someone who causes anxiety, without not knowing what to say, and so on. 

Of course, virtual learning amidst a pandemic is very different from virtual learning in normal times. The sudden switch to virtual learning has significantly disrupted autistic students’ routines, and the pandemic has worsened anxiety and depression among autistic people who are already four times more likely to have depression compared to non-autistic people. And for those who returned home, the social lives they had worked very hard to build at college has suffered. 

Universities, which had previously not been doing enough to accommodate disabled students despite the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring higher education to provide equal access, have still not made virtual learning accessible. Platforms like Zoom have been criticized for inaccessibility, since Zoom currently only offers closed captioning for paid Zoom Pro members. Virtual proctoring software used to prevent cheating can harm disabled students, since living as a disabled person may cause the software to incorrectly label them as suspicious. And, most importantly, since autistic people are not a monolith, what works for one autistic person may not work for another. 

Despite these flaws, people with disabilities are worried about what will happen to virtual learning once the pandemic is under control, especially since they previously requested remote learning options for years. “It’s telling to me that people have been asking for these types of accommodations forever, and everyone said it was too complicated and expensive, and then when they need it, they can do it all the sudden. It shouldn’t have taken an emergency for people to train their staff on how to [use] these tools. That’s something that you need to have

just as a human being,” Giwu Onaiwu says, adding that the responsibility should not be on the student to fight for accommodations they are legally entitled to. “There’s something deeply ironic about the fact that these online venues have a profound ability to add so much access, but so much of this potential is ignored,” Maverick continued.  

Yet making college more accessible to autistic people wouldn’t just help them, but everyone, as is the case with a framework called universal design, which creates an environment that can be accessed, understood and used by anyone regardless of their age, size, or disability. For example, on the first day of class, Giwu Onaiwu emphasized to her students that tools such as text to voice software aren’t just for disabled students, but can help nondisabled students who are auditory learners or need to multitask. Rottier also enthusiastically supports universal design, and notes accommodations such as lecture recordings would have been incredibly helpful for students like her who deal with chronic pain. Caralynn also suggested that the normalization of more breaks and activities that allow for more processing time would be helpful for more than just autistic students. 

Beyond these universal benefits, the pandemic presents an opportunity for neurotypicals to better understand the challenges faced by autistic people. In April, autistic writer Maxfield Sparrow argued that neurotypicals regularly using video streaming platforms like Zoom are getting a taste of the social fatigue autistic people experience, since the extra work necessitated and subsequent exhaustion from Zoom meetings is somewhat similar to what autistic people often have to endure during in-person interactions. 

These are all important issues for neurotypicals to ponder, since more people are being diagnosed than ever before due to the increasing understanding of autism. 

* This is a pseudonym

Katrina Janco

About the Author: Katrina Janco is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

December 15th 2020, 2:05 pm

What Sean Connery’s Death Taught Us About Donald Trump’s Life


When the first and most iconic Bond, James Bond, died on October 31st, most published tributes to Sean Connery discreetly danced around his public assertions that abusing women was “acceptable.” For this famous secret agent, he represented the fantasy of so many men who could only dream of summoning glamorous women with the mere raise of an eyebrow, and of the countless women who yearned to be as beautiful and sought-after as a glamorous ‘Bond girl.’

Perhaps that is why so many had chosen not to only forget but also forgive this iconic hero’s misogynistic statements as mere folly or ‘locker room talk,’ choosing to instead accept, unwaveringly, Connery’s explanation years later that, “They were taken the wrong way.”

Similarly, as our country prepares for the inauguration of its new US President next month, Joe Biden Jr., we are also left to grapple with the significant increase in the number of votes Donald Trump received in this year’s election (over 10 million more than in 2016), even after witnessing his numerous public displays of demeaning, insulting and crude behavior toward women over the past four years. Political pundits, elected Democrats and a majority of American citizens, alike, are trying to understand how Trump’s abhorrent behavior did not result in an electoral landslide against his reelection bid. I suspect that we may only need to compare the many reactions to Sean Connery’s death, which occurred just four days before this year’s Presidential election, to arrive at a viable conclusion.

For those who have forgotten, whether willfully or not, here’s a brief reminder of some of Connery’s quotes. In his 1965 interview with Playboy, he said, “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman.” In a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters, he elaborated: “I haven’t changed my opinion…I think it’s absolutely right.” And in a 1993 interview with Vanity Fair, he not only reasserted his approval, but projected all blame onto the victim: “That’s what they’re looking for, the ultimate confrontation—they want a smack.” 

Yet, upon Connery’s death, much of the mainstream media all but ignored these statements, echoed by a number of celebrity Twitter reactions honoring his life not only onscreen, but off:

Hugh Jackman @RealHughJackman: “I grew up idolizing #SeanConnery. A legend on screen, and off. Rest In Peace.”

Charles V Payne @cvpayne: “So sad to hear the news of the passing of Sean Connery. It may not be pc {politically correct} but he personified a man’s man.”

Stephen King @StephenKing: “Sean Connery in his first starring role, as a washed-up boxer. He was a fine actor and by most accounts a good guy.”

Honored as “a man’s man,” and “a good guy,” these tributes excused Connery’s admitted violence toward women. But these reactions are not atypical, which is what brings me back to where I began, comparing Sean Connery’s death to Donald Trump’s life.  

One need only compare 007’s heralded success in the film Goldfinger, where he forcibly holds down and kisses the chauvinistically named Pussy Galore in a barn, to the even more memorable ‘Grab Them By The Pussy,’ video where Trump brags about his ability to do what he wants to women because he is “famous.” It seems that there must be something wondrous about a man who is able to charm his way out of every entanglement, without ever getting caught…if he’s a white man, that is. It is therefore not a surprise that a majority of white voters voted for Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Despite the one obvious difference (007 being a man of fiction and Trump not), the same ultramasculine cravings hold true, where charm and fantasy distort reality, and where abuse and violence become acceptable because, well, who wants to defame a hero who has the gall and the gadgets to represent the guilty pleasures of so many men, which includes disposing of women at a moment’s notice.

But it doesn’t stop there. These fantastical men also fit the model of the imagined masculine heroic archetype, which too many fathers believe is necessary for the gender development of their young sons. And, as for some women, the appeal of these abusive men is perhaps best explained by Edward Hogan, author of ‘Exceeding the Thresold – Why Women Prefer Bad Boys: “Male dominance, the overarching quality encompassing the physical attractiveness and possession of resources that defines a bad boy, has been linked to higher perceived attractiveness and appeal.”

But what happens when the powerful presentation of a real-life person built on excessive indulgence blurs the lines between true vs. false, fantasy vs. reality, fact vs. fiction? 

Answer: It can amass a cult-like following who choose to remain blind to that person’s true failings, even at the expense of their own livelihoods and the safety of their loved ones.

Just as “in four decades of James Bond films … women are depicted enjoying rape,” 007 remains a cultural icon, Trump’s supporters are continuing to willfully ignore the 26 accusations of “unwanted sexual contact” and 43 instances of “inappropriate behavior,” as well as one accusation of the felony crime of rape. Here, just as in many of the James Bond films, these women are excused, discarded and, even, mocked.

Further, even if a wave of destruction follows them leaving devastation in their wake, much like the Coronavirus that has thus far killed over 300,000 Americans due, in large part, to Trump’s ineptitude, their fans believe that it must be for the greater good, because he is a representation of their fantastical fulfillment

And if there is still any doubt, one need only watch what Trump, himself, did during the recent G7 meeting where world leaders gathered to discuss issues of international importance, when he excused himself to tweet out birthday wishes to Sean Connery. And, only a few days later when, upon learning of Connery’s death, he tweeted: “Sean was a great actor and an even greater man.” 

Perhaps that is why, now that Trump will be leaving the White House on January 20, 2021, I feel that I, too, am finally leaving, after four terrifying years, of what can only be described as an abusive relationship.

Lori Sokol, PhD., is the Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews. She is also the author of She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World (She Writes Press, 2020)

December 15th 2020, 2:05 pm

Send a Kamala Harris, RBG or AOC Action Figure for the Holidays!!


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December 1st 2020, 10:18 am

Seeking Gender Justice and Peace? Include Men


“Millions of women are living in fear, with long-term consequences for families and communities, and for all our efforts for peace and security, human rights and sustainable development,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently said in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further, as physical and structural violence against women increase globally, it may be hard to make a case for investing in projects targeting men and boys.

But with patriarchal norms standing in the way of women’s empowerment, we must absolutely focus on changing attitudes among men and boys towards gender equality, and crucially, when it comes to pursuing the women, peace and security agenda.

The landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), adopted on October 31, 2000, seeks to address the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls and to recognize the under-valued role of women in conflict prevention and peace building. Yet 20 years later, implementing this resolution remains profoundly challenging.

One of the major roadblocks has been deeply ingrained gender norms, or traditional ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, coupled with cultural and political conservatism – giving rise to both gender inequality and conflict in many societies. 

For their part, conflict and crises themselves often give rise to more rigid gender norms and stereotypes that men, women, and those of other gender identities are expected to fulfil.

Conservative socio-political norms are deeply embedded in typically male dominated decision-making institutions at national and international levels, as well as within global governance institutions. Women who operate in these spaces struggle to be heard and experience pushback when trying to promote a women’s rights agenda. This has significant implications for the women, peace and security agenda. 

The emphasis given to women’s rights within institutions of global governance is dwindling, with many arguing that backsliding on WPS commitments and progress is not just possible, but likely.

The impact of patriarchal gender norms is also evident at the community level. Patriarchal values of male family members can mean that women are actively either discouraged or blocked from accessing women empowerment programs, or have to get permission from their husband or father. Where women do participate, they can face stigma or even violence. Gender norms also often result in men being socially, culturally and politically conditioned to engage in physical violence in both the private and public spheres.

In the Sahel, for example, a strong incentive for men to join extremist groups stems from the notion that a ‘real man’ should protect and provide for his family. As one community member told us: “Anyone who refuses to fight to protect the community shouldn’t be seen as a man: he is a coward.”

Implementing the women, peace and security agenda therefore requires addressing deeply entrenched gender norms across different levels of society, in a way that gives men and women viable alternatives to violence. It also requires addressing community-level norms and expectations that justify the subjugation of women.

And yet, comprehensive engagement with men and boys is still largely missing from the agenda itself. Only two UNSC resolutions explicitly mention men and boys (one notes that men and boys can be enlisted as partners in the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, while also recognising that men and boys can also be victims, while the other reiterates the importance of engaging men and boys in promoting women’s participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding). 

Thankfully, plenty of evidence does exist on why engaging with masculinities is good for women, peace and security. Peace activists have been working with men for many years, particularly in highly patriarchal and conservative societies. 

In Afghanistan, women peacebuilding organizations have not only been working with male champions but also with conservative mullahs, which has led to the acceptance of these programmes in local communities, and therefore made it easier for women to participate.

In Tajikistan, the Zindagii Shoista (‘Living with dignity’) project by International Alert and local partners aims to protect at-risk women from the possibility of violence, by bringing the whole family together, including in-laws, to resolve conflicts and  improve the role and lives of the wives and daughters within the family. Moreover, by fostering an idea of financial independence, Tajik women are now seen as valued members of society, in turn helping individual men within the family context, and communities at large, to change their attitudes  towards violence against women and girls.

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, involving men in positive masculinities projects has also improved relations between men and women, at home and in the public sphere. In a project seeking to improve conditions for women cross-border traders and therefore fostering more peace in this region, the involvement of men (officials, border guards, husbands) has been crucial. Changes in attitudes of spouses regarding their wives being the primary bread winners improved the situation of women both at home and in society. “Before the project I had a bad perception of my wife and her business. I now understand that she works hard for our benefit. I am proud of my wife,” said Philippe, a farmer, who took part in the project. 

Without minimizing the role of men in conflict and violence perpetration, men should be seen as agents of positive change. Support for gender equality and women’s agency in conflict should reach out specifically to a range of integral allies and resistors alike, including men and boys. 

In doing so, agencies must be careful to ensure this does not divert hard-won support and money from women organizations working tirelessly on gender equality, or reinforce the unequal power of men and boys in already deeply patriarchal societies.

Simply put, if we don’t change men’s attitudes, then peacebuilding and gender equality cannot succeed. We must work together – NGOs, governments, policymakers and donors – to achieve this.

About the Author: Ndeye Sow is the Head of Gender at International Alert.

November 29th 2020, 9:15 am

Heeding The Call


No one spoke at first.  I heard machines beeping in the background.  Oh geez, I realized, I’ve reached someone in a hospital room. This was my 74th call for the Joe Biden campaign. 

I live in Pennsylvania so I volunteered for Biden. I had to do something. I was too nervous to just passively marinate in my extreme worry as the critical day grew nearer.  

So a week before the election, I sat through live internet training with a few thousand other volunteers from all over the country. We would be calling Democrats across the U.S. to get out the vote (GOTV).  It was simple enough: follow a script, provide info on their voting options/local polling stations, engage about the issues if anyone was on the fence (??!!), and BE KIND. Volunteer monitors would be available in real time if we encountered any problems. It was comforting that the campaign seemed so organized, efficient, and well-staffed.

But I would require more than kindness to navigate this experience.

My first day we were all assigned to call PA Democrats.  Almost everyone I reached hung up immediately – without saying a word – as soon as they realized it was a campaign call.  A few folks listened patiently and said they would be voting for Biden (thank you!).  We discussed their “voting plan” (everyone had a plan).  One woman said if she got one more call from the Biden people she was going to vote for Trump just to spite us.  Oddly I took this as an encouraging sign.

The next day’s calls – this time to Florida – started out the same.  Hang up after hang up. A few solid Biden voters. And then – call #74.

“Hello?” the man in the hospital room said. “Can you hold on for a second?”

“Sure” I answered.

“Honey, how are you feeling?  Can I get you anything?” he asked away from the phone.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I think I’ve reached you at a bad time – I’m just calling from the Biden campaign – we’ll try to connect another day”.

“No I’m here, sorry…my wife’s in labor – it’s our first kid – we’ve been here since yesterday morning and it’s slow going. But I want to talk to you – your group called the other day and we didn’t get to finish our conversation.  Hold on…”

“Can I get you ice chips?  I’ll get you some ice chips in a minute” he said to his wife.

He talked to a passing nurse and asked her about some medication. I tried to tell him really, this is not important, we’ll call back another time.  He kept returning to the phone “Are you still there?  Thanks for holding on, I want to talk to you…”

Then, suddenly, his wife is screaming. The sound does not build from slow rhythmic moans of discomfort. She had been silent.  It bursts out in an explosion of primal pain.  His wife’s anguish goes from 0 to 100 in less than 5 seconds.

My heart is racing.  I’ve never had a baby.  What is happening?  I thought labor unfolded slowly.  None of this sounds good to me.  I’ve never heard a human make these noises. I don’t know what to do.

“Oh my god oh my god – honey what’s WRONG? What do I do what do I do?  I’m not ready for this – what do I do?? I’m going to faint. I’m going to throw up”, he cried.

I think I said “get the doctor!”, (much of this blurry to me now). I know I said “I’m going to hang up – don’t worry – it will be fine – you’ll do great!  

“Are you still there?  DON’T HANG UP!” he said. 

I hear yelling in the background.  The doctor enters the room and there’s the sound of chaotic activity, machines peeling wildly between the screams.

“This is bad” the doctor says.

“What do you mean BAD?  WHAT IS HAPPENING???” the man yells. 

“The baby’s breech. It’s coming now.  The shoulders are stuck.”

“What do you mean STUCK?? WHAT IS HAPPENING?? OH MY GOD!!!”, the man explodes.

My heart is POUNDING.  The wife’s screams get more soul-curdling.  I say to the husband – “HANG IN THERE – you’re doing great – deep breaths – you’re doing great”.  He keeps asking me to stay on the phone, almost like he needs me but I don’t know how to help him. I should NOT be a part of this.  It’s all happening SO FAST – no more than a few minutes have passed since the auto-dailer connected me to this man.  

I am so scared for them. What if the baby dies???

After lots of confusion and scary noises, suddenly there’s a new kind of wailing: the robust cries of a newborn.  

“Congratulations – you have a baby girl – come cut the cord!” the doctor says, sounding joyous and relieved.  

That’s how I feel too.  Shaking and teary and my heart racing and omg the humanity.

The man is cutting the cord. No longer concerned with the phone.  No longer asking me to please hold on.  I am exhilarated, holding my head in my hands and smiling in a way that’s not quite a smile. I say “Congratulations. You did great!!” but he’s not listening.  He’s living in this moment. I hang up.

I am gobsmacked. Breathing quickly, my hands shaking.  WTF just happened?

I call some friends (ironically, as I am not a phone person).  But I have to share what I just experienced.  This improbable encounter. It’s a great story and everyone is amazed and thinks it sounds like it would make for a fun local TV news segment…

After I calm down (a little) I contact the Biden campaign volunteer monitors.  I need to tell them my story too. I want to get the name and address of the man I talked to (it disappeared from my screen when I hung up the call).  I want to send him and his wife a note of congratulations and well wishes. 

The first folks I message are amazed -what a story! But they can’t help me get the guy’s information. I try another campaign channel and tell the story to yet another campaign monitor.

“I’m so sorry to tell you this, but it sounds like you were a victim of a RoboKiller Answer Bot” she texts me.

My brain scrambles. My heart starts to pound again. Her reply makes no sense to me.

She explains that “RoboKiller” is a service people purchase to intercepts calls made from automatic dialing systems (like campaigns and fundraisers use to connect people). I’ve never heard of it.  As an added feature, subscribers can choose their own “Answer Bot” – elaborate recordings featuring multiple actors, some of them designed to draw you into insanely emotional situations.  They are remarkably realistic, expensively produced and very clever.  “Some answer bots are actually pretty violent, scenarios where people are being mugged or attacked. Don’t feel badly. We’ve all been fooled by them more than once”, she assures me.

What what what?

My mind races back to the call. It’s not possible.  Like the climax of “The Sixth Sense” I replay the conversation in my head, scene by scene.  Didn’t he respond to me? We had a back and forth over a few minutes. Didn’t he ask me to stay on the line??? But he kept getting interrupted, distracted by the chaos – so maybe he didn’t respond to me? I could not comprehend it.

Still shaking, I did some Googling.  Confirmed the existence of “RoboKiller” and the “Answer Bot” feature.  There are actually several companies that provide this special service. I even found a listing online for a “delivery room chaos” answer bot.

The company promises: “…hilarious pre-recorded audio messages designed to…trick unsolicited callers into thinking they’re speaking with a real person… Our Answer Bots keep these bad hombres on the phone, while you go about your day.”

And as a bonus, subscribers to the service can listen to the recorded call later – for laughs!  Listen to all the stressed-out, humiliated campaign volunteers getting punked!  “Hilarious, entertaining, and just the right amount of vengeful. Answer Bot recordings are too good not to share!” their website boasts.

What could be more fun?

I get it that calls from fundraisers and campaigns can be annoying. And we’ve all run across funny answering machine messages that sounded like a live person. These answer bots are something else entirely.

It was a complete mind F#*!*. The swing from a few intense minutes of connecting during a pinnacle human experience to realizing I was the target of an elaborate set up designed to keep me panicking on the phone for as long as possible felt like emotional whiplash. 

I’m not a “snowflake”, but the cruelty seemed gratuitous. Cruelty seems like sport these days.

I had no idea I was so credulous (no doubts now).

I had no idea people could work so creatively to traumatize a stranger (they can; you can even build a business from it!)

I am glad Joe Biden won.

About the Author: Teresa Stack is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets.  From 1998-2016 she was president of The Nation magazine, running the company’s business operations. Today she works from her home in Pennsylvania, doing freelance writing work and directing The Nation’s progressive educational travel program.  She is a producer of the soon-to-be-released short documentary, The Road to Justice, which follows the transformational journey of a group of middle school kids from Chicago and older Nation readers as they tour the south, meeting unsung heroes of the 60s Civil Rights movement.

November 22nd 2020, 9:33 pm

If Police Training Can’t Protect Disabled Black Women, What Will?


“We are all too aware of the frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement, instead of mental health professionals, and end up dead,” wrote Deborah Danner, who was schizophrenic, in a personal essay on January 28, 2012. Four years later, on October 18, 2016, New York Police sergeant Hugh Barry fatally shot her two times in the torso

Danner had included in her essay a “wish list” of demands in response to “the plight of others like [her]”: police brutality against people with mental illness or other disabilities. “Teaching law enforcement how to deal with the mentally ill in crisis so as to prevent another “Gompers” incident,” said Danner, referring to the 1984 NYPD killing of Eleanor Bumpurs. “They used deadly force to subdue her because they were not trained sufficiently in how to engage the mentally ill in crisis. This was not an isolated incident.”

Since Danner’s death in 2016, approximately 4,658 people have been killed by the police. The percentages of those of marginalized identities are staggering. As of 2020, Black people comprised approximately 28 percent of those killed by police, despite encompassing only 13 percent of the US population. Further, Black women comprise 13 percent of the female population, yet account for 20 percent of the women shot and killed, and 28 percent of the unarmed deaths, according to the Washington Post. Nearly 250 women have been fatally shot by police since 2015, and approximately 13 of those women were Black women with reported mental illness. For disabled Black women, systemic racism, misogynoir, and ableism all appear to contribute to their negative interactions with law enforcement. 

According to Kimberle Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, who coined the term Intersectionality, she describes how structures of power overlap and intersect within social identities like race, gender, and disability.  “Sometimes we fail to see specific contours in women’s contexts because they just don’t fit our prototypical vision,” said Crenshaw in a 2016 address to the Omega Women’s Leadership Center. “Where the prototype doesn’t fit, the issue doesn’t get included.” This logic is particularly applied in the specific experiences of disabled Black women and women of color, particularly during the Trump era, which she labels an  “intersectional erasure.”

“The odds that Black women and women of color who are, or are perceived, to be in a mental health crisis will experience violence, arrest, or involuntary commitment are compounded by perceptions of mental instability based on gender, gender nonconformity, and sexuality,” writes police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie in Invisible No More, Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color

Azza Altiraifi, a Black Disabled advocate, observes that disability is criminalized because non-normative behavior considered to be threatening to the oppressive status quo is criminalized. In effect, ableism reinforces the system of criminalization. “So black and brown people are impacted by ableism,” Altiraifi said, “even if they themselves are not disabled, don’t identify as disabled, and are not part of the community in terms of their personal identification.”

Additionally, “Disorderly action” is perceived by law enforcement as indicative of a person with disabilities, a presumption which stems from ableism and affects non-disabled people as well. For example, Dyma Loving, a non-disabled Black woman was violently arrested by former detective Alejandro Giraldo, who threatened to have her involuntarily committed to a mental health institution under Florida’s Baker Act, after she called Miami-Dade police to report a white neighbor who had pointed a gun at her and her friend in May 2019. 

Video footage from police body cameras and a cell phone showed Giraldo telling Loving to ”chill out” and to “stop screaming” as she repeatedly asked another officer at the scene to charge her phone so she could make a call to her sick daughter. Giraldo can be heard in the video describing Loving’s raised, distressed tone of voice as “acting disorderly.”

Recent calls for reforming police training have surged, particularly in response to the murder of Breonna Taylor by police. Research on current models of policing training in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom show that control or defensive techniques are not taught in tandem with other sensorimotor skills, nor other skills like communication. This method of training is called a “block-and-silo” approach, according to the Force Science Institute. “For instance, cuffing would be taught separately from take-down techniques, and neither would be integrated with de-escalation,” reported FSI. “It is the type of instruction which accomplishes teaching objectives but not learning objectives. It increases the learner’s knowledge about what rules should be followed and when, but at some point later when learners attempt to carry out the techniques in a dynamic or realistic encounter, they are incapable.” In 2019, CBS News collected data from more than 150 police departments about their training practices in racial bias training. In Louisville, Kentucky, where Taylor was killed in her apartment by police just one year after the study, the department reported to CBS that implicit racial bias training was mandated for four hours once per year since 2015. De-escalation training had been mandated for 16 hours once per year since 2018. 

The ‘block-and-silo” approach to police training calls into question a lack of integrational training on gender orientation, disabilities, and racism. The US Department of Justice reports that state and local law enforcement training subjects devoted to “mental illness”, “cultural diversity/human relations”, and “victim response” were each taught for differing periods of time. For example, 10 hours of training were devoted to “mental illness,” and 12 hours were devoted to “cultural diversity/human relations.” Only five hours were devoted to “victim response” training. It is unclear whether these subjects were taught in a “block-and-silo” approach, or cooperatively about the ways ableism, racial and gender bias can play a role when responding to a disabled woman of color in crisis. 

Following the death of George Floyd, Emily Iland, program developer of Experience Autism, wrote: “The obvious starting point is training the police about autism and other disabilities…I discovered, however, that while training the police is absolutely necessary, it isn’t enough.”

Iland points out the public assumption that police are supposed to “solve all our problems,” including mental health emergencies involving disabled people. “It’s better to call a crisis center, a behavioral specialist,” Iland said. “Because a disability-related meltdown is not usually a crime, calling the police on someone with autism and having a meltdown is criminalizing disability.”

There are a number of mental health professionals who have experience with the disabled community who believe the development of alternative emergency contacts are crucial. Jennifer Sarrett, a lecturer at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Human Health, works with intellectually and developmentally disabled people within the criminal justice system. She believes that social workers must be brought in to assist people suffering from mental health issues, and points out that even spontaneous encounters with neighborhood police could pose a possible threat to their lives. “I think that can greatly reduce some of the harm done, but that doesn’t eliminate it all because officers are still going to interact with disabled folks, even without those calls.” said Sarrett. For example, police have regular interaction with homeless disabled people, since it is estimated that nearly one quarter of disabled people face homelessness. Therefore, what may be perceived as criminal action by onlookers and law enforcement are actually acts of survival (ie. loitering, public urination, and begging on the streets). 

Kerima Çevik, an activist and mother of a son who is autistic and non-speaking, wants to completely mitigate encounters with police to prevent potential violence. She believes that when police train in risk management, they are enforcing the idea that someone who needs help in crisis is instead a safety risk to police officers. “Police should be the last resort,” says Çevik. She also believes that they should not be present in spaces where their intervention is not necessary, like crisis response. “In other words, we should never—,” Çevik pauses. “I shouldn’t have to call the police if my son is having a meltdown. When I get up in the morning, I say ‘Thank God he’s not dead,’ and ‘Thank God I’m not dead.”

In response to the specific harm Black people with disabilities are experiencing, organizations like the Abolition and Disability Justice Coalition call for the funding and expansion of programs that “provide resources and training in meditation, restitution, and accountability practices and processes” which demands a dismantling of the prison-industrial complex in its entirety. This requires rejecting reforms such as those that replace policing and criminalization with mandatory social or health services. “Mandatory social and health services are no less damaging than our systems of policing and cages,” ADJC writes. “In these contexts, people who are neurodivergent and/or living with disabilities are systematically abused and prevented from making decisions about their own lives.” 

Additionally, the BYP100 Action Fund has launched a national campaign called She Safe, We Safe to increase safe interventions in gender-based violence that do not rely on contact with the police, while reallocating funding from the police to “community-determined programs that address gender-based violence in Black communities.”

These grassroots organizations, amongst numerous others, are mobilizing for transformative justice for disabled Black women and gender non-conforming Black people being disproportionately targeted  by police, particularly in the face of a recent Trump administration executive order to end all federal worker training on racial bias involving critical race theory and white privilege, claiming that these are the two ideologies driving division while perpetuating “anti-American propaganda.”

In response to the September executive order, Cevik believes that the Trump administration’s order drives further division by reinforcing racial bias. “While the true impact of such an executive order is contingent on the actual effectiveness of the training presently offered, and what systemic changes were occurring in concurrence with the training to actually result in attitudinal change,” Cevik continued, “the public relations and culture war attempts have been building for four years.”

Natalie Crystal Doggett

About the Author: Natalie Crystal Doggett is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

November 18th 2020, 10:58 am

Is Justice Gender-blind?


Lisa Montgomery is about to be federally executed on December 8th for having committed a truly grim and heinous crime – killing a young mother and cutting her unborn baby from the womb in order to claim the child as her own. She did so in a psychotic episode.

Between 1976 and 2016, sixteen American women (including Karla Faye TuckerWanda Jean AllenKimberly McCarthy) were executed. These women mainly killed one, sometimes two people; in only two cases did they kill multiple victims.

During the same approximate time period seventeen American male killers—men who killed anywhere from 14–100 women, mainly prostitutes—were overall given sentences much less severe. Only five (29%) were executed: the rest were allowed to live out their lives in prison. This includes Robert HansenArthur Shawcross, the Green River Killer, and The Grim Sleeper. Juries, for any number of reasons, did not vote to execute them or were not given that choice to make.

Oh, what a clear and terrifying measure of how cheap women’s lives are! Prostituted and sexually terrorized women are disposable throwaways who remain invisible to us both in life and in death. They are shown little mercy while alive, and are totally forgotten after they’ve been murdered. Rarely do we even learn their names. When finally apprehended (after many years), too many of their killers get to live out their natural lives.

This may appear as if I’m arguing for the death penalty. I am not. Paradoxically, this is just one more reason to oppose legal executions. The death sentence is not fairly, justly, or evenly applied across both race and gender. In addition, poor suspects are never represented as well as the wealthy are.

Like other executed and jailed women, Aileen Carol Wuornos, about whom I write in my new book, Requiem for a Female Serial Killer, and Lisa Montgomery, lived their entire lives in war zones. As Sandra Babcock, of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide writes: “Lisa’s life reads like the script of a horror movie.” Her alcoholic mother both terrorized, punished, and beat her during childhood, and prostituted her when she was eleven years old. Older men, first a live-in stepfather, then Johns, penetrated Lisa “anally, orally, and vaginally, one after the other” when she was a teenager. Lisa clearly developed “a complex post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A human being does not easily recover from torture. Most are forever after unnaturally “vigilant” and paranoid and survive only in disassociated states. Many turn to drugs and alcohol to keep them disassociated from their painful histories.

Wuornos was also savagely beaten, death-threatened, raped and impregnated when she was fourteen, thrown out of her dysfunctional home afterwards and “survived” by selling sex. Like Montgomery, Wuornos was also born with profound cognitive and neurological limitations. By the time she was fifteen years old, Wuornos was selling sex for food, beer, music, and lodging. Like all prostitutes, Wuornos was repeatedly raped (actually she was being paid to be raped), beaten, gang-raped, robbed, tortured and nearly killed. In my opinion, she did kill in self-defense that first time. Thereafter, something changed. I write about that in Requiem.

Women are less violent than men but when a woman is violent, she is seen as even more dangerous than a man, as unnatural, and she is shown as little mercy at trial as in her life. For example, Wuornos’ jury needed only one hour and 31 minutes to find her guilty and one hour and 48 minutes to sentence her to death. Serial killer Ted Bundy’s jury (and he killed nearly100 women), took seven hours to find him guilty and seven and a half hours to sentence him to death.

Women are routinely given greater sentences than men are for committing the same crime. Battered women who finally save their own lives are usually given life sentences without parole. Killing even a violent husband is still, at some level, seen as committing patricide/regicide and the woman must be severely punished as an example to other women.

Most sexually tortured and traumatized girls and women die slowly and anonymously. Some fight back, some defend their lives, some jump right out of their minds.

Lisa Montgomery did. Can We, the People, find it in our hearts to show her a measure of mercy? Can We, the People, allow her to live the rest of her life in prison?

Justice is not justice when it is not tempered by mercy.

About the author: Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D., is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York and author of the new book Requiem for a Female Serial Killer. Dr. Chesler is a co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology, The National Women’s Health Network, and The International Committee for the (Original) Women of the Wall. Dr. Chesler wrote the landmark feminist classic Women and MadnessThe New Anti-Semitism,Woman’s Inhumanity to WomanAn American Bride in KabulA Family Conspiracy: Honor Killing, and a memoir: A Politically Incorrect Feminist.

November 15th 2020, 6:25 pm

Abortion Without Borders: Standing with Polish Women


Protesters holding signs during a rally in Poland on October 27th, 2020. Photograph: Kasia Strek
Have you seen those extraordinary photos? The women of Poland, thousands and thousands of them, pouring into the streets, disrupting business as usual and denouncing the government’s new ban on abortion. They carried symbols of red thunderbolts, umbrellas and wire coal hangers – hangers! A universal symbol of dangerous, illegal abortions which they refused to accept.

      I immediately flashed back to the action I had led decades earlier in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC in 1989, surging across Fifth Avenue with hundreds more to the Cathedral steps. I held high a six-foot replica of a wire hanger, chanting with the many others, “Not the Church, not the State, Women will Decide our Fate!”  Two of our crew stood before the massive bronze doors and held up a huge Proclamation which began, “On behalf of the women of New York City and their sisters throughout the country and out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, we stand here today…”

Merle Hoffman raises her trademark hanger outside St. Patricks Cathedral in New York in 1989. This was the first pro-choice civil disobedience action in history.

This action was inspired by then Cardinal O’Connor’s active support for anti-abortion blockades of clinics. It was the first pro-choice civil disobedience action, an historic event that could not be ignored by the media. The New York Times quoted me as saying, “Women’s rights are in a state of emergency,” and the Philadelphia Enquirer stated the action marked “an important strategic change in the movement.” Oh, how I want to be there in Poland with these fearless and inspiring women, storming into the streets and challenging government and religious institutions. Marching and chanting, full of revolutionary rectitude!

      Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to travel to Poland directly due to the Coronavirus, but I  needed to do something. I contacted a feminist academic and writer in Warsaw involved in the protests. I was asked to write a letter of support from American Feminists that could be widely disseminated and published in a major newspaper. So I did, and Phyllis Chesler, Gloria Steinem, Frances Kissling, Naomi Wolf and others soon signed on. (See the letter, below.) It was published earlier this week in both Polish and English in the women’s extra to Poland’s largest daily news outlet, GAZETA WYBORCZA and was shared widely on social media by The Women’s Strike (the leading organization behind the demonstrations) as well as by local women’s groups. (Read article here.)

Women hold up wire coat hangers as part of recent massive demonstrations in Poland, protesting abortion ban by Polish government. Photo: NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS 

Just as I am now inspired by the courage of the Polish women, so was I inspired to travel to Russia and assist in developing women’s health services there when I heard the story of one woman who came to Choices Women’s Medical Center for her 36th abortion. I was also inspired by attacks on women’s clinics to organize the St. Patrick’s action, and I have been inspired to carry on this work at Choices – with my wonderful staff – by the memory of holding the hand of the first patient who stepped through our doors nearly 50 years ago. It’s always the women’s stories, the women’s needs and women’s bravery.

      The good news from Poland today is that the courage and persistence of Polish women have forced the government to pause and step back from implementing its all but total, viciously cruel ban, even forbidding abortions where the fetus has severe abnormalities. The fight is not over, but we are confident the women of Poland will continue to inspire the rest of us. 
Letter of Support:
November 4th, 2020

To the Great Women of Poland,

The world is in awe of your principled activism and is filled with admiration for your courage and commitment. American Feminists stand with you. We salute and support you with love and pride.

You have marched by the thousands in response to the October 22nd Tribunal ruling which denied abortion even in cases of fetal abnormality in what has been called the largest demonstration in the country since the fall of communism.

Ignoring threats of prosecution, violence from the Right, and the dangers posed by a surging Coronavirus, while displaying symbols of Red Thunderbolts, Hangers and Umbrellas, your resistance intensifies daily. You have challenged formerly “untouchable” institutions and are a stellar example of what people everywhere need to do in the fight against oppression and for women’s freedom.

Julia Przylebska, President of the Tribunal, has stated that allowing abortions in cases of fetal abnormality legalizes “eugenics” and because the Polish Constitution guarantees a right to life, terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the fetus amounts to “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.” This latest ruling imposes a near total ban in Poland that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

You have had the courage to say no to this egregious diminishment of women’s humanity and moral agency.

Legal abortion is an integral core of women’s health and is the necessary condition for women’s freedom. We all know that nothing stops abortion – no law, no government, no religious authority. Making abortion illegal only makes it dangerous and deadly.

You demand legalization of abortion in the name of all your daughters, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers who alone and in pain lost their lives in back alleys or on dirty kitchen tables for their right to choose.

Women of Poland-We stand with you and attest that Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

Women are full moral agents with the right and ability to choose when and whether or not they will be mothers.

Abortion is a choice made by each individual for profound personal reasons that no man nor state should judge or control. 

The right to make reproductive choices is women’s legacy throughout history and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual preference.

Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives, and women’s sexuality.
Abortion is often the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies healthcare, housing, education, and economic survival to women.

Women’s rights remain in a state of emergency. If not now, when? If not you–then who?

We stand with you in solidarity. 

Choices Women’s Medical Center

Author,Co-Founder, National Women’s Health Network, Association of Women in Psychology

Activist and Author


Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief, Women’s eNews

ape Survivors Advocate

Editor-in-Chief, The Root

Board Chair, ERA Fund for Women’s Equality;

Board Chair, Women Moving Millions

President ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)

Recipient Chair of the inaugural Ruth Bader Ginsburg Professor of Law

Associate Professor, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University

Board Chair, Our Bodies, Ourselves, on behalf of the Board and Founders

Member of the Board of Directors of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, Equality NY and the National Transgender Bar Association     

BAHAR JALALI                  
Founder of the First Women and Gender Studies Program in Afghanistan

Matrimonial Lawyer

President, The Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy
Washington, DC

Executive Director & Publisher, Feminist Press   
City University of New York

Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard University (part-time)

Executive Director, Equality Campaign


De Paul University College of Law

President & CEO, New York Women’s Foundation

Professor of Japanese Studies
Harvard University

President, Sy Syms Foundation
Recent Chair of the Women’s Equality Fund

Founder of Renaissance House, a retreat for writers on social issues

Professor of Women and Gender Studies,
Arizona State University

Author, Screenwriter, Playwright

CEO at Civically Re-Engaged Women (Crew)

Candidate for Manhattan District Attorney

Feminist and Zionist activist, author.

Author, anthropologist


Sculptor, Founding President of

Author, Professor of Languages, Literatures and Culture
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Dottir Press

Attorney at law
Brooklyn, NY

DePaul Universtiy
College of Law

Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies
University of Haifa

Author and Wise Woman

International Human Rights Activist, UK

Novelist, poet


Project Kesher

Director, Suppressed Histories Archives


University of Maryland

Co-editor of


Choreographer, dancer.


Feminist Musician


Pacifica Radio WBAI





Psychologist and Author, “The Battered Woman”

About the author: Merle Hoffman is the Founder, President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center.

November 12th 2020, 6:12 pm

Run and Get an IUD or Implant Now…and Tell a Friend!


What you need to know about SCOTUS, the Affordable Care Act and its effects on birth control access

What you need to know about birth control in 2020:

If you have a uterus and are of reproductive age, you might want to consider getting an IUD or implant now. Why? Because on Nov 10th, the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) began hearing arguments in California v. Texas, which could end up with the ACA (Affordable Care Act) being rendered unconstitutional. 

How does that relate to birth control access? Under the ACA, all FDA approved methods of birth control for those with uteri are required to be covered for “free,” meaning that there is no copay and no deductible. However, if the SCOTUS strikes down the ACA, then this could end.

The ACA birth control mandate has saved women and their families millions of dollars. It is estimated that in the first year the ACA birth control mandate was in effect, it saved women $1.4 billion. “The average pill user saved $254.91 per year.” Before the ACA, out-of-pocket expenses for birth control accounted for 30-44% of women’s out-of-pocket health care spending. After the ACA, women could spend that money on rent, food, etc. By increasing access to birth control, we decrease abortion and unplanned pregnancies, resulting in better economic opportunities and education for women and their families. 

If you are on the birth control pill, patch, or ring, know that in 17 states you can get a year’s supply of birth control at a time, so consider getting as much birth control as you can now. By law, these states require insurances to provide a year’s supply of birth control pills at a time: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Contact your prescriber to write a year’s supply. Let your provider know “it’s the law” in your state. (You can ask for 13 or 17 packs of pills, 13 rings, or 39 or 52 patches.)

If you have any problems getting a year’s supply because your insurance refuses, call your insurance and say “it’s the law.” If that doesn’t work, then contact, a project of the National Women’s Law Center. They have sample scripts to argue with your insurance companies and letters that you can write. 

If you have a uterus and are of reproductive age, get some prescription emergency contraception now. Again, the ACA covers it with no copay and no deductible, so it’s “free.” Prescription emergency contraception (Ella) works better at every time point and for BMIs of 26-35 when compared to Plan B and its generics. If you have a BMI of 26 or greater, know that Plan B and its generics probably won’t work, so please CHECK your BMI

What can you do if you support those with uteri having access to “free” (no copay, no deductible) birth control?

Tell SCOTUS: #KeepTheACA #SaveTheACA. Chief Justice John Roberts is known to be receptive to public opinion and does not want to go down in history as a bad Chief Justice. So PROTEST, get on social media, and make it clear: The ACA benefits the public, and we want it to stay.

Tell insurance companies and State Government Officials: It is fiscally smart and morally right to cover birth control. So even if the ACA is overturned, there is nothing stopping insurance companies from providing birth control with no copay, no deductible, and there is nothing stopping politicians and elected officials from passing laws mandating coverage for “free.” It is far cheaper to cover birth control than to pay for an unplanned pregnancy. It costs $800 for an abortion, $10,000 for a vaginal delivery, and $40,000 for a C-section. That does NOT include the pre- and postnatal care, well-child visits, ultrasounds, lab tests, etc. For every $1 spent by the government on birth control, it saves $7 on healthcare expenses. 

Kudos to the 29 states and Washington, D.C that mandate birth control coverage. Kudos to the 16 states and Washington, D.C. that have passed laws to keep the birth control mandate in place even if the ACA is reversed. Check for your state here

Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) and permanent contraception/sterilization is expensive but effective.

An IUD/implant could cost $1300, so get an IUD or implant NOW if you are considering it. If you are thinking about permanent contraception, a tubal ligation can cost up to $6000, whereas a vasectomy is only $1000 and far less invasive and more effective. 

Per Contraceptive Technology 2018, the chart below provides statistics of the typical failure rates of these options:

Failure RateDuration
19-20 mcg IUD with hormone (Liletta, Mirena)1/10005-7 yrs
Implant1/10003-5 yrs
Vasectomy *1.5/1000forever
17.5 mcg IUD with hormone (Kyleena)2/10005 yrs
14 mcg of IUD with hormone (Skyla)4/10003 yrs
Tubal Ligation5/1000forever
Copper IUD8/100010-12 yrs

*Not covered by the ACA but covered by Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington.

To learn more about these methods, click here.

The hormonal IUDs result in lighter (70% of users) or no periods (30%). The copper IUD causes more cramps and more blood loss but is a good option if you can’t use anything with hormones (ie. you have heart disease, blood clot disorder, etc. Discuss with your doctor first.).

What’s new in birth control?

There’s a new birth control vaginal ring, patch, and progestin-only pill.

The new vaginal ring is Annovera, which carries a new progesterone segesterone and a very low dose of estrogen (13 mcg per day). The benefit of the new progesterone segesterone is that it does not have androgenic side effects like acne, blood lipid effects, hairiness, etc.

This method may not be best for those under 30 years old, however. The concern is that this estrogen level may negatively impact women who are under that age. A pediatric endocrinologist, pediatric adolescent gynecologist, and adolescent medicine doctors at Stanford recommend at least 30 mcg of estrogen for birth control pills, because research has shown that lower levels result in lower bone mineral density. 

Annovera is placed intravaginally for 21 days then removed and out of the body for one week (during which time the user will experience a withdrawal bleed). It has not been tested for continuous use (skipping periods).

The cost without insurance is about $2000 and the cost with insurance and under the ACA should be “free” (no copay, no deductible).

You might want to try the one-month ring (NuvaRing, EluRyng) to see if you like a vaginal ring before trying Annovera.

The new birth control patch is called TWIRLA, which contains levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. A woman uses one patch a week for three weeks, and then during the 4th week no patch is needed (during which time, a withdrawal bleed occurs). 

Of note: If your BMI is 25-30, it might not work as well. And If your BMI is 30 or greater, the manufacturer does not recommend you use it because:

1. It doesn’t work as well 

2. It puts you at higher risk for a blood clot. 

The concern about the patch is that previous studies have shown that the risk of developing a blood clot [venous thromboembolism (VTE)] is twice as likely on the patch than on standard birth control pills. This is thought to be due to the fact that the hormone goes through the skin and skips having to go through the stomach. 

The benefit of this patch is that it is slightly lower in estrogen (30 mcg vs. the Xulane patch at 35 mcg). However, users will most likely still experience higher levels in the blood than with birth control pills. The major side effect noticed is breast tenderness compared to birth control pills, but this was of similar levels to those on the birth control pills after the 1st month. 

There is a also new progesterone-only pill (POP): Slynd. The benefit to this pill is that it has a much more forgiving window of effectiveness. For most POPs, if you are three hours late taking it, you need to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or use a backup for the next few days and use emergency contraception if you have had heterosexual intercourse in the previous three days. However, Slynd has a 24-hour dosing window, like the “regular” birth control pills, which contain estrogen and progesterone. The major drawback of Slynd is cost: $193-$268 per month vs. regular birth control pills at $15 per month or other POPs at $8-$30 per month. Also, the progesterone in Slynd is drospirenone, which is not good for anyone with kidney issues. Generally, I like to make sure the patient can drink eight glasses of water a day because it might have a diuretic effect which may result in headaches if the patient doesn’t drink enough water.

For further information about the birth-control options available, visit Pandia Health.

Dr. Sophia Yen is Co-Founder and CEO of Pandia Health, the only #WomenFounded, #WomenLed, #DoctorLed birth control delivery company.

November 11th 2020, 6:02 pm

Friday is National Birthday Control Day, yet Barriers to Birth Control Access Persist


Birth control is essential healthcare, whether it’s used to prevent pregnancy, reduce menstrual migraines, or help control medical conditions like endometriosis. Yet many people who need it face stubborn barriers to access — and the COVID pandemic has strengthened those barriers while creating new ones. When shelter-in-place orders began in the spring, people in need of birth control turned to telehealth to access it in a safe and convenient way.

While the pandemic has emphasized how challenging it can be to access birth control, even before this year many people couldn’t access contraception conveniently and affordably, or (in some cases) not at all. More than 19 million women in the US are in need of publicly funded birth control and live in contraceptive deserts, an area where women in need lack access to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. Further, approximately 1.5 million women live in a county without a single health center offering the full range of methods.

Whether a woman is facing financial, geographic, or logistical barriers, or safety concerns related to COVID, telehealth can be a solution, and it doesn’t stop with birth control. Telehealth is especially helpful for accessing care that may have stigma associated with it. This year our company has witnessed over 120% increase in home STI testing services, a nearly 200% increase in herpes treatment requests, and a 300% increase in requests for emergency contraception.

To address COVID-related gaps in care for college-age people, a new College Health Hub was launched, providing students with information on sexuality and sexual health from medical experts and sex educators.

Beyond the ability to access medication and tests, telehealth services can also offer something that’s also crucial, especially this year: The ability for patients and medical providers to connect at their convenience, and on their terms.

Fundamentally, telehealth empowers patients, giving them access to birth control and other essential care without requiring them to jump through hoops to get the required services they need.

Varsha Rao is the CEO of Nurx, a digital health company providing convenient and affordable access for sensitive health needs. With over 300,000 patients across the country, Nurx is the leading online provider for birth control. Prior to Nurx, Rao served as COO of Clover Health and Head of Global Operations at Airbnb.

November 11th 2020, 8:12 am

Thinking of Not Voting? Think Again, please…


I know it doesn’t seem as though a far-away country liberating itself from 25 years of war and chaos would have anything to do with present day the United States, but what happened there should be both our warning and our inspiration — and a testament to the power women have to swing an election, no matter what the odds.

In 1997, Liberia was under the control of a warlord named Charles Taylor. In the country’s “transition to democracy,” he ran for president promising peace while terrorizing the population into voting for him.  He used campaign slogans like “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”  While there was a woman on the ballot — who was not a warlord — Liberia’s women either stayed home entirely, or voted for Taylor, as their husbands had dictated. Charles Taylor won by 75% of the vote, and soon after plunged the country into another four-plus years of civil war, destroying what was left of the country.

But this time, building on a grassroots women’s movement that led to a peace agreement and Charles Taylor’s exile in 2003, a massive effort targeting women led them to become 50.1% of registered voters, according to the Carter Center. While women overwhelmingly supported Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, believing “a vote for the woman is a vote for peace,” it would take every woman showing up and voting for Ellen, as everyone called her, to be victorious. To prevent authoritarian tactics delegitimizing the result, they didn’t just need a majority….they needed a landslide. 

But a lot of factors very familiar to American voters were stacked against them, such as poll access. A third of the country’s population had been displaced, including a quarter million living as refugees in neighboring countries who were required to make the long, dangerous journey to Liberia to vote. Further, culture and tradition went against supporting a woman leader, and local laws required women to obey their husbands.  Men, overwhelmingly, supported her opponent, George Weah, an inexperienced, uneducated (and anti-intellectual), soccer star whose campaign included scare tactics such as the slogan, “No Weah, No Peace.”

The biggest wildcard was whether women would, as they had previously done, permit the temptation to let the exhaustion, trauma, and confusion of living under an authoritarian leader result in inaction — a reminder that voting is, ultimately, an individual act, outside the reach of mass movements.

A woman I traveled with to Liberia for the election, who had been living in a refugee camp in Sierra Leone, summed it up this way:  “The last election, I voted for Charles Taylor the way my husband told me to. Most of my friends did not vote at all. Then Charles Taylor’s men raped and killed my daughter in front of me and stole my little boy to fight. This time, if I follow my heart and vote for the woman, maybe she still won’t win. But I know she can’t win without me.” 

In the face of all odds, she, along with thousands of her countrywomen, found a way to chose empowerment over despair, hoping enough others would too, and change the course of history. They registered other women while selling vegetables in the markets in IDP camps. And many, as we had, crammed themselves by the dozens into cars flooding with gasoline to undertake an uncomfortable and dangerous journey back to Liberia. “So,” the woman concluded, “I have come to save my country.”

And it paid off. Ellen won by 59%, largely due to women. So overwhelming was the landslide that George Weah, who initially, without evidence, filed charges of election fraud, backed down peacefully and accepted the results. Liberia had elected Africa’s first woman president. Peace had won.

This is what must happen here.

As it was with Liberia in 2007, our previous presidential election was largely decided by (white suburban) women who chose fear and anxiety and promises made by a self-proclaimed “strongman.”  His election was also won by the millions who stayed home.

This election will be won by women too. We know the tide of public opinion among women has shifted away from Trump and authoritarianism, but for that shift to play out in the voting booth requires an act of faith — combined with individual woman claiming their power. If it helps to remember that the women of post-war Liberia, against insurmountable odds, were able to choose empowerment over apathy, fear, and despair, our election, too, will become an earthquake that shakes the world.

About the Author: Rachel Leventhal is a documentary journalist focusing on stories about women and the environment.  She is the founder of Women’s P2P Network, an organization that leverages technology to help women connect and organize across borders.  Their current project is developing tools to support women globally who are running for political office.  Rachel was in West Africa in 2005 writing about  and photographing women involved in the peace movement.

November 4th 2020, 1:41 pm

Don’t Miss: Black Women, Wealth & Homeownership


VIRTUAL EVENT! @WealthWednesdays, @AngelaYee and @Stacey Tisdale are bringing you a special edition of #RealEstateReset!.  We are celebrating black women and aiming to make more of them homeowners with special guest host @GloriaSteinem! Who ‘takes us to school’ on the role black women played in all women’s rights!. Experts also discuss: How to navigate your career on the road to homeownership; Why more black women are using online mortgage lenders, and more!  The show airs October 28th at 12pm on the @Breakfastclubam YouTube!  Click to sign up for the countdown clock and to watch!

November 4th 2020, 1:41 pm

Will the Kamala Harris Candidacy Increase the Women’s Vote?


On August 11, 2020, Joe Biden announced the selection of the first woman of color, Kamala Harris, as his Vice-Presidential candidate.

“Kamala, as you all know is smart, she’s tough, she’s experienced, she’s a proven fighter for the backbone of this country, the middle class, for all those who are struggling to get into the middle class,” Biden said, just before introducing her. “Kamala knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls. She’s ready to do this job on Day One and we’re both ready to get to work, rebuilding this nation and building it better,” he continued. “One of the reasons I chose Kamala is because we both believe that we can define America simply in one word, possibilities. Possibilities. Let me say it again, possibilities. That’s America. That’s what sets this nation apart, is that everyone, everyone, the ability for everyone, and we mean everyone, to go as far and dream as big as hard work and their God-given ability will take them.” 

Yet when considering the success of any female political candidate, we need to talk about ‘likeability,’ because this is the issue that, regardless of how experienced and accomplished a woman is, it will affects her chance of being elected, as was the case with Hillary’s Clinton’s 2016 presidential run.

According to the PEW Research Center, Clinton captured 54% of the women’s vote and Trump 39%; Clinton captured 45% of the white women vote, and Trump 47%, and Clinton captured a much higher percentage of the younger voters compared to Trump. But 4 out of 10 eligible voters did not vote, which helped to hand Trump the election. 

So this begs the question. Will Kamala Harris’s candidacy impel more people to go to the polls in favor of a Democratic ticket on November 3rd?

Among the non-voters in 2016, the PEW Research Center’s findings show that they were younger, less educated, lower income, and non-white. It is speculated that Harris, being a woman of color, may be able to capture the non-white vote. If Harris can bring to the polls both the non-white and white women nonvoters of 2016, this could be the determining factor in who wins the 2020 presidency.

In the past few weeks, Trump has been feverishly trying to woo white suburban women, but it has not proven successful. According to an Oct. 26th article in the New York Times, “The white suburban voters the president needs to carve a path to victory have turned away from him, for deeply personal reasons”. 

The traditional demographics of being white, female, suburban has changed. For example, an increasing number of successful suburban white women in the United States do not have children. According to a study by the New York-based think tank the Center for Work-Life Policy, “43 percent of college-educated women between the ages of 33 and 46 are childless. Whether they call themselves “childless,” “childfree,” “childless-by-choice” or even just “still on the fence,” a significant number of New York women in their 30s and 40s are taking a pass on motherhood.”

Kamala Harris is a prime example of a woman who prioritized a professional career over the traditional suburban lifestyle. Harris does not have kids of her own, choosing to instead parent her stepchildren (who lovingly call her “Momala”), making her life choices more relatable to today’s white suburban woman.

Further, Trump’s track record as president is not helping his plight. In a recent NPR/PBS poll, 66% of suburban women said they disapproved of Trump’s performance as president overall, and 58% said they strongly disapproved. 

Additionally, the increasing US case count and death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the recent Black Lives Matter protests over police brutality cases, may further encourage people to vote for change. “When people see their own rights, the rights of their family, and the rights of their friends and neighbors being attacked, it inspires them to push for change,” says Heidi Sieck, Co-Founder & CEO of #VoterProChoice. “I do think that young people are eager for a change, and that the Biden-Harris ticket is the only choice available that would allow us to realize that change. Roughly 51% of Millennials voted in the 2016 election, and given the recent activation of millions over the mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis as well as this year’s social justice uprisings, we can only hope for a higher turnout in this election.”

About the writer: Simone Soublet, a communications and journalism studies student at Loyola Marymount University, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

November 4th 2020, 1:41 pm

Female Philanthropy: The Time Is Now


The idea to launch  a website dedicated to women in philanthropy first came to Kiersten Marek in 2016, when Hillary Clinton was anticipated to win the presidential election and become the United State’s first woman president. When she launched it the following  year, it felt even more pertinent. 

“I really thought, ‘Wow, she’s going to get elected, and there’s going to be this massive realigning of government and social strategy about gender equality,’” said Marek, founder and editor-in-chief of Philanthropy Women. “But that didn’t happen, and instead we immediately saw regressions as soon as Donald Trump came into office.”

After a few years working at the online news site Inside Philanthropy, Marek, a therapist and social worker based in Rhode Island, recognized the need for a space to promote and support feminist philanthropy. 

“I noticed that there was this archetype of this feminist giver that was really extraordinary that no one really knew about, except for a very small circle of other donors,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is so bad.’ It really speaks to the fact that women don’t promote their own accomplishments, and I’m going to rectify this by filling this space myself.” 

In that respect, Philanthropy Women is a positive space, highlighting the important work being done to benefit women and girls and to push for gender equality. But it also shows the other, more devastating side, in which organizations have had to pull back their funding in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and this nail-biting political season. It’s a huge blow to an already struggling cause — only 1.6% of funds from non-profits in the U.S. goes to programs supporting women and girls, and just 0.5% goes toward women and girls of color, according to the Ms. Foundation.

The shocking numbers have led women-run organizations like Women Moving Millions (WMM) to step up their efforts. “Our concern is the progress we’ve made toward gender equality is at risk and COVID will have a backsliding effect for women and girls around the world,” said Sarah Haacke Byrd, executive director. “They need our support more than ever — job losses, domestic violence, unpaid care and young women out of school are increasing. This is an important time to take our work to the next level.”

The result is WMM’a newest campaign, Give Bold, Get Equal, which has committed to raise $100 million in new funding for women and girls through 2022. Today, it has already generated $70 million in commitments from its members, who primarily invest in organizations that focus on economic security, violence against women, education and health.

Sapphira Goradia, Women Moving Millions board member, said the campaign speaks volumes — but its focus is nothing new. “The need for resources to help women and girls has been around forever,” said Goradia, who is also the executive director of the Vijay and Marie Goradia Foundation. “We [as women] have our own power — why not own that and work together in collaboration to move the needle? We are building off the shoulders of women.”

It also says a lot about how women have risen in the philanthropy world, and how they’re increasingly in a position to give. “In the last decade, women have continued to gain a tremendous amount of wealth — $72 trillion globally,” Byrd explained. “With increased wealth and leadership comes the power and responsibility to do something in this moment.”

Donna Hall, executive director of the Women Donors Network, echoed this timeline, adding that she feels the concept of philanthropy is changing. While ultra-wealthy women like MacKenzie Scott and Melinda Gates are setting the stage for women of equal standing, it’s now time to think about how to reach everyone else to emphasize putting money into the system. “Women who are now earning their own money are not considered super-wealthy, but they are engaged in their activism and giving money in ways that they haven’t before,” said Hall, whose organization is based in San Francisco. “I think we have a huge untapped market of women who are earning solid salaries and want to be educated and want to be activated and are looking for opportunities. And if you look at the assets that women are projected to inherit in the next 30 years or so, it’s just a phenomenal amount of money.” 

Hall added that  she would love to see women’s funds established and financially secure throughout the country, calling the percentage of philanthropic dollars going to women and girls — a reminder: 1.6% and only 0.5% for women of color — was “so appallingly low.” Several, like the Women’s Funding Network and The Women’s Fund in Texas, have been around for about 40 years. “A lot of the women’s funds are struggling in this year and the last couple years to really stay afloat, which is just a very sad commentary on the priorities that we give to the needs of women and girls in all sectors of our society,” she said. “That’s been discouraging to me.”

“I think they need more help in this time, but they need a lot of help all the time,” Hall continued. “There’s still a lot of prejudice against women and girls, there’s a need to really invest in education and training and leadership developments for women at all stages of life, there’s a big need for mentoring. There’s just a big need for resources, a big accumulation of resources.”

Hall took the helm of the Women Donors Network in 2002. She said the biggest difference now, 18 years later, is that women are more activated and willing to spend money to give power to those who should have it. That’s highlighted in the Women Donors Network’s grant-making model: It tends to give general operating money, turning the people on the ground into decision-makers about what to do and how to do it. “There’s a total disequilibrium in this country right now, and we want to try to address that in the way we do out business,” she said. 

Yet, Philanthropy Women’s Kiersten Marek wonders if people are simply burning out funding gender equality. “It’s just hard. There are only 1.6%, so you feel so isolated and alienated most of the time,” she said. “You’re such a minority in this field and your message is so relevant, and yet people are not picking it up.”

Despite losing donors herself, she’s not giving up. She has a knowledge database of more than 675 gender-equality funders. She also knows there’s never been a better time to talk about women’s leadership (“The science proves it,” she says, pointing to how female leaders around the world were generally more successful in handling the pandemic). She feels hope knowing that if Joe Biden takes office, Kamala Harris “will make sure that this agenda doesn’t die.”

“I think that where women are really growing is in their understanding of their own capacities now,” Marek said. “They’re really starting to look at more ambitious strategies and different ways of putting their money into the culture of promoting gender equality.”

About the writer: Alyssa Fisher, who recently earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Florida, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

November 4th 2020, 1:41 pm

Tonight: Celebrating 21 Leaders for the 21st Century!


New Registrations are being accepted until 3pm (EST) today!

October 25th 2020, 12:56 pm

Disabilities and the Workforce: A Community Too Long Overlooked


It has been well documented that marginalized communities face wage and employment discrimination. A significant wage gap exists between women and men, and people of color experience unfair employment practices. But did you know that members of the disabilities community also experience a significant amount of discrimination? Since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, this is a a perfect time to shed light on barriers people with disabilities face when it comes to employment practices and, in particular, accessible employment.

 Twenty five percent of Americans have a disability, and experience twice the unemployment rate than those without disabilities. For disabled women and for disabled women of color, the rates of unemployment are even more staggering. Too often, the stigma associated with disabled employees is that they cannot be as productive as nondisabled employees. Although this may be true for some, this is not true for all. To better understand the challenges the disability community faces, it is therefore important to expose a number of myths.

Yes, being disabled is expensive, especially when no insurance coverage is available. Mobility devices, medical equipment, medication, doctors’ visits, and other costs related to being disabled can mount and quickly put a person, even an employed person, into debt. Disabled people therefore need insurance that works for them and will pay for the care they need in order to live, but Medicaid, one of the few available options, comes with several obstacles. One obstacle is that, depending on the state a person resides, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is required in order to receive Medicaid. SSI validates a person’s disability status, and therefore ensures the need for Medicaid. Yet SSI recipients are subject to many strict and limiting rules. For example, in order to receive SSI, an individual has to prove inability to work, and even if approved, SSI only pays a maximum of $783/month, which is not enough for most individuals to live on. Another caveat is that SSI recipients cannot have more than $2,000 in their bank account or in total assets at one time. In addition, an SSI recipient’s earned income is not allowed to exceed that of the maximum SSI payment.

This creates a huge dilemma for people with disabilities. While healthcare is often too costly without Medicaid assistance, receiving Medicaid prevents disabled people from getting a job because their earnings may be too high to qualify, while they can only possess a small amount of savings. These are major reasons why some disabled people who are able to work full time choose to only work part time; they fear losing their healthcare. Yet, working part time often prevents the employee from receiving employer-paid health benefits, making people more dependent on Medicaid. This also forces many disabled people to live with their families or friends, which in turn can inhibit their ability to become independent.

In addition to healthcare challenges, people with disabilities often encounter barriers to employment in the form of discrimination. Many job descriptions require the ability to lift and carry a minimum amount of weight, even if doing so is not actually a part of the job. This immediately discriminates against many people, especially those who are disabled, who cannot fulfill this requirement. Further, disabled people often wrestle the decision of whether or not to disclose their disability when applying for a job. Although a person is not legally required to disclose a disability on a job application, visibly disabled people are not able to conceal it. Kaycee Marshall, a fashion designer in a wheelchair, says she has faced roadblocks when applying to jobs and internships in her field. “I was so excited to get an internship for a luxury designer in New York. After I had already accepted the job, they noticed my Gmail picture showed me in a wheelchair and informed me that I wouldn’t be able to take the position because ‘[their studio] is up a flight of stairs.’” Kaycee recalls. “I’m not sure how true this is, but I was devastated. I didn’t disclose my disability at the internship and I then removed the picture from my email. I will never know how many rejections I received based on my disability alone.”

Once a disabled person becomes employed, other challenges may arise. Due to waiver 14© under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers like Goodwill and Opportunity Village are legally able to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage. Employers are allowed to “prove” to the Department of Labor that they should be able to pay their employees less than minimum wage and can do so by showing that the employee’s production rate is lower than the average nondisabled worker. This Act lends itself to ableist and capitalistic standards, standards that are not in place for nondisabled people.

Within the workplace, accommodations for disabled employees are often challenging, but they don’t need to be. A study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network found that “60% of workplace accommodations can be made for free, while the remaining cost is only $500 per employee, on average.”. For example, Andreana Franco, a higher education program coordinator with two autoimmune diseases, has to drive an hour to and from work on a daily basis. Her disability makes it difficult for her to concentrate and affects her energy levels, which make the long drives nearly impossible. Andreana also receives infusion treatments once a month, forcing her to take 3-5 days off from work each time. Although she has asked her employer if she could work from home, her request has been denied, claiming that her job is impossible to do from home. That is, until COVID-19 forced her employer to grant her request.

The COVID-19 pandemic has now required many employers to invoke some important accommodations, like working from home, that disabled people have been requesting for decades. It has also, in turn, opened employers’ eyes to the important need to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, particularly as an increasing number are becoming disabled due to the pandemic.

Since disabled people live in a world that wasn’t built for them, they have had to develop skills, such as adapting and problem solving; skills that are incredible assets and are typically sought after in the workplace. Further, hiring disabled people creates a more diverse and inclusive work environment, and inclusive companies have been shown to be “twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than their peers, on average” according to recent research conducted by Accenture. In addition, it was found that companies hiring disabled people saw “…28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit margins over the four-year period we analyzed, on average.” Further, staff turnover rates for more inclusive companies are as much as 30% lower than those that are not.

Yet, still, beyond all of these benefits, perhaps the most important reason of all to hire people with disabilities is the right thing to do. 

Employers looking to increase the number of their employees who are disabled, and disabled people who are looking to work with employers that are already embracing the disability community, can find resources here.

Cheyenne Leonard is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

October 20th 2020, 4:59 pm

World Leaders Should Champion Gender Equality


Women’s rights, including the right to live free from violence or to make decisions about their own bodies, are in the crosshairs of reactionary forces in a way they haven’t been for decades. These attacks are coming from all sides, whether in countries with autocratic rule or established democracies like the United States.

On October 1, world leaders at this year’s virtual United Nations General Assembly have a chance to recognize and help neutralize this threat during a high-level event on gender equality and empowering women and girls. 

The landmark 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women reinforced “women’s rights as human rights” and created  a strong vision and blueprint for action. On its 25th anniversary, taking stock of progress made and challenges ahead is a mixed exercise, both inspiring and grim. 

It’s inspiring because movements for gender equality have shattered norms, introduced rights-respecting legislation around the world, and in many areas significantly shifted access to education, health, jobs, and individual freedoms for women, girls, and gender-nonconforming people. For example, the number of out-of-school girls dropped by 79 millionbetween 1998 and 2018, and 155 countries currently have laws addressing domestic violence

In other areas, there has been significant progress, but simply too slow or not enough. For example, global maternal mortality dropped by 38 percent between 2000 and 2017. Yet the goal is to eliminate preventable  maternal deaths – and most are preventable. The inequities in access to health care are stark across national borders, for women and girls living amid armed conflict, and across race, ethnicity, and class. Women’s and girls’ rights to access and claim property, including to matrimonial property or inheritance, still lag behind. 

Women’s representation in positions of economic and political power has advanced at a glacial rate. The gender gap in labor force participation has stagnated at 31 percent over the past 20 years. In 2019, women held just 25 percent of parliamentary (lower-house) seats and 21 percent of ministerial positions globally. In a stark and symbolic example,  47 male speakers took the floor in the opening days of this year’s UN General Assembly before the first woman, President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, spoke.

The road ahead feels grim because as activists for gender equality, we face not only the hard work of moving forward, but pushing back against powerful attempts to roll back women’s and girls’ rights. Disturbingly, if governments sat down together today to chart out a new platform on women’s rights, it is unlikely they could agree on one as progressive as what was negotiated 25 years ago. 

Margaret Atwood’s haunting tale of reproductive servitude in The Handmaid’s Tale looks less like fiction than shades of reality. Real-world examples include horrific accounts of bride trafficking in China and attempts to effectively eliminate access to safe and legal abortions in the United States. Fifty-eight countries have signed a US-drafted joint statement ostensibly supporting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  While it looks innocent enough on the surface, the goal of the US statement is actually quite sinister.

 It seeks to promote the Trump administration’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, a regressive exercise attempting to undermine the universality of all human rights. In particular, it seeks to downgrade the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and the rights of women and girls, including access to reproductive health services. The list of countries essentially endorsing the Trump administration’s attempt to redefine rights includes those with abysmal or worsening track records on women’s rights–Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. 

Activists are under attack. Male politicians make an astounding number of sexist, demeaning remarks about women leaders and gender equality. Women human rights defenders face increasing threats to their physical and online security, and their ability to organize and finance gender equality work.

Gender-based violence continues  in the home, workplace, communities, and conflicts to subjugate women, girls, and gender-nonconforming individuals while reinforcing patriarchal structures and privilege. Governments often fail to protect lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender women from violence, whether domestic violencepolice violence, or community violenceOne in three women worldwide have experienced sexual violence or domestic violence in their lifetime, and as many as 38 percent of women murdered were killed by an intimate partner. Despite numerous resolutions and commitments to “women, peace, and security,” prevention and response to gender-based violence in conflict remains woefully weak.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further altered the landscape for achieving the goals set out in Beijing and in the UN Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality. Women make up 70 percent of front-line health workers, and often in the most precarious and unprotected roles — home health aides, cleaning staff, community health workers, and nursing home staff. Caregiving falls disproportionately to women and girls, straining participation in education and employment. Reports of domestic violence have increased during lockdowns in many countries, while services such as shelters and psychosocial – mental health –or legal support remain woefully under-resourced. Services that do exist often are not accessible to or do not consider the specific requirements of older women or women with disabilities.

What has worked, and where should advocates of gender equality invest? The greatest hope comes from the diverse movements that have exposed gender injustice and fought for change. Despite concerted political opposition, sexual and reproductive rights advocates have successfully liberalized abortion laws in dozens of countries. Domestic workers have mobilized at national and global levels to expose labor and other abuses, push for and win international standards, and translate them into national reforms. The #MeToo movement transformed public debate about sexual violence and has launched sustained momentum to shift social norms, support survivors, and demand accountability. 

What should governments do? They need to recognize that women’s rights are not secondary but integral to addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, looming economic recession, armed conflict, elections, and climate change. Addressing the gender impact of these issues, promoting women’s leadership, and backing up commitments with real economic resources and political will at all levels are essential.

The 25th anniversary of the Beijing conference could have been a celebration of progress made instead of a somber assessment of current and future dangers. Governments meeting October 1 can give us reason for hope by committing to new and measurable concrete actions, backed with dedicated resources and timelines to expedite progress on gender equality. The time to stand for gender equality is now.


Nisha Varia is the women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch

September 30th 2020, 4:46 pm

Just 1 Month Remaining to Attend our ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Awards Gala


Exactly one month from today, on Monday, October 26th, Women’s eNews will honor this year’s ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century!’

And since it is a Virtual Gala, you can attend from anywhere in the world!

Further, in honor of our 20th Anniversary this year, Women’s eNews is providing all ticket holders with the choice of a complimentary registration for one of the following workshops, to be taught by experienced media professionals:

*Create your own Blog!

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*Become a published Op-Ed Writer!

Please Join Us in Honoring these Fearless and Inspiring Leaders, and learn how to get your voice out there as well, by registering below:

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September 27th 2020, 8:00 pm

From the Executive Director: My Mother and RBG — The Class of 1950


            They were both born in 1933, less than two months apart. They both grew up in Brooklyn, New York, no more than one mile away. And they were both in the same graduating class at James Madison High School (1950).

            I first learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and my mother shared the same alma mater and graduation year only five months ago. Just when I thought I couldn’t learn anything new about my mother’s life in the sixty years I’ve known her, I was shocked, really, that she had omitted this one fascinating detail. But there she was, as my mother pointed to a blurry black and white photo of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (also nicknamed ‘Kiki’), a member of the graduating class in her high school yearbook.

James Madison High School Yearbook (1950)

            Since I initially wrote off this discovery as not much more than a novel piece of trivia to share with other family members at future family gatherings, I had barely thought about it since. That is, until Friday, September 18th.  

            When RBG died that day, and for the next day and the day after that, I read, watched and listened to tribute after tribute gripping the airwaves and social media outlets honoring Ginburg’s legacy. I then began to consider the daunting amount of courage it must have taken to embark on her own career, let alone one in the extremely male-dominated field of law, particularly at that time. It was glaring, in fact, since I viewed my mother as quite the opposite, choosing the much more sheltered, safe and secure role of housewife and mother, even though she longed to be on the stage, as a singer and actress, in addition to having a family.

            I found it fascinating comparing the two – now seventy years later – about the choices each of them had made. One taking the traditional and familiar path, while the other the more risky road less travelled.

            I therefore spent the last seven days going back seven decades, rummaging through old photos, letters, and newspaper clippings attempting to immerse myself in a time ten years before I was born. What must it have been like to be a teenager in America then, and in Brooklyn in particular, for a seventeen-year-old girl contemplating her future post high school graduation? I felt inspired by RBG’s choice, but disappointed by my mother’s.

            I learned that Brooklyn provided the ideal depiction of ‘Americanism’ at that time. A melting pot of recently arrived immigrants, the newsstands reflected that diversity where, in addition to The New York Times and the Daily News, other newspapers were published in a myriad of languages (among them the Italian Il Progresso, the Yiddish Forward, the Irish Echo in Gaelic, and others).

Yet for many, diversity was far more limiting than it was accepting. Public racism was rampant. Laws existed prohibiting interracial marriage, and it wasn’t until just three years earlier, in 1947, that Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in the major leagues. 

For women, there were very strict gender roles, which mainly consisted of preparing meals, doing the dishes and laundry and taking care of the children, all while being the ‘ideal wife.’ They were continually cautioned to ‘keep an attractive appearance’ for their husband and keep him happy, to prevent him from leaving. These gender roles became even more prominent following the end of WWII, which ushered in a new age of prosperity, where men would be the sole provider, contributing to their feelings of male superiority. The labor force was comprised of a staggering male to female ratio of 5 to 2, and wives were responsible for their husbands’ professional careers. It’s no wonder that television shows like Father Knows Best, which portrayed rigid gender roles for women and men, were so popular. Essentially, marriage was the main goal for girls, and family life was their major aspiration and the manifestation of a ‘perfect existence.’

            For RBG, viewing the imperfections of this existence may be what induced her to envision an alternate future for herself, along with a little help from her mom. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent,” Ginsburg often recounted. She also anticipated the challenges she would face as a young woman planning to attend law school at that time. “The study of law was unusual for women of my generation,” she once said. “For most girls growing up in the ‘40s, the most important degree was not your BA but your MRS.”

Still, she did not allow any of these challenges stop her. “She understood exactly what kind of change she wanted to make –and be—in the world because she had experienced it so personally,” said Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School professor and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, who was a part of a symposium in 2013 in honor of Justice Ginsburg. 

         Yes, RBG was a radical, in essence, just by being herself.

       Believing that “a gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage,” RBG spoke about the importance of fathers’ involvement in childrearing to lessen the load on mothers: “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation,” she once said

         She also made it clear to her male colleagues on the court, when they appeared indifferent about a girl’s strip search by school administrators, that they would have responded differently had they ever been “a 13-year-old girl.” “Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it,” Ginsburg also said.

Clearly, for women, like my mother, who earned the degree of MRS instead of ESQ, MD or PhD, RBG knew of the importance to speaking, defending and supporting them as well. Unlike I, who viewed them as very different, she did not at all. “One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community,” RGB recently said, when responding to a question about her legacy.

So, just as Kate McKinnon once coined in her hilarious impersonation of RBG on Saturday Night Live by ending with the line, “You’ve been Gins-burned,” I would like to say, in RBG’s honor, “Yes, RBG, I have been Gins-burned, and both I, and my mother, thank you for it!’

September 25th 2020, 12:26 pm

Populism and Women’s Lives


            In July, The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Trump administration regulation that allows employers with religious or moral objections to contraception to limit women’s access to birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act. 

            This was yet another win for populism, though the decision was rarely covered in this light.

         As a wave of populism intensifies across the globe, and democracy recedes, women’s rights are in danger of being rolled back. “Democracy won the 20th century,” writes critic Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian. “The hubristic mistake was to think that this trend was so powerful that it could not be reversed.” Freedom House, a think tank that conducts an annual audit of global freedom, reports that “the fundamentals of democracy are under attack around the world.”

         Those most often targeted for attack are those who most recently won legal rights; women are a prime example. In the U.S., the Trump administration is moving swiftly against women’s reproductive rights. The European Women’s Lobby reports that far-right extremist parties are gaining power and taking “concrete steps against equality between women and men.” 

         The patriarchy, the ancient code that cedes to men the control of most of the power and authority in a societyis a formidable foe. Women’s lives, research finds,  are shaped by what Laura Bierema of the University of Georgia calls life’s hidden curriculum, that teaches girls and women “subordination to the dominant patriarchal system of power.” She says, “Lessons learned include gender roles, a devaluing of women, silence and invisibility, submission to male power, and acceptance of role contradictions. Girls and boys, women and men learn these power relations throughout their lives. [They] are so ingrained in the culture that they are practically invisible, neither questioned nor challenged by most people. “

         At a time when populism is on the rise, patriarchy flourishes, and today, democratic countries have been outnumbered by those becoming less so. Andrew Rawnsley observes that democracy is “more fragile, vulnerable and contingent” than we supposed. “The arc of history is not irreversibly bent in favor of freedom. The case for it has to be renewed and reinvigorated for each generation.” If it is not, the hard-won rights of women could be a major casualty.” Further, according to The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020: “This year’s report highlights the growing urgency for action. At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.”

         But perhaps even more ominous than falling behind in economic areas, women are being urged to abandon feminism to return to their traditional status as the second sex, retreating to home and hearth and being subservient to men. Shelina Janmohamed, author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, writes,We should be most concerned about the prevailing social and political mood. In some circles, the empowerment of women is seen as an existential threat to men. Populism has swept into power on the back of a largely male desire to return to how things used to be, born of an aggrieved sense of being “left behind.” 

         Politicians like Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Recep Tayyip of Turkey, Andrzej Duda of Poland  and Donald Trump of the United States have displayed anti-woman sentiments and policies.

         Amanda Marcotte of Salon writes that the past for which many man feel so much nostalgia is at heart patriarchal. “It’s a system that depends on putting women under the direct control of men and extracting unpaid labor from them to keep the system running. It’s a system where men’s freedom is predicated on women’s entrapment, where men can run the world, secure in the knowledge that someone is at home making sure the dishes get done.”

Some men are growing more and more angry over the idea of gender equality. In the US, the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2018 added two male supremacist websites to its list of hate groups, for the first time identifying male supremacy as an explicit ideology of hate. This ideology,  according to the SPLC, represents all women as “genetically inferior, manipulative, and stupid” beings who exist primarily for their “reproductive and sexual functions.”

         ‘It’s why Mr. Trump’s brand of admissions of sexual assault are brushed of as ‘locker room’ talk,’ says Shelina Janmohamed “It’s why Mr. Duterte (the Philippine president ) can joke about rape with little to no comeback.”

         When patriarchy and populism rise together, among the first causalities are women’s hegemony over their own bodies. The Guardian notes that “The attack on reproductive rights has gone hand in hand with damage to the most fundamental right to physical safety. Poland’s President Andrzej is threatening to leave a treaty aimed at preventing violence against women – at a time when the pandemic has seen domestic violence soar worldwide .”

         In the U.S., the Trump administration has launched a global and domestic blitzkrieg on reproductive rights. Trump decreed the Global Gag Rule, which bans organizations that receive U.S. funding from using their own funds to advocate for, share information on, or offer abortion services. At international meetings such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Trump administration has argued for blocking access to sexual and reproductive health—particularly abortion

         Domestically, legislation around domestic violence has been partially gutted. The Trump administration recently changed the definition of violence to include only physical harm. Psychological abuse, coercive control and manipulation – which are now accepted by most medical experts as key to abuse – will no longer be recognized. He also made significant changes to the federal Title X family planning program. Federal funds will no longer be given to family planning providers that offer abortion services.

         Concern about the ways in which populist strongmen are stripping away rights that women have battled for years to gain is growing. In 2019,  a group of 40 women leaders from around the world published a letter warning of the threat. Argentina’s former foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, noted that populist regimes are claiming that that women’s empowerment is a dangerous challenge to male power. She told Reuters, “There are number of places where we see this happening as a trend. And in our view, if we don’t speak up loudly about it, it will be hard to reverse.” 

            Stanford political scientist Anna Gryzmala-Busse says that populism is a political program and has a political solution. She says to women (and to men), “Vote! Vote for politicians and parties who make credible promises, who do not simply want to shut down criticism or who view their opponents as their enemies, and who are committed to the democratic rules of the game. At the same time, we need to understand, not just condemn, why so many voters find populist politicians appealing.”

Silence, in this case, is not golden, especially where women’s hard-won rights are concerned gender awareness. 

September 24th 2020, 9:47 pm

Join Us for our ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Awards Gala, and Celebrate our 20th Anniversary


We hope you will join Women’s eNews in the evening of Monday, Oct. 26th, for our first VIRTUAL GALA as we pay tribute to this year’s ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NYS Attorney General Letitia James, ACLU President Susan Herman, LGBTQ Activist Edie Windsor (in memoriam), Ms. Foundation for Women CEO & President Teresa Younger, and many other outstanding women of achievement!

And in honor of our 20th Anniversary, Women’s eNews is offering all attendees the choice of being professionally trained in: 1. Creating Your Own Blog, 2. Launching Your Own Podcast, or 3. Writing an Op-Ed that gets Published!

Women’s representation in the media is now more important than ever before! Get your voices heard by registering below:

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September 13th 2020, 7:43 pm

The Road Ahead for Gender, Racial, and LGBTQ Equality: Activists Share Their Views


What do Gender, Racial and LGBTQ activists believe are the most pressing issues impacting their communities? You’ll find some of the answers here:

Lori Sokol, PhD, Women’s eNews Executive Director, talks about the need for the ERA, how mandatory quarantines are increasing opportunities for fathers to nurture, and how it is now up to women to save the world (with Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality).

Executive Director Lori Sokol speaks with Carol Jenkins about Women’s Equality and her new book, She is Me: How Women Will Save The World

Women’s eNews presents the first in a series of panel discussions on the topic of Race Relations in collaboration with The Root, the award-winning African-American news site. (with Danielle Belton, Imara Jones, Mona Sinha, and Marcy Syms)

Watch It Here!

September 3rd 2020, 7:19 pm

Q&A with Nell Merlino, Founder of Count Me In


A powerful force for the advancement of women and girls, Nell Merlino has developed numerous collaborative campaigns and programs that mobilize millions of people to take action. Creator of “Take Our Daughters To Work Day”, she is also the Founder & President of Count Me In. Originally founded in 1999. Count Me In (CMI) was the world’s first online micro lender, pioneering a unique model that combined business pitch competitions, mentoring, education, and access to financing for female entrepreneurs. Today, in response to an increasingly challenging business climate brought on by COVID-19, coupled with protests in support of Black Lives Matter, Count Me In has launched a Revival to support women-owned business in transforming their products, services, and companies to meet the new safety, health and racial justice imperatives.

The following is a Women’s eNews (WeN) Q&A with Nell Merlino:

WeN: Why did you launch Count Me In at this time?

Merlino: In 1999 I founded the Count Me In organization after noticing a gap in the market — a lack of support for women business owners who had already passed the startup phase. While there is certainly nothing wrong with staying small, I felt that more opportunities and resources could help those who wanted to get to the next level. 

As for relaunching it now through Count Me In Revival, I think people recognize that in this moment we have to help each other. As business women we already knew that — it’s why a lot of us started our businesses in the first place. But I think that same creativity and sensibility that we have about our products and services has to be shared throughout the business world.

Today, Count Me In supports women in business in a huge array of industries, from language translation services to companies that provide medical testing to patients, providing financial assistance through contests and grant programs.

WeN: How has this launch been similar/different to the Take Our Daughters to Work Day launch?

Merlino: What is similar is the common theme of helping women or girls who will one day become women, value themselves and be valued by society in the business world.

When I created Take Your Daughters to Work Day in 1993, I really thought about what would happen if every girl got a chance to appreciate what their parents do outside the house. It was seeing what mothers and fathers did outside of the home that was a revelation for a lot of girls. Back then it was not the norm for girls to show up at work with their parents and far fewer women had a role in the business world.

Although there’s still a long way to go, women are rightfully making their mark in the workplace and accepted more than ever not just as employees but as entrepreneurs.  For me what’s different with the launch of Count Me In Revival from Take Your Daughter to Work Day is empowering women to grow bigger and stronger versus trying to give them that initial shot at being seen in any kind of role in the workforce and/or company.

WeN: What do you hope will be gained by the recipients of the Count Me In grants?

Merlino: We are excited to provide nineteen exceptional women entrepreneurs grant money to help them adapt and thrive in the COVID-19 economy.  There has never been a better time for women to lead in business and to support one another. The founders of Smart & Sexy and Curvy Couture who provided the $250,000 in grant money are a great example of showing the power women entrepreneurs hold to help lift one another toward the common goal of success.  Together as a community we have survived and thrived through 9/11 and The Great Recession.  As we face these new obstacles, I have no doubt we will continue to innovate and grow our businesses with the help of community support including through help of the awarded grants.  

WeN: Are there specific areas of focus that your organization is supporting, and why?

Merlino: We focus our efforts on working with women entrepreneurs who own and run small businesses in any and all sectors.  If you take a look at the recent nineteen women who were awarded the grant money, you’ll see a very diverse group of companies covering many different industries.  You’ll notice representation of consulting, legal services, agriculture, manufacturing, retail sales, and many other sectors represented by the awardees as well as others involved in Count Me In Revival.

WeN: What have the results been thus far?

Merlino: The response to the Count Me In Revival was overwhelming with 2200 female-owned businesses expressing interest in applying for grant money.  In the end, 444 businesses submitted applications.  The nineteen grant winners awarded on 7/31/20 are now utilizing their grant money and the CMI Revival Award business, financial and communication coaching to adapt and grow in these challenging times. 

Click here to learn more about Count Me In Revival.

Click here to learn more about Nell Merlino.

September 1st 2020, 8:12 pm

COVID-19: An Opportunistic Attack on Reproductive Health


Entering her 50th year at Choices Women’s Medical Center, founder Merle Hoffman has witnessed a lot. Imagine launching a reproductive health center providing abortions two years before Roe v. Wade legalized it in 1973.

But it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, she says, that has been “one of the most, most challenging times that we’ve faced, I’ve faced.” 

She points to the challenges of navigating through new safety procedures, reduced volume and employee furloughs, but also to the anti-abortion protestors screaming outside her Queens, NY, medical center. They’ve not only maintained their presence throughout the pandemic, but also doubled in numbers, armed with graphic posters but failing to wear Center for Disease Control-recommended face masks. 

“Their attitude is that we’re vulnerable now and women are vulnerable so let’s harass and abuse them verbally even more,” Hoffman says. 

It’s a tactic witnessed around the country. In the early weeks of the pandemic, the governments of several conservative states saw an opportunity to roll back women’s reproductive rights. Women were already proving to be disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus, with financial insecurity and lack of childcare topping the issues, when 12 states deemed abortion a “non-essential” or “elective” procedure. Some governors and attorneys general argued that it would seize the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by medical professionals in hospitals. Others insisted that the procedure could be delayed.

Their arguments aren’t supported by medical evidence. A statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and six other prominent medical organizations refuted this claim, stressing that “abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care” and should not be delayed.

“It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible,” the statement read. “The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being. …community-based and hospital-based clinicians should consider collaboration to ensure abortion access is not compromised during this time.”

However, abortion services in Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas were still for banned for weeks. Arkansas’s ban has yet to be overturned. Unchallenged by her local government, Hoffman never closed Choices. 

“It was immediately decided — I did anyway — that [we are] an essential service,” she says, “and there was no way I was closing down and would be in any way vulnerable to that kind of political playbook.” 

Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, noted that these states have a long history of digging for reasons to ban or limit abortions, calling the non-essential services mandate the latest excuse. 

“It had nothing to do with COVID,” she argues. “I was disgusted at the depth to which they would go to stop women and people who can get pregnant from doing what they know is best for themselves and their families. It’s disgusting to see them use a word like pandemic as an excuse to once again try to restrict abortions.” 

As Americans are urged to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19, and more medical providers are turning to telemedicine appointments to see and treat patients, there is an option for those seeking abortions that meets today’s restrictions and concerns — so long as politics stay out of it. Rather than go to a clinic for a surgical abortion, a woman choosing to end her pregnancy can get a medical abortion by taking two Food and Drug Administration-approved pills to induce a miscarriage at home. The pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, have been available for 20 years, Pearson adds. 

“It’s an option that’s safe, effective, and we do want more people to know about it,” she explains. “We know why people don’t, in part because it’s kind of hard to get. If something’s not widely available, you’re less likely to know about it.” 

The FDA tied Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) — meant for medications that are unsafe in some way — to mifepristone, one that requires it be administered in person by a specially certified provider, despite being approved to be taken at home. Jamila Perritt, a physician, activist and abortion provider in Washington, D.C., says the restrictions, which depending on the state can include additional state-signed forms, an ultrasound and two visits with a waiting period in between, are not grounded in medical or scientific evidence. Without them, she says she could simply, easily and safely write a prescription and call it into a patient’s local pharmacy. 

“The REMS that are tied to the abortion pill are not grounded in safety but in political ideology,” Perritt said. “It’s an attempt to restrict access to this medication in a way that doesn’t happen with any other medication. It’s singled out and treated differently simply because it’s used to provide abortion services.” 

As states placed limits on travel, business and regular outdoor functions — and in some places, as mentioned, surgical abortions — in the early weeks of the pandemic, the National Women’s Health Network saw a need for change. It started the #MailTheAbortionPill campaign in the first week of April to call on the FDA to not only lift its restrictions now, but also in a post-Coronavirus world, allowing medical professionals to mail the pill. Pregnant people then can “get the pill where they take the pill,” the campaign declares. 

“It’s just crazy to tell people, ‘Stay home, don’t get on a plane, don’t go to work, but get in your car and travel hours each way to pick up a pill you can take at home,’” Pearson said. “That’s why we launched it in a hurry.” 

While the campaign has yet to elicit a response from the FDA, it has helped bring about change in court. Last month, a federal judge in Maryland suspended the in-person requirement for the abortion pill during the pandemic, citing it as a “substantial obstacle” and allowing providers to mail it directly to patients, PBS News Hour reported. Pearson doesn’t take credit for the ruling — the National Women’s Health Network wasn’t a plaintiff in the lawsuit — but she believes their efforts, along with activism by the 21 attorneys general who organized a letter to the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the Trump Administration have no involvement in the REMS designation, added to the change in climate, affecting the judge’s decision. 

The ruling was a win, albeit a short-term one, as the mail-in option will only be in place as long as there’s a public health emergency. Abigail Aiken, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, is well-versed in the challenges women in Texas, especially in rural cities, seeking a medical abortion already faced before COVID-19, from how expensive it is (it’s not covered by most health insurance plans or Medicaid), to long travel time (96% of cities don’t have abortion providers), to overnight accommodations, to finding childcare. She was curious about the impact of the pandemic, a time when demand for abortion could be increasing due to financial instability, when one might struggle to get to or not even want to go to a clinic due to infection risk, when there were state bans on abortions (a policy move she called an “opportunistic attack on reproductive health”). 

In a study recently published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Aiken and a team of researchers found that COVID-19 and its barriers led more people to seek medical abortions outside of the formal healthcare setting, such as clinics and hospitals. Tracking data from Aid Access, an online telemedicine service where people can request and have a consultation for the medication abortion pill, which then gets mailed to them, found a 27% increase in the rate of requests across the US from March 20th to April 11th. 

Requests to Aid Access nearly doubled in states with the most COVID cases and those that tried to restrict abortion. New York, which was the hot spot at the time, saw a 60% increase. Texas, which had banned all abortions for about four weeks, saw a 94% increase; however, there are explicit state laws barring medication abortion by telemedicine. 

What’s so important about these findings, Aiken told Women’s eNews, is knowing that a remote medicine abortion model is possible. Just as dermatology has teleconsults, doctors in a clinic can prescribe the abortion pill and call it into a pharmacy. It’s how the United Kingdom responded to the pandemic — the region overhauled its policies and went fully remote, medical abortions included. 

“We see the demand for these remote services, and yet we don’t have the policy environment that allows us to do it,” she says. “I’m looking ahead and wondering what’s going to happen with the REMS decision, how it’s going to change things. I think we might see changes in some places, but those state-level restrictions are going to have to change.” 

The study’s data only comes from requests, however, and couldn’t hone in on how telemedicine abortions could disproportionately impact people of color and those in poverty, who are already marginalized and struggle to access abortion services.

“This cross between COVID and reproductive healthcare and racial inequity is an intersection that many of us have been living at for a long time and are grappling with for sure,” says Perritt. “My practice and the way that I provide care has always operated at these intersections, understanding that folks who are seeking reproductive health care are doing so in a vacuum. Decisions around whether or not to have a baby, to get pregnant, to have an abortion, or to use contraception are always grounded in the context in which people live. This moment in time, for so many of the folks that I care for in my community, is really a reminder that our lives are super complicated, and the things happening in the world, they shape the way we make decisions about our reproductive health, as well.”

All of these mandates, hoops and barriers are more likely to impact people with fewer resources. But COVID-19 is not the entity to blame for the threats to abortion.

“Certainly the COVID pandemic has exacerbated those things, but it’s important to understand that it didn’t create these barriers,” Perritt says. “The bigger threat to abortion access and clinic sustainability are these legislative practices that restrict care.”

About the writer: Alyssa Fisher, who recently earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Florida, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program:

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

August 23rd 2020, 8:25 pm



With Gloria Steinem, Letitia James, The Chicks, Indigo Girls, Vanessa Williams & more!

August 18th 2020, 6:18 pm

Book of the Week: With or Without You


by Caroline Leavitt

The night before a big break, an aging troubled rocker argues with his longtime lover, the two of them drinking and taking a pill. In the morning he wakes and she doesn’t, going into coma. When she emerges, her personality is radically different, causing huge changes for herself, for him, and for the young doctor caring for her.

Chapter 1 (Excerpt)

Disaster. Everywhere he looked, when he thought of flying, he saw disaster.

His suitcase lay open on the table, a jumble of dark clothing. Hers was on the floor, everything in tight rolls, more than enough for the week she was taking off from her nursing job at the hospital to go with him. He was staring at her the way he would if he didn’t know her, which he’d been doing more and more lately, something that unnerved her so much that she wanted to shake him, point to herself, and say, I’m right here. All you have to do is look.

She took another sip of wine, just to calm herself, maybe to add some heat to her body, to stop the queasiness rolling through her. Outside, it was another freezing February New York City winter, the snow blazing down in sheets against the windows and layering over the sidewalks. There was a blizzard advisory for an accumulation of twelve inches, complete with school closings and warnings for the elderly and the infirm to stay inside. It was the main reason they were here tonight in the apartment. The airports were closed, and their flight to California wouldn’t be rescheduled until tomorrow night at the earliest. The weather was too snowy for them to drive, plus they didn’t have enough time.

Simon’s band was once successful, but that was twenty years ago, when she had first met him and he was just twenty-two himself and his band was riding high with Simon’s megahit song, “Charlatan Eyes.” Simon didn’t even really sing back then; he was just harmony and played bass guitar to the lead singer Rob’s aching wail. Once, Stella had even heard the song as Muzak in an elevator at Macy’s, and while everyone else in the elevator seemed to ignore it, she flushed with pleasure. Over the years, the band still played for decent-sized audiences and recorded a few more albums. A few more songs got some play, and Simon began to sing more of his own songs, but the band didn’t build, the audiences and the stages their manager booked became smaller, and the awards they were all so desperate for never arrived.

Caroline Leavitt  is a New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, and Cruel Beautiful World. With or Without You was also named:
One of Popsugar‘s “Incredible Books of August”
One of Bustle’s Best Books of the Week
One of AARP’s Best Books of August
Publisher’s Weekly Fall Book of Note.

August 13th 2020, 9:27 pm

COVID-19’s Impact on Women of Color: August Update


The COVID-19 pandemic has been claiming countless lives across the United States, regardless of age, race, or social status. Yet people of color have been shown to be disproportionately impacted ever since coronavirus cases and deaths began to surge in mid-March. Now, five months later, not much has changed.


This is particularly problematic for women of color, who often play a crucial role in maintaining the economic stability of their families. According to the Center for American Progress, 67.5% of African American mothers and 41.4% of Latina mothers are the primary breadwinners in their families, compared to only 37% of white mothers. 

“The largest number of single mothers in this country are women of color,” says Mona Sinha, a member of the Board of Directors of Women Moving Millions, a leading non-profit, “They have to make larger investments in their families with much lower income. So, who suffers in this case? It is the mother, the sister, or the daughter in the family who has to make personal sacrifices to make sure everybody else is taken care of.”

To effect future changes and policies, it is important to understand some of the reasons why women of color are being impacted at higher rates by the virus.  

Center for American Progress

The chart above demonstrates that women of color are primarily employed in fields where they are more apt to be exposed to the Coronavirus. For example, essential and domestic workers like nursing assistants, home health care providers, grocery store cashiers, domestic workers, and childcare providers are primarily women of color. Further, threats to their health are compounded by their challenges in attaining health insurance from their employers due to the fields in which they are primarily employed.

“Around healthcare, the impact of COVID is a health issue that showed that the health disparities that existed before just got worse, made people more vulnerable and more susceptible to COVID, and increased the chances of dying from COVID,” says Ana Olivera, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation. “Healthcare has been a long conversation in this country. The best that we could get was health insurance associated with employment. But health insurance needs to be associated with just being alive. This is the time for policies that provide universal health care access. They have to exist.”

Women of color also face inequities regarding their living and working conditions. For example, according to the National League of Cities, low-income women of color are particularly cost-burdened and face higher rates of eviction. Further, occupational segregation has resulted in Black and Latinx people being overrepresented in low-wage jobs, which often cannot be transitioned to remote work despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have so many women who are doing nursing care,” says Seher Khawaja, Senior Attorney for Economic Empowerment at Legal Momentum in New York City. “Those women who have been called to the front lines have been exposing themselves and putting their health at risk. They were already making inadequate pay, but now the risks you’re asking women to take on are substantially higher. They’re exposing their whole families by going to work every day,” Seher continues.

The pandemic has also brought to light the issue of unequal pay, benefits, and support within the trans women of color communities. “The loss of income during COVID and the inability to access government help has deeply impacted trans people disproportionately,” says Imara Jones, creator of TransLash and The Last Sip. “I think there’s been a response from mutual aid societies to assist trans communities in helping them figure out how to get cash, how to get food, and how to get rent assistance to those people directly.”

When it comes to the recently enacted COVID-19 laws (i.e. The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security CARES ActThe Families First Coronavirus Response ActThe Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act) , too many essential workers, including healthcare providers, emergency responders, grocery store clerks, undocumented immigrants, etc., were excluded from the relief package.  “While it was great to see quick movement on federal legislation to provide what should have already been there; paid sick time, paid emergency, and paid leave to care for family members due to various different COVID related events,” Khawaja says, “What we saw was that it excluded way too many workers who are most vulnerable.”

“If you look at how women of color and, particularly, the trans women of color community, the pandemic has really shone a bright light on the unequal treatment people receive in this country,” Sinha adds.

About the writer: Simone Soublet, a communications and journalism studies student at Loyola Marymount University, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

August 12th 2020, 10:46 pm

From the Executive Director- She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World


Women’s eNews is thrilled to announce that it’s Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief, Lori Sokol, has published a new book available beginning today, August 11th: She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World

A non-fiction book which is part memoir, Dr. Sokol takes you into the homes, offices and classrooms of 30 courageous and powerful women who are dedicating their work, and their lives, to building communities, saving lives, and sustaining the planet.

From author and activist Gloria Steinem, to groundbreaking sports legend Billie Jean King, to Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, you will witness how traits viewed as soft and weak in traditional patriarchal societies, are actually more effective in creating positive change while building peace.

To learn more about her book and all of the inspiring and brave women in it, visit

To buy the book, with the entire purchase price donated to Women’s eNews, please click here.

“Because Lori Sokol tells the truth about her own story — and listens with her heart — thirty diverse women have told her the truth of their lives. ‘She Is Me’ takes us from global to personal.” 

– Gloria Steinem, author & activist

August 10th 2020, 7:09 pm

Book of the Week: Since I Lost My Baby


by Selimah Nemoy

“When I was 17 years old, I was forced to relinquish my newborn baby and told to “just go home and pretend it never happened.” Not likely. Twenty-four years later, I found my daughter and our reunion was broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This is my coming-of-age memoir of what happened those 24 years since losing her, and the power of soul music that brought me through.” – Selimah Nemoy


Los Angeles, 1967 

For What It’s Worth 

I’d paid my dues, big time, the ultimate price for committing the unpardonable sin. After five months of humiliating incar- ceration, with the stroke of a ballpoint pen I agreed to the life sentence that had been handed down: I was walking out of there alone. 

Early morning fog met me on the landing outside, and the whiff of budding flowers on a weedy Scotch Broom in the alley caught me by surprise. I wondered if it was heralding my free- dom or mourning my loss. My father, shoulders sagging with resignation and relief, went first, carrying my suitcase to the car, where my mother, eyes forward but looking at nothing, was waiting inside with the doors locked. 

I took one look back at the hideous institution from which I was being released. Behind its windows, like dark condemning eyes, were generations of secrets and shame—where the wanton and wayward were imprisoned by wicked old witches who had been born with their ugly gray hair in a bun and never been loved by a man in their whole life. 

Across the street behind a chain link fence, a dirty Chihuahua yapped and barked as, for the last time, I descended the wide concrete steps of the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, a relic of last-century history to which teenage girls like me were banished for the crime of falling in love. 

Halfway down the steps I heard someone call my name. The Director had forgotten to give me her farewell speech: those tired, fake words of wisdom that unimaginative old people hand to young ones as if they were tools or money or the Bible. Standing on the step above me, she put one lizard-like paw on my shoulder. 

“Now dear, you’re only seventeen years old. Your whole life is ahead of you. We’ve taken care of everything.” 

I held my breath, along with the urge to slap her and watch those withered old legs go tumbling down the stairs. 

And then, just like everyone else who had ever inflicted damage on me, she poured on the perma-seal. 

“Just go home and pretend it never happened.”

Click Here for Book Purchase Options

About the Author: Selimah Nemoy is a storyteller, journalist, and author of SINCE I LOST MY BABY: A MEMOIR OF TEMPTATIONS, TROUBLE & TRUTH (OG Press, June 2020). Born in Los Angeles, her coming-of-age journey was shaped by soul music in the 1960s, then by the turbulent, multicultural 1970s in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area.

Selimah served with the (President Bill Clinton) White House Press Corps in 1994, and as the English editor for both an Italian-American and a Japanese-American newspaper. Her play, THE DADDIES, was performed at the Buriel Clay Theatre in San Francisco’s Western Addition, and her short story, GOODBYE, received first place at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. Learn more at

August 6th 2020, 2:38 pm

A Female VP: What’s Ambition Got To Do With It?


It’s convention season, which means it is almost time for Joe Biden to name his VP running mate. Since the announcement that the VP will be a womanvarious names have been floated, each with her own unique selling point: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tammy Baldwin, Stacey Abrams, Susan Rice – the list goes on and on.

As names have proliferated, so has the commentary: each woman has been analyzed, scrutinized, and endlessly discussed in this not-so-modern Cinderella story. Who will be given the glass slipper, the rose garden? For now, only Prince Joe the Charming knows. In 2020, only four short years after Hilary Clinton’s electoral college defeat, it is sad that women can still only strive second-best, especially given the tremendous rise in women holding public office since the last election.

Today, 127 women serve in Congress, more than ever before but still less than a quarter of all representatives. The tendency to parade and belittle women is, if not as old as time, at least as old as the ancient Greeks. The story of the Trojan War begins with the Judgement of Paris, a not very impressive shepherd saddled with the task of allocating a golden apple to one of three goddesses. Hera promised him power, Athena wisdom, and Aphrodite the possession of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose sex, and the rest, as it were, is history: men get to choose between women more powerful than they, in hopes that their choices will empower them right back.

And so it goes: Biden’s allies are already said to be waging a secret campaign against Kamala Harris, on the suspicion that she will be ‘too ambitious’ for the presidency in 2024 to pull her weight this time around. But why shouldn’t she be? Biden is 77, and age alone means there is a real chance his will be a one-term presidency. Even if it weren’t, what Vice-President doesn’t have his—or, someday her—eye on the next rung?  It is female ambition that is frowned upon, women who are seen as taking up more room than they warrant.

How can we break this narrative? Hillary Clinton tried to be more prepared, more approachable, and more experienced, but failed among her fellow white female voters. What can women do to break out of their pre-assigned role, step off the pedestal, and muck in the same arena where political progress is actually made? As a woman voter, here is what I hope for. Whomever Biden ends up picking—and we each have our favorites—I want the ticket to become a genuine partnership, and the chosen VP an ambitious prospect for next time, when she is the presumptive nominee and the party will have had four years to prepare for the inevitable wave of misogyny.

Even more, though, I want this presidency – through the VP selection, cabinet appointments, leadership position and legislative priorities — to be an exercise in public education, making the prospect of the first female president an inevitable and long overdue consequence of all that women have achieved. To do this, the Biden campaign, and the White House, must work to make women’s issues central to the experience of each and every citizen, whatever their gender.

Reproductive rights, maternity leave, pre- and post-natal care, childcare, workplace discrimination, the pay gap, sexual harassment, rape culture, educational attainment – these are all issues that affect every one of us, even if they impact the bodies of only half the population. Framing them as ‘women’s issues’ not only distorts reality, but ignores the vast contribution of women to the fabric of society as mothers, nurses, teachers, social workers, CEOS, lawyers, soldiers, or doctors.

Biden is well on his way: his $775 billion dollar plan to fund universal childcare and elder care  is an ambitious start, and if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that this country’s economic recovery begins and ends with care duties, and those who shoulder them, who are predominantly women of color. But there is more, much more, to be done. Putting a woman in the VP slot is a good start, but to really change the narrative, it is time for Prince Charming to turn the selection process on its head: Ask not what women can do for you, but what you can do for women. 

Ayelet Haimson Lushkov is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a Public Voices Fellow of the Op-Ed Project.

August 3rd 2020, 5:59 pm

Announcing: The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental 2020 Fellows


Women’s eNews is thrilled to announce its selection of The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental* Fellows for 2020! This inaugural fellowship has been created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

Meet the 2020 Fellows

Cheyenne Leonard: “Where society and others may see my disability as a tragedy, I have always seen my disability as an opportunity. My disability has afforded me the opportunity to travel the United States to compete in the Jr. Paralympics in track for 12 years, to change laws in my school district to allow for disabled students to be on their high school track teams, and to be a model and actress bringing diversity and disability representation to the media where it is severely lacking. I have had a lot of opportunities in my life, but being a Latina woman in a wheelchair, I have always had to fight for my rights, my voice, and my place in every room I’ve been in. I have two bachelor’s degrees from UNLV in Psychology and Criminal Justice, but my passion has always been disability and media representation. I never saw disability representation in the media growing up and the few times that I did, it was mostly white and male. Because of that, I want to be and/or create the representation I never had.”

Katrina Janco: “I can’t recall many times in my life where I wasn’t the only autistic female in the room, let alone the only openly disabled person. In this position, I always feel an extreme burden in properly representing my community. One way I have been able to relieve that is by writing about my experiences in this position. Seeing people respond to my writing is the most amazing feeling. It’s why I want to be a journalist. This wasn’t always true. For years, I was in denial about this desire. A major turning point was writing my first feature for 34th Street, the student-run magazine at Penn. I wrote about how, while Penn may lead in autism research, it failed to support autistic students such as myself. It was extremely difficult, especially with having to meet impossible expectations. It won awards and critical acclaim from students, alumni, and most importantly, other autistic people who finally felt seen. I then truly realized my voice’s value and continued to write.”

Natalie Doggett: “I am a rising senior at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. At Gallatin, I created my own concentration entitled Globalization of Local Media and Community, which concerns the political and cultural functions of journalism and media within grassroots activist organizing. I have honed my academic interests in my work as an aspiring journalist and educator, writing about pop culture and politics for a variety of publications, including: Washington Square News, Embodied Magazine, and SONKU Magazine. In the fall of 2018, I created an interview-series podcast hosted on WNYU 89.1, called Bad Radical Radio. Bad Radical Radio is a free educational resource that features scholars, student activists, and local grassroots organizers discussing social issues affecting people of color, by people of color. As a young Black woman, I am invested in seeking and amplifying news stories that investigate the intersection of race, disability, and gender orientation.”

Loreen Arbus

The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Fellowship with Women’s eNews provides vital employment opportunities for women with disabilities to report on the issues that significantly impact the disabilities community.

Loreen Arbus is the President of The Loreen Arbus Foundation, The Goldenson-Arbus Foundation and Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc. Through these organizations and in her personal endeavors, Ms. Arbus is a tireless advocate for women and girls; a champion for one of the world’s largest minorities, people with disabilities; and is passionate about encouraging equal opportunities in television, film, communications, and the arts.

July 28th 2020, 11:10 pm

In Case You Missed It: The Americans with Disabilities Act – 30th Anniversary


As the nation celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA30) on July 26, 2020, the 50-member ADA Lead On “Core Production Team” (in front of and behind the camera/keyboard) and 22 ADA Generation bloggers, influencers and signal boosters were focused and determined to set the record straight, and flip the script on educating, entertaining and empowering people with (and without) disabilities with the creation and production of ADA30 Lead On: Celebration of Disability Arts, Culture, Education & Pride. This two hour, 15 minute entertaining, educational and empowering journey chronicled the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark civil rights legislation!

All too often ignored by Hollywood and media employers, ADA30 Lead On Production Team created and presented an all-star ensemble cast of deaf and disabled performers, artists, filmmakers, storytellers, disability leaders, policymakers and key influencers who boldly own this narrative and created this show – meeting weekly for months – all from their own homes, across the country during this pandemic (instead of our original plan at the Kennedy Center) – with Disability Power & Pride.

Because of past erasure from history, it is very important that during this celebration, voices of deaf and disabled talent, ADA Generation bloggers, social media influencers and signal boosters of color from multiply marginalized communities were amplified to make sure that BIPOC voices, contributions, ideas and aspirations are part of this celebration, and of future events.

Appearances included: Danny Woodburn, emcee; Tony Award-winner Ali Stroker; Academy Award-winner Marlee Matlin; Comedian/performers Maysoon Zayid, Geri JewellKathy BuckleyNic Novicki, Nina G., Andy Arias, Shannon DeVidoSelene Luna, and Michael Beers. Check it out on BROADWAY WORLD.

The event was such a success that ADA30 Lead garnered the following results on its Facebook page, thus far:
54,372 people reached (up from 28,671) – organic, not paid
17,806 unique views
10,353 engagements 
2,523 total reactions

ADA30 wants to especially thank Lead Sponsor AT&T for its awesome blog – “The ADA is a beacon for progress that can only happen when determined activists, people like you and me campaign and lobby for change,” said Chief Compliance Officer David Huntley of AT&T, Inc. “At AT&T, we’re committed to the ADA mission and ensuring that we are providing equal employment opportunities to people with disabilities makes us a better company.”

ADA30 also wants to thank AT&T, its Lead Sponsor, Google our Gold Sponsor, plus sponsors: The Ability Center, AT&T, Bus Door Films, Deraney PR, Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, EIN SOF Communications, Exceptional Minds, Foundation for Global Sports Development, Google, Kessler Foundation, Lights! Camera! Access!, michaels.adams., Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, Mulberry Tree Group, Point 360, PolicyWorks, TransCen, Wells Fargo, and Woman of Her Word.

July 26th 2020, 4:49 pm



When Los Angeles based photographer and former Hollywood stuntwoman Hannah Kozak was nine years old, her mother left Hannah and her family after falling in love with another man. He turned out to be violent. From the age of nine to fourteen, Hannah witnessed him abuse her mother on the weekends she spent with them. In 1974, he beat Hannah’s mother so badly she sustained permanent brain damage. After caring for her for six years, Hannah’s father moved her mother into an assisted living facility at the age of forty-one, where she lived for thirty-five years. She has spent the last five years at a different, much improved facility. She is partially paralyzed on one side and cannot walk on her own, cloth or feed herself.

Hannah had early, fond memories of her mother as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, fiery Guatemalan Sophia Loren-type brunette who loved to dance the Flamenco. But because her mother left her, she carried tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her mother and ignored her for decades in an attempt to distance herself from her own pain.

Preferring to stare fear in the face than be paralyzed by it, and to further escape from reality, Hannah spent twenty-five years in the film industry as a Hollywood stuntwoman (her dream job since childhood), performing high falls, stair falls, train falls, car hits, bike hits, fights, driving and fire burns. In October of 2004, she broke both of her feet jumping out of a helicopter onto the tallest building in Los Angeles. While recovering from the stunt accident, she experienced a spiritual epiphany. “I realized when I couldn’t walk and was crying in my bedroom, I needed to forgive myself for judging my mother for leaving.” – Hannah Kozak


My mother, circa 1970.

Hannah began photographing her mother in 2009, twenty-nine years after she was forced to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home, as a way to process her feelings towards a mother that she had never truly known. “I hoped by photographing her I could bring closure to an open wound I had my entire life. In the process, I grew to love my mother and discover the power of forgiveness,” Hannah says. He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard is the story of our reconciliation.”

My mother, July 20, 2012 at the first facility.

“I have been deeply invested in photographing my mother for ten years. Her complexity continues to beckon me: I will not avert my eyes from the truth of her condition no matter how difficult it is to see. Someone must be witness to her life. In addition, I want my photographs to make people pause and question the nature of the human condition and assess their own will to live.”

“My mother is my muse. I feel our connection without fear as I create photos meant to take me out of my comfort zone. These photos tell my mother’s story of isolation, loneliness, abuse, connection, compassion, forgiveness, family, humanity, grace, joy and above all, love.”

“My mother is a symbol of perseverance. Even though she suffered permanent disability from domestic violence; she never lost her kindness, belief in love and hope. As my mother’s body deteriorated; her right hand turning in more, her soul flourished. What happened to my mother also fractured my persona yet we both grew from the trauma and she refused to be covered with a veil of pity. She is comfortable in silence and is fully present in the moment. I never planned to show these photos when I made them, but I’ve learned that by sharing myself and my process of healing, that in turn helps others on their path to healing.”

Nursing homes during the pandemic:

The facility where Hannah’s mother lives has been in lockdown for five months. No family members are allowed inside the building to visit their loved ones. Back in March, when the lockdown was initiated, Hannah’s mother became confused and agitated when her daughter stopped coming to see her. To mitigate the situation, Hannah wrangled a compromise with the facility. Since April 22, she has been pre-approved to visit her mother twice a week for 25 minutes behind a gate outside in the blazing sun with the traffic whizzing by. In an NPR story titled “Banned From Nursing Homes, Families See Shocking Decline In Their Loved Ones” (June 9, 2020) NPR correspondent Ina Jaffe writes that “Advocates for residents say it’s time to rethink the outright ban.”

About the Photographer: Hannah Kozak was born to a Polish father and a Guatemalan mother in Los Angeles, California. When she was ten years old, her father, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, gave her a Kodak Brownie camera. With a camera in hand, she began to explore her fascination with photography. In her twenties, her hustle and fearlessness led her to a twenty-five-year career as a Hollywood stuntwoman where she also would make photos with her camera on sets. Although she continued to photograph over the decades it wasn’t until her forties that she turned full tilt towards personal projects in photography, as a passion, and her desired profession. Photography became a way for her to explore and reveal her internal world. Kozak holds degrees in Liberal Studies with a Spanish concentration (B.A.) and Psychology (M.A.).

“Photography has served as a means for coping with emotional pain and has subconsciously been an effort to transform and heal. My self-portraits are a search for self-knowledge that provide me with a coherent sense of self and are the mirror I never had from my mother. Our relationship was derailed so early in my life. My early mothering experiences were associated with unavailability, loss and rejection. Photography has reworked this relationship and it’s the only arena where I can express my conflicts in the separation of our relationship and use my heart to rework who we can be to each other.” – Hannah Kozak

All the images are copyright © Hannah Kozak from the book He Threw The Last Punch Too Hard published by FotoEvidence. The book is edited by Régina Monfort. For further information, visit: For book purchases, visit

July 23rd 2020, 7:48 pm

Book Excerpt – She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World



“I would say that each of us has only one thing to gain from the feminist movement: Our whole humanity, because gender has wrongly told us that some things are masculine, and some things are feminine . . . which is bullshit.”

—Gloria Steinem, author and activist

When I was five, I wanted to die. I was lying on the plastic- covered living room couch. It was a sixties thing— wrapping couches and chairs entirely in plastic to prevent the furniture below from showing signs of wear. It also blocked any feelings of warmth or comfort emanating from the soft fabric inside.

It was a hot, sweaty summer day. No air conditioners were allowed in the Brooklyn, New York, public housing complex where my parents, my older brother, and I shared a small two-bedroom apartment. One large gray fan stood in the middle of the living room, circulating warm air in one direction. Still, I wrapped my entire body in a blanket. It felt somewhat safer inside a cocoon-like covering; encased, protected. While watching a cartoon on the black-and-white television set a few feet away, I stopped breathing. I did not move or call out for help, however. Finally, peace, I thought. I gently closed my eyes.

The terrorist I lived with was standing no more than ten feet away, in the kitchen. As a father, his temper flared almost daily and spontaneously. My only warning sign was a behavior that was very confusing to others, but for my mother, brother, and me, it was all too familiar. He would stick out his tongue just far enough to protrude outside his mouth, immediately roll it underneath into a ball, and then harshly bite down on it with his upper teeth. Instantaneously, I responded by turning my back to him in hopes of lessening the pain from the physical blows that followed. He always used his right hand, his fist landing mostly on the left side of my head.

My father must have found me lying alone on the couch that day, not breathing. I don’t know how, exactly, since I had fallen unconscious, and reopened my eyes to find him with me in the back seat of a taxi taking us to the closest hospital. I was ultimately diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia, remaining in the hospital for eight days. Once the x-rays showed that the pneumonia cleared my lungs, I returned home . . . to his home. The hospital, which had served as a safe respite, now faded from view.

The blows I suffered from my father were never warranted. Truly, how could any parent hitting a child ever be warranted, since it always has more to do with the abuser than the young and innocent victim? But he always found a reason that made sense only to him, whether it was because I spoke too loudly, cried too deeply, or breathed incorrectly. “Stop breathing with your stomach going in and out instead of up and down, or else you’ll get a fat stomach!” he’d yell. A strong man, a “macho” man, who was compared by many who knew him to Jack LaLanne, the American fitness, exercise, and motivational speaker often referred to as the First Fitness Superhero of the 1960s and ’70s, my father was also named Jack, and often referred to as a “hero” and “legend” by friends and neighbors. He was admired for his ability to run and complete marathons until the age of sixty-five, yet our family superhero was also paralyzed by the most mundane things—unwilling or unable to drive a car, correctly dial a rotary telephone, or properly use a paper clip. These lapses, which reflected basic abilities for most, kept him guarded and scared. His fear of being exposed and humiliated compelled him to control those closest to him by abusing and belittling us, all to help reduce his inner feelings of insecurity and shame.

Patriarchy not only befitted him, it engulfed him, providing the ultimate mask to conceal his failings, while justifying his violent outbursts to keep those closest to him diminished. Females, he believed, were secondary citizens, alive only to serve as his punching bag, his doormat. It was a belief my older brother, Kevin, learned from him all too well. It is not uncommon for physical aggression and antisocial behavior to occur among childhood victims of physical abuse, since they learn to view such behavior as an appropriate means of resolving conflict. So, my brother projected his failures—mounting ones at school and in sports—onto me as well. But he used his left hand as well as his right, pushing me into tables, doors, and chairs; anything with a sharp edge.

My mother sometimes came to my rescue, but only slightly and temporarily. Handing me a handkerchief filled with ice cubes to place over the ensuing swelling appearing just above my eyes, she made me remove it before my father returned home from work. “Don’t let your father see,” she warned me. Her first priority was to protect my brother. This is common for wives of domestic abusers who have internalized their misogyny, protecting the (often male) abuser over the (often female) victim.

Still, my mother did provide me with some hope to have a better life—once I became an adult, that is. In fact, she named me Lori to help ensure I would. My name was meant to bring me luck, but not just any kind of luck, like being born with intelligence, or with a musical, artistic, or athletic talent, or with any other quality that could help me achieve independently in life. No, the only luck my mother could possibly envision for me would come from someone else: a man. Lori was the name of the lead actress in the popular 1950s television series, How to Marry a Millionaire. By naming me Lori, she hoped that I, too, would grow up to marry a wealthy man, since she had not. What she refused to acknowledge, however, was that it wasn’t being married to money that mattered most, but being married to a man who didn’t abide by the patriarchal rules of power and dominance over his wife and children.

The first time I became acutely aware of the extreme gender inequality in our home was when I was seven years old, during the first month of second grade. My teacher recommended to the school principal that I skip second grade and move immediately into third. This would place me in the same grade as my brother. “How would that look?” my father nervously responded, while my mother adamantly refused, warning me, “You’re not going to think you are better than anyone else!” The older I got, the worse it became. Since I didn’t fit neatly into the stereotypical feminine box of playing with dolls, wearing ribbons in my hair, or being “seen and not heard,” I was punished when I brought home good grades at the end of each school year and my brother did not. When I won trophies for my athletic prowess, I was told to hide them. Rather than acting out in protest, however, I hunkered down until I was old enough to move out. And when I finally did, after graduating from college at the early age of twenty, I devoted my career to help- ing others, particularly women and girls who are also experiencing similar feelings of loneliness and isolation living within the strict confines of an abusive patriarchal society. As a passionate writer, I chose to do so as a journalist, where I could reach many more women and girls, through both my observations and my words.

Writing, after all, had always served as my lifeline through- out those traumatic childhood years. My personal journal, which I wrote in daily, was my one trusted friend, a place where I could express my feelings, hopes, and goals secretively and without judgment. Embarking on a career in journalism, I hoped to serve as a live personal journal whom other women could trust to express themselves freely, and without fear.

And that’s what led me to write this book. In interviewing countless highly accomplished women for over three decades, there have been some common threads, recurring qualities and values that each exhibited, regardless of their chosen fields. Whether it was Gloria Steinem, the iconic feminist, author, and human rights activist; Billie Jean King, the women’s tennis cham- pion once ranked best in the world; Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who turned oppressive insults about her weight into helping others embrace their bodies at whatever size; or Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate and Liberian peace activist—each exhibited warmth, compassion, and humility. Yet, these virtues were not exhibited only behind closed doors. They utilized their tools for success to enable countless others to reach their full potential and even, in some cases, save their lives. That brought me to wonder whether other highly accomplished women possessed the same or similar qualities, and how these qualities had proven helpful to empower and save others as well. Further, could these qualities, if put to work on a grander scale, resolve our world’s most crucial challenges, like preventing or ending war, and eradicating climate change, thereby ensuring a safer, healthier, and more peaceful world for future generations? We are currently living in a pivotal time in history, where the fear of losing long-held patriarchal control is causing members of marginalized groups (including women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and people with disabilities) to be scapegoated and physically attacked. Further, patriarchy’s refusal to accept glaring facts about climate change is threatening our planet’s long-term survival.

In the pages that follow, you will not only be taken inside the private homes, offices, and classrooms of each of these five women who gave rise to this book, but also twenty-five others who have since been interviewed, including authors, actors, filmmakers, philanthropists, and political leaders, to learn how they are successfully dedicating their work, and their lives, for the greater good of all. They will further demonstrate how being able to freely display values that exist in all of us—empathy, modesty, compassion, warmth, and introspection—will not only free us universally, but will also provide us with what may be our very last chance to save the world.

To receive a signed copy of Lori Sokol’s book, please click here (your purchase will be tax-deductible)!!

July 19th 2020, 5:14 pm

Major Corporations Have Their Say on the ERA!


“Gender equality is good for business,” says Maria Vullo, former New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services. “I was pleased to team up with my former colleagues at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP to represent 93 US businesses in an amicus brief in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.”

This is no small feat. The 93 corporations include some of the largest and most influential in the world: Apple, Google, Twitter, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Estee Lauder, and athletic leagues like the NFL and the National Women’s Soccer League. The brief was filed on June 29th.

Referred to as the amici curiae, this diverse group of 93 corporations employ millions of women and men throughout the world. Not only are these firms united in their longstanding support for gender equality, they are also standing with the majority of Americans (80%) in support of the ERA.

Simply put, these firms recognize that eliminating systemic barriers that impede women’s economic and social advancement will result in a more just, vibrant, and productive country. Further, ratifying the ERA sends a powerful message about the nation’s commitment to sex equality—a message amici believe would be transformational for the American economy. 

“What is historic here is that corporate America is saying that they are proudly supportive of gender equality, in the court case that will decide whether the ERA becomes the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution,” Vullo added. “Corporate America is saying the ERA should be – because gender equality is important for the US economy.”

The Equal Rights Amendment has a long history, over 50 years, in fact. First proposed in 1972, its original ratification timeframe was 1979, whereby a minimum of thirty-eight states had to ratify in order for the proposal to be added to the US Constitution. Although the deadline was then extended to 1982, still only 35 states ratified it by then. In recent years, Illinois and Nevada added their support and early this year, in January, Virginia became the 38th state. One month later, the House voted to remove the 1982 deadline, and the bill remains pending before the Republican-controlled Senate. However, the Attorneys General of the States of Virginia, Illinois and Nevada have filed suit against the U.S. Archivist, asserting that the amendment itself contains no deadline and there is no constitutionally imposed time limit for ratification. On this point, corporate America also agrees, by stating that the Archivist’s “inaction obstructed the realization of the People’s will.”

“I think we are in a very interesting and important time right now,” Vullo continues. “People are very focused on equality and social responsibility. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women and people of color disproportionately in terms of loss of employment, healthcare, childcare and eldercare, and for those who remain employed, a significant percentage of women are essential workers.”

The impact of COVID-19 is specifically referred to in the business brief: ‘The novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated systemic gender inequities in our society, demonstrates now, more than ever, the need for the ERA in the US Constitution.”

What’s next? It’s now up to the courts to decide whether the ERA becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. With so many major corporations serving as signatories to a supporting amicus brief, the hope is that this voice will play a significant role in the conversation. Further, as stated in the brief: ‘Canada, Mexico, and the European Union are not outliers—we are. An overwhelming majority of the world’s constitutions—including virtually all developed nations—contain provisions guaranteeing equal rights or prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.’   

“It’s time to get this done in the US!” Vullo adds.

July 13th 2020, 4:27 pm

An Anniversary in Bosnia, and How Women Got Justice


On July 11, 1995, the horrors of the only European genocide since World War II reached their nadir with the massacre of an estimated 8,000 men and boys at the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. While UN “protectors” watched passively, Serb forces separated these unarmed husbands, fathers, sons and brothers from their female family members, boarded them on buses and drove them off to mass murder and mass graves.  What had previously been unthinkable, especially on European soil, shocked the world in its cold brutality.

Left behind were thousands of women, overwhelmingly the wives of the farmers who worked the land in this agrarian area, for whom the man of the house was its center: The breadwinner who ran the farm and protected the family, whose role formed the core of an economic and social unit.

What is remarkable in the wake of this world-shaking mass murder is how the women, the vast majority of whom were uneducated, stepped forward, demonstrating the kind of resilience that knits together not just families but communities and nations, if only we would tap it. These women, whose story is largely untold, rose to this extraordinary occasion in three notable ways.

First, they demonstrated courage and resilience in returning to the land that the enemy was attempting to take from them. They filled the shoes of their dead husbands and took charge of the farms, mobilizing remaining family members and relying on neighbors to survive and carry on. In some cases, these women became remarkably successful, forming cooperatives to sell produce well beyond their communities.  Berries grow in abundance close to the Drina River that flows nearby.  Blackberries and raspberries are exported internationally and known for their excellence. The women took advantage of grants facilitated by the deeply flawed Dayton Accords that stopped the war and sent their children to school. They strengthened their families by insisting that their children broaden their horizons. Their daughters and sons are now proud doctors and professors all over the world, contributing to society in new ways because the mothers and wives whose husbands were slaughtered in Srebrenica persevered through unspeakable grief and trauma and rebuilt.  

The women went further, into roles even less likely for wives and mothers who had spent most of their lives gathering and preparing food and tending their families. They demanded justice. Unprepared for the work of advocacy, they nevertheless organized and learned on the job, calling for accountability from the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Their voices were heard as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, regional leader Radovan Karadzic, and military commander Ratko Mladic were arrested and put on trial for war crimes, including – historic for international jurisprudence – the charges of genocide.  Milosevic died in custody before his trial concluded. Mladic and Karadzic are behind bars. The women who testified against these three men demonstrated great courage and composure. Not only were they managing their grief, but by speaking out in an international spotlight they risked being ostracized back home, where the Serbs, who had waged war on their people (Bosniak, traditionally Muslim) were still in control.  

The women also organized to memorialize their murdered men. They advocated for the exhumation, identification and burial of their loved ones into a sacred place in the killing fields. Today the Srebrenica Memorial Center encompasses a large grave site, listing the names of those killed, and includes an outdoor mosque and a memorial room where photographs graphically portray the atrocities and the tireless exhumation efforts. The Center, dedicated in 2003 by US President Bill Clinton, operates against the backdrop of continued denial that the genocide ever happened. Nonetheless, it has attracted more than one million visitors to date. Many come as delegations, including students from all over the world. As with other such sites, the message of the memorial is clear:  Never again.

A few months after the Srebrenica massacre, women from all over the world converged in Beijing for a conference that would become a milestone in the story of women’s rights. There, influenced in part by the experience of the women of Srebrenica and more broadly throughout Bosnia, for the first time the issue of women and war, beyond victimhood, crystalized as an idea that would eventually become policy.  Women wanted a seat at the table, bringing their resilience and advocacy to preventing war, or stopping or recovering from it. Five years later the UN would pass a resolution calling for women’s full involvement in building peace. In time the field known as Women, Peace and Security would be well established in foreign policy.  

The women of Srebrenica played a significant role in reshaping how we think of war and peace. Their legacy is a lasting tribute not only to their own remarkable rebuilding but to the men and boys whose lives are remembered on this anniversary.

Miki Jacevic, who was a student leader from Sarajevo at the time of the Srebrenica genocide, is Vice-Chair of Inclusive Security, founded in 1999 to integrate women’s leadership into peace processes worldwide.

July 9th 2020, 7:35 pm

Women’s eNews Podcast: Women Saving The World


“Giving is the best investment I’ve ever made.” – Suzanne Lerner

Women’s eNews Executive Director Lori Sokol speaks with her guest Suzanne Lerner, co-founder and president of lifestyle and clothing brand Michael Stars. Suzanne is a business leader, activist, and philanthropist who shares her experience and life lessons, builds networks that connect valued resources, and inspires people to seek their purpose, realize their visions, and give back to our world.

Click Here to Listen on iHeart Radio

July 6th 2020, 8:38 pm

Dear Supreme Court: Shouldn’t the ERA Be Next?


In the three minutes before she clicked onto our phone call, Carol Jenkins heard the breaking news: “The Supreme Court decision is out.”

It was an incredible week for social justice. That day, June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ and transgender workers were protected from workplace discrimination.  Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of people around the country marched through the streets, protesting against racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The energy was ineffable. But something was missing. 

“Everything was happening,” said Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality. “We were sending out congratulatory messages. Black and brown people count now! The Supreme Court said LGBTQ people counted now! And then we [at the coalition] looked at each other and said, ‘When exactly will women count?’ We — and Black women especially — are still at the bottom of consideration.” 

Unequal pay and lower paying jobs, unpaid labor at home, workplace discrimination, no equal protection in court —  women’s disparity has been a long-raging issue. And as the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the United States, it further exposes the holes within its systems, some of which have left women — especially women of color, especially mothers — with additional struggles to navigate. 

These issues have kept the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the conversation. First proposed in 1923, the amendment aims to include women in the United States Constitution; currently, there is nothing written in the historic document that calls for equality based on sex, preventing women and men from legally sharing equal rights. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, and the following month the House of Representatives voted to remove the time limit on its decision to ratify the amendment. The Senate’s decision is still pending.  

While no single law can secure anyone from the impact of a pandemic, having the ERA in place is a crucial longterm step. 

“A huge, important part of the Equal Rights Amendment is that it’s able to lift women’s status in our society,” said Bettina Hager, D.C. director of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality. “If we did have a more equal society, I think there would be different laws around domestic violence, and there would hopefully be laws around healthcare and childcare that would help women.”

Before the pandemic, families were already trying to navigate the childcare system to find high-quality yet affordable care, while juggling school with work demands. Now for some, it’s become a nearly impossible situation. Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst for the National Partnership for Women and Families, recently said the effect on many of her coworkers has exceeded the stress of the virus itself: “Many are looking after their children and acting as home-school teachers while working full time, and others are caring for older relatives and family members who need extra support during this time.”

Mason added, “It has really driven home all the work that we’ve been dedicated to for so long around the impossibility of managing work and family and caregiving without really supportive policies.”

It’s been especially difficult for women, considering that they comprise a large portion of essential workers throughout the pandemic, including 78% of health care workers, according to The New York Times. They also represent the majority of employees who were among the first to be cut, such as retail and housekeeping. 

For too many women, these conflicts are nothing new. Once having children, women historically have been pushed out of the workforce, and for those who remain, many are only able to hold a part-time job. That has taken a toll on women’s income over time, Mason continued, resulting in less savings. And those part-time jobs are often lower quality and less likely to include benefits like paid family leave, paid sick leave or health insurance. Over the last several decades, the United States has made “glacial but measurable steps toward gender equality in some parts of the economy,” she explained, “With men taking more of an interest in equally dividing the caregiving work.” Women still shoulder the bulk of it, however, and with the economy edging toward “reopening” while school and childcare remain in flux, the country is at risk of losing at least a generation of progress for equality.

“One of the data signals that has been most disturbing to me was this spring, Mason continued. “For the first time in almost 40 years, we saw the percentage of adult women who are in the labor force drop below 50%. Geez, we already know that this has pushed people out of the workforce, but the only question is: Is that going to be long term or is it going to be temporary?”

Her uncertainty is universal. In New York City, where one of the Department of Labor’s approaches for reopening schools is to have students in the classroom on alternate days, author Deb Perlman concludes: “In the COVID economy, you’re only allowed a kid OR a job.” 

The National Partnership for Women and Families has been deep in the fight for national paid family leave and paid sick days for many years, beginning with its role in enacting the Family and Medical Leave Act in1993. The original purpose of paid family leave was to allow people to take time off from work due to a medical condition, to care for ill or injured family members, or to give birth. Now childcare has become a necessary factor to consider as well.  

“Previously we had not put childcare in that bucket because we, like so many people, had never anticipated a world where someone would need potentially weeks and weeks and weeks of time over the course of a year away from their jobs to do childcare,” Mason said. “We’re all adjusting on the fly as we deal with the situation.”

For assistance today, Mason recommends looking into the The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, emergency legislation enacted in March that offers workers two weeks of paid sick days. But it has significant, problematic gaps that disproportionately affect women, and women of color in particular, since it allows employers to exclude healthcare workers and first responders. 

“It’s egregious,” she said. “Think of women nurses or women home health aides who are providing that essential care. Those are the last people you want to have going to work sick. So many of them are also parents.” 

Mason speculates that while the COVID-19 crisis further exposes society’s gender and racial disparities, it also draws new awareness to those who haven’t paid mind to these gaps; the way women and people of color are pushed into lower paying jobs with fewer protections and fewer rights; the importance of transforming unpaid care work into paid caregiving; and how essential teachers, healthcare workers and grocery store workers are supported in the workplace. 

The mission to ratify the ERA too, has been around for almost 100 years, yet is now returning to the forefront of the political conversation. 

“It resonates with this new level of conversation that has just burst across intersectional conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of racial equity in our economy, in our political system and in our justice system,” Mason said. “It does seem to me that there is an incredible appetite among a large, large part of the public to finally create that society and political system and economy that really reflects the best of our values.”

If true, women’s equality could be next on the docket. As Jenkins said, simply yet staunchly, “The Equal Rights Amendment would be a major force in recognizing our rights.” 

About the writer: Alyssa Fisher, who recently earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Florida, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

July 1st 2020, 4:52 pm



100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment of Women’s Right to Vote

JULY 23-25, 2020

Empowering and Energizing Women in New York State and Nationally about the Importance of Voting


We will celebrate together the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment of Women’s Right to Vote following in the footsteps of the NYS suffragists, to be part of affecting change. You will experience visionary insights from our amazing speakers, legacy descendants and inspiration from the voices of the past as well as the next up and coming generation.


A star-studded awareness event with the most incredible prominent female leadership, advocates, entrepreneurs – and inclusive and diverse audience of women as we set the tone for “Energizing the Power of our Vote in 2020!” – making our voices heard during Congressional and Presidential elections this year.

Click Below to View Virtual Event Trailer :

“CREW100 Presents: Suffrage Celebration” from iCampaignNY




About CREW:

Civically Re-Engaged Women (CREW) is incorporated in New York State as a national not-for profit corporation, a 501(c)3 and 501 (c) 4.   CREW provides education and training with a political focus. CREW hosts annual conferences and special events featuring best practices for winning results.  At the conferences, private and public sectors compare playbooks on efficiency, volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, and contemporary progress to prominent societal values and practices. Additionally, CREW offers subcontractor leadership and “branding” services to prominent organizations and institutions and creates original training/programming for a variety of disciplines.

To Learn More and Register, Click Here

June 25th 2020, 11:28 am

A Gift for my Racist Father: A Biracial Nephew


It was October, 2019 when I last visited my father who, at 93 years old, has been living in a nursing home for the past four years. But it was not the ensuing coronavirus pandemic that prevented me from returning. I already knew I wouldn’t see him again– and would never want to– whether I got the apology I sought or not. As he vacillated between clinging to the present and denying the past, I remained vigilant, demanding he apologize for creating a childhood home steeped in strict patriarchal rule, where emotional abuse and physical violence were directed toward his only daughter. I ultimately got that apology, although under some duress, which allowed me to walk away in peace, leaving much of the rage behind in that nursing home room.

Still, as is the case with most people who discriminate, they often don’t project their hatred towards just one group. No, their targets tend to be limitless.

Over the past few weeks, many reminders of his monstrous racial prejudice have come crashing back as I have stood, kneeled, and laid my still body down on the cold concrete with other peaceful protestors in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has taken hold of our country in response to the death of George Floyd, the unarmed, black man killed by a white police officer during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. At a vigil I attended last week in New York City, one of its organizers asked us to think about how we felt during the eight minute, forty-six-second silence we held in tribute to the same length of time Floyd was forced to lay under the pressure of a white officer’s knee until he breathed his last breath. My thoughts traveled immediately back to the rampant racism I experienced in my father’s home. 

His angry, racist rants, a ritual he performed almost daily by blaming black people for his own failings, whether they be educational, professional or financial, reflected his attempt to compensate for his deep seeded insecurities and mounting fragility. Yet under the heading of, Be Careful Who You Hate: It Could Be Someone You Love, I couldn’t think of a better gift to give my father, on this Father’s Day, than to introduce him to the biracial relative he never knew.

Due to the genius of genealogy, I recently learned of, and spoke with, a first cousin I had never known about, only three months ago. Born to my uncle, my father’s youngest brother — a brother whom my father particularly adored — my uncle must have known that he would have been shunned by my father if it were ever discovered that the mother of his child was black.

So my uncle kept it a secret until the day he died, which is now a decade ago. During our call, my cousin told me that he never got to know his father…not really, except for a few brief visits when he was a young child, and years later when he made a surprise visit to his father’s place of employment. Although his father was civil and cordial, he would not respond in kind, and that would be the last time they would ever see each other. 

I am now writing a letter to my father, which he will receive on this Father’s Day, introducing him to the nephew he never knew, and will probably never meet. I will tell my father about the distinct similarities his brother and nephew shared, beneath the skin, which no amount of racism could erase. How they are both the tallest in their families, how they both never smoked cigarettes or drank an ounce of alcohol, and how they both share a partiality for one dessert in particular…cheesecake. But what is most powerful was their mutual love for the game of basketball.  

My father and his four brothers all shared a passion for basketball and, specifically, refereeing. While one even turned pro, it was his youngest brother who enjoyed refereeing high school basketball games in his Brooklyn neighborhood some sixty years ago. Unbeknownst to him, his son also developed a particular fondness for the game, spending years volunteering as a referee in yet another Brooklyn neighborhood, and is still doing so today. 

Speaking of basketball, I plan to end my letter with a quote from one of the most successful and legendary players of all, Michael Jordan, who last week committed $100 million to organizations fighting racism against black people:

“I realize that I’m black, but I like to be viewed as a person, and this is everybody’s wish,” Jordan said.

And that is the wish I am hoping for you too, Dad, beginning with this letter, and on this Father’s Day.

Lori Sokol, PhD, is the Executive Director & Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews. Her book, She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World, will be out in August, 2020 (She Writes Press).

June 18th 2020, 9:42 pm

Women’s eNews Podcast: Women Saving the World


“Women often transcend party politics.”

NYS Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in She is Me: How Women Will Save The World

In our June 10 episode , NYS Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul discusses the State’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s specific impact on women, and how the ongoing demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd are embracing social and racial justice in ways that have never been seen before.

Listen to the Entire Podcast by Clicking Here

February 11, 2019 – Albany NY – Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul poses for a portrait and headshot in her office at the State Senate. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

NYS Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul is President of the NYS Senate and Chairs the Regional Economic Development Councils and NYS Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. She also Co-Chairs the NYS Heroin and Opioid Abuse Task Force and Community College Councils.

June 11th 2020, 4:58 pm
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