The Tension Heard in SCOTUS Hearings on Marriage Equality

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ”

As a quick follow-up to my brush with history with the Loving v. Commonwealth of VA case and on interracial and same-sex marriage equality, I thought I’d provide some links to what happened this week in the US Supreme Court.

You can hear the oral arguments as well as read the transcript of the hearings on the Supreme Court’s website.

  • To hear or read the arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the Prop 8 case) from Tuesday, March 26, click here.
  • To hear or read the arguments in United States v Windsor (the DOMA case) from Wednesday, March 27, click here.

And for some other commentary on the possible outcomes of these two cases, you might want to check out SCOTUS Blog.

The commentary I think is particularly good was written by Tom Goldstein. He gives a great summary of the tension between these two cases entitled “The Relationship between DOMA and Proposition 8.

Overturning DOMA argues that the federal government can’t deny benefits to individuals whenever a state has said that a same-sex couple has a civil right to marry (a 10th amendment states’ rights argument).  In contrast, overturning Proposition 8 is an argument for equal protection and due process (an 14th amendment anti-discrimination argument) and would therefore—like Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967—trump states’ rights.

Based on this blog, I have two sets of questions.

  1. Will both amendments be upheld or will one trump the other? If one trumps the other, which one will “win out?” OR
  2. Will the Supreme Court just dodge this conflict by deciding not to decide?  i.e., Will they declare that they can’t rule on this case because the proponents arguing to uphold Proposition didn’t have “standing” or the right to bring the case in the first place?

Loving and Marriage Equality

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ”

Today at noon, the US Supreme Court wrapped up a hearing on the right of same-sex couples to marry.  The case is called Hollingsworth v. Perry. If broadly held in favor of the plaintiffs, it will prohibit states from denying lesbian and gay people the right to marry each other. If narrowly held, it would not affect cases outside California; it would only overturn Proposition 8 and allow gay and lesbian people within California to marry each other.

Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear a case called Windsor v. United States. This case appeals the constitutionality of the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA denies any benefit, such as tax deductions, for married couples who are not of the opposite sex.

Jointly, these cases are, IMO, about  fairness, equality, and family. What constitutes a family?  Is it right to deny a couple the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage granted all other loving adults?  Does prejudice trump the protections of due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution?

These questions have come up before. There are a total of 14 previous marriage-equality cases that have reached the US Supreme Court. All of these cases have declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all.  The most famous case—and one that will be part of the argument for same-sex marriage in today’s case—is Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia.

In 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren, in an unanimous decision, overturned Virginia’s miscegenation law that bans marriage “solely on the basis of racial classifications [because it violates] the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

When you read further into the opinion you can see that it was prejudice that was the sole basis for Virginia’s (and 15 other states) laws banning interracial marriage. The argument that the state made for keeping the miscegenation law on the books was highlighted in the Court’s opinion. Chief Justice Warren quoted the judge who had sentenced Mildred and Richard Loving to either 1 year in jail or 25 years of exile from Virginia:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Then Warren overturned the statute stating that there is no legal, “rational” basis to deny someone the constitutional right of marriage equally granted to all other heterosexual couples. And in one simple statement, he basically said that marriage is an issue of equality for all. He said,

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights [emphasis added] essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” 

What happened after this decision?

Interracial Marriages

The result of this opinion was that all anti-miscegenation laws throughout the country became unenforceable. And in the case of Virginia, the state was ordered, among other things, to remove this law from their books. They did it kicking and screaming. It took them until 1971–four years after the Court’s decision–to finally comply.

And I was in the room when it happened. And as far as I can find, they made as sure as they could that the legislators’ prejudicial behavior wouldn’t appear in the history books.

I grew up in Virginia. During my senior year in high school, our Government Class took a trip to the Capitol in Richmond. It just happened to be the day that the legislature rescinded the law banning intermarriage between people of color and Caucasians. There were six of us in the class who wanted to see the vote occur. The guards at the entrance to the visitors’ gallery shut the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in. The six of us decided to question this action and held a sit-in in front of the doors. After much consternation on the part of the guards as to what to do with us, they finally opened the doors and let us in.

We then watched an all-white, male legislature grudgingly vote to rescind this law. In Virginia, the House voted using a board of red and green lights – red for a no vote and green for a yes vote. The question on the floor was basically, “Should we remove the two statutes in our code that prohibit and punish interracial marriages?” 

The speaker put the question to a vote. The board started lighting up. All but a couple of lights were red, meaning that they almost all wanted to keep this prejudiced law on the books. About 30 seconds prior to recording the vote, the speaker again said that he would be closing the vote and asked everyone once again to vote. Just before he closed the vote for the record, all but a couple of the red lights turned green. What got recorded was a grudging acknowledgement that loving someone and getting married is a right that could no longer be denied because of animus towards the couple.

Same-Sex Marriages

In the case of gay and lesbian couples, we once again have an issue of animus towards the freedom to marry in some but not all states. Thirty-nine states limit marriage to heterosexual couples only via statute or state constitutional amendment.

Ten states and three Native American tribes believe otherwise. The states supporting marriage equality are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The tribes supporting marriage equality are the Coquille Tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish tribe in Washington, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

New Mexico and Rhode Island recognize marriages that occur in other states and countries, but don’t allow them to be performed within the state.  And California, unless Proposition 8 is overturned, currently and will continue to recognize only the same-sex marriages that occurred between the May 2008 CA State Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the November 4, 2008 passage of Proposition 8.

Polls also tell a story as does Mildred Loving

At the time of the Loving decision, 80% of the country felt that it was wrong for interracial couple to marry. In 2011 (the most recent poll I could find), a record 86% of the public supported interracial marriage.

According to, popular opinion on gay marriage has also dramatically shifted in the last nine years. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the Proposition 8 case was released on March 18, 2013; it indicates that 58% of respondents support same-sex marriage; only 36% say they are opposed. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the DOMA case was released on March 7, 2013; it shows that 59% of respondents oppose the “denial of equal benefits and protections for legally married same-sex couples.”  And regardless of support for same-sex marriage in either federal or state law, even more people—83 percent—believe that there is a constitutional right to marriage (poll released on February 19, 2013).

I agree. And so did Mildred Loving in one of her few public statements on marriage equality. On the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia decision (June 12, 2007), she linked the freedom to marry for same-sex couples to the freedom to marry for interracial couples:

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Let’s listen to Mildred. Let’s listen to the public. Let’s stand up to the animus similar to that expressed by those all-white legislators in the 1971 Virginia General Assembly.

Like Chief Justice Warren and all of his colleagues did back in 1967, the current US Supreme court needs to stand for freedom, fairness, and the family.  They should  broadly rule for marriage equality as suggested by People for the American Way Foundation by supporting the freedom to marry for all. Overturn Prop 8, DOMA, and all the restrictive marriage laws across the country.

As Mildred said,

That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

vote button

Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me.  She said that she had been talking to a woman whose partner had a felony record who had served his time for the crime.  Among the several issues they discussed was his frustration that he was no longer able to vote.  Like many people, my friend and the couple she was talking to me about all believe that once someone has been found guilty of a felony, they face a lifetime ban on their constitutional right to vote.

Since primary season is coming up in many places around the country and since most states have voter registration deadlines before their primary election day, I thought I’d provide some background information on this issue.

What is the myth?

Simply stated, the myth is that ex-cons cannot vote – once convicted and forever afterwards. There are at least two errors in this myth:

  • Except for a narrow category of crimes in Mississippi, disenfranchisement does not occur in any state if you are found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.  Even if you spend time in jail for that misdemeanor.
  • Voter disenfranchisement for people with a felony conviction differs by state.  Eleven states permanently disenfranchise some or all current and former felons from voting, but most don’t.

So it all depends on where you live. Here’s what I found out about state laws on this issue from the Brennan Center for Justice

Permanent Disenfranchisement for All Felons

Only four states – Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – permanently disenfranchise current and former felons from voting.  The only way for a person to have their voting rights reinstated is through an “individual rights restoration” process set up by each state.

Permanent Disenfranchisement for Some but Not All Felons

Seven states permanently disenfranchise some, but not all current and former felons from voting.

In Arizona, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.

In the other six states in this category, you need to check your state law to determine which felony convictions permanently deny you the right to vote. Here’s a quick summary of these laws.

  • In Alabama, you can be permanently barred from voting if your crime is listed in their disenfranchisement list. If the conviction is a “moral turpitude” type of conviction, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence and payment of fines and fees.
  • In Delaware, voting after incarceration can be reinstated five years post-incarceration unless the crime you committed is one among a list of crimes that permanently disenfranchises your right to vote.
  • In Mississippi, you permanently lose your right to vote if you are convicted of any of ten categories of crime, whether that crime is a felony or misdemeanor.  If your crime isn’t on this list, you can vote even while incarcerated.  Note, this is the only state that has a law that permanently bans voting for someone who has created a misdemeanor.
  • In Nevada, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.  People convicted of violent crimes at any time are permanently barred from voting. Nevada will restore those rights if a pardon is granted or if the court where the conviction originally occurred restores those rights.
  • In Tennessee, if your crime is on the list of crimes that permanently bar you from voting, then you can only have these rights reinstated if you are pardoned.  For all other crimes, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence, payment of fines and fees, and show that you are up to date on all child support payments.
  • In Wyoming, you can have your voting rights restored five years post-incarceration for first-time non-violent crimes.  All others are permanently disenfranchised unless pardoned by the Governor.

Voting Rights Restored Upon Completion of Incarceration, Probation, and Parole

Nineteen states – Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – restore your rights to vote upon completion of your sentence, which includes incarceration, probation, and parole.

In Nebraska, one additionally has to wait two years after completing the sentence before being allowed to vote.

In Washington state, you can lose your right to vote again if you haven’t paid your financial obligations after completing your sentence.

Voting Rights Restored After Incarceration and/or Probation

Five states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and South Dakota – allow you to vote once you have completed your sentence and/or probation.

In New York, those on probation can have their voting rights restored if they receive either a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.”

Voting Rights Immediately Restored After Incarceration

Fifteen states – the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah – immediately restore voting rights upon one’s release from jail or prison. There are no voting restrictions for people on parole or serving probation time.

No Restrictions on Voting for People with a Criminal Record

And just two states – Maine and Vermont – allow anyone otherwise eligible to vote regardless of criminal conviction to vote. Even while incarcerated, on probation, or parole.

Who is most likely to be impacted by this disenfranchisement?

According to the ACLU, people and communities of color are most often disparately impacted by felony disenfranchisement laws. There are over 5.3 million people in the United States that are barred from voting due to a criminal conviction.  The majority of these crimes are non-violent.

Of the 5.3 million disenfranchised, 1.4 million or 26 percent of people with a criminal conviction are African-American citizens.  Considering that black persons make up just 13 percent of the national population, one can immediately see that if you are Black, you are twice as likely to have your voting rights denied.  This means that one in 13 African-Americans across the country are being denied their right to vote.

The myth of an ex-con never being allowed to vote compounds this issue. As previously stated, many believe that once convicted, they can never vote again.

With a widespread belief in this myth as well as a lack of public education to refute it, more and more ex-cons are at risk of not regaining their right to vote. Since actual disenfranchisement disparately impacts people of color, this assumption exacerbates this form of discrimination.

In my opinion, little is done by the government, courts, and communities to educate people and communities about their voting rights when one has been sentenced for a crime.  Exceptions to this come from only a few, non-profit advocacy sources, including the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the Sentencing Project.   There are others, but I believe that these four contain the best resources.

What do you need to do to get registered?

If your state is one of the states that do not permanently disenfranchise people who have completed their sentence (or if you live in Maine or Vermont which has no felony restrictions on voting), you should check out what your state law is regarding registering to vote.  The federal government has a website that has basic information on how to register and what the registration deadlines are by state.  It also has links to every state’s election office website where you can get details about state-specific requirements for voter eligibility.

If you know or believe that you have the right to vote in your state despite having a criminal history and receive a denial to vote when you attempt to register, you should check with an organization that provides legal services to people who have been incarcerated.  You can find a listing of these organizations by state here.  If your state isn’t listed, then the Prison Policy Initiative suggests that you contact one of the national groups that provide voter disenfranchisement assistance.

Once you get registered, GO VOTE!  It’s your right.

CNN’s Steubenville rape trial coverage is patriarchal. Rape is a Human Rights violation. All of these media outlets need to apologize.

This is a link to a petition that you can sign and send to CNN to demand that they apologize for their patriarchal coverage of the rape verdict.

If I find other petitions dealing with other media outlets, I’ll post them as well.

Nel's New Day

Imagine a segment of Law and Order that begins with the scene of an unconscious drugged 16-year-old girl being dragged from one house to another over several hours while large football players stopped to sexually assault her, urinate on her, and spray their semen on her. No one intervened; they just called themselves the “rape crew” and joked while they took videos. The girl woke up the next morning, naked without jewelry and cellphone, in an unfamiliar house.

On this fantasy program, the police would identify the perpetrators, discover that this is a part of the male’s behavior, and then bring justice to the girl. Courts would try the male teenagers as adults and force them to serve actual time in prison. But I did mention that this program is a fantasy.

The first scene actually took place in Steubenville (OH); the rest of the events failed the raped girl…

View original post 1,279 more words

Powerful UN CSW57 Document on Ending Gender-Based Violence Created

On March 14, I wrote a blog entitled “The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence.” I talked about an alliance between the Vatican, Iran, Russia and a couple of other countries that were attempting to eviscerate the comprehensive plan being created at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements). These previous agreements include the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).

I am happy to say that this didn’t happen.  Thanks to the bloggers, news media, Tweeters, NGO’s attending CSW57, and several official Member States, the amendments to the document were voted down on Friday during the final day of the 2-week convention.

Iran was the only country that voted against the final, comprehensive document. The Vatican did not get to vote because of its status as a “Permanent Observer State” rather than as a voting “Member State”. And Russia backed down and voted for the final document along with all of the remaining UN Member States.

People around the world heard about these attempts to deny women and girls safety from all forms of violence.  We spoke out and acted.

As a result, unlike last year, we FINALLY have a strong document that

“condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response.” (Source)

This document has a strong prevention focus since the best way to end violence against women and children is to stop it BEFORE it happens.  It also addresses inequalities in the political, economic, and social spheres that engender violence. And it takes action to provide services and justice for victims of violence around the world.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women summarized the comprehensive coverage of this powerful statement to end this type of human rights violation in her closing statement of the conference:

During the past two weeks, discussions centred on matters of urgency to people around the world — eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ending impunity for perpetrators, fully engaging men and boys, and advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality to prevent and end these human rights violations….

Important and timely matters were addressed — ending child and early forced marriage, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and providing justice and critical services for survivors of violence.

There were debates on ending sexual violence in conflict, tackling human trafficking, protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and on the role of culture, religion and the family.

You had many intense late-night negotiations, going over every single word and paragraph, debating long and hard in order to come to [this] strong agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after CSW57, released a statement showing the commitment of the United Nations to fully implement this new document. It says, in part:

Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.  No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear.  She has the universal human right to be free from all forms of violence so as to fulfill her full potential and dreams for the future.

States have a corresponding responsibility to turn that right into reality.  The Secretary-General hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The United Nations system is fully committed to leading this global effort.

So now I say, THANK YOU! Thank you for creating this statement. It is one more step  towards realizing the rights, dignity, and humanity of girls and women throughout the world.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013


There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

Universal, Single-Payer Health Care Can Save Billions of Dollars

I recently posted a blog about why I support universal single-payer healthcare.  I told you about my personal trials with insurance companies in order to obtain my life-saving bone marrow transplant.  I have been telling that story in my advocacy ever since the early 1990’s when I became a single-payer healthcare advocate.

In 2008, I ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  Another candidate in another district that year was Cindy Purvis.  Both of us ran for public office with the message that affordable, universal health care was necessary for individuals, families, businesses, and our communities in general.

The following year, Cindy helped found Health Care for All PA, a statewide non-profit organization that educates the public and government officials regarding the scope and seriousness of the health care crisis.  She was their first President.  A year later, she asked me to join their Board of Directors.

In our advocacy for a universal health care plan for Pennsylvania, we have received push-back from the legislature. They told us that the General Assembly would not move the bill unless we had an Economic Impact Study (EIS) that shows that universal, single-payer health care is cost-effective. So a couple of years ago, the legislature considered an EIS bill to find out this answer. Unfortunately it died in committee.

But this question still needed to be answered.  So the Health Care for All PA Education Fund raised monies from individuals and small businesses to fund just such a study to compare the proposed state-based single-payer health care plan to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and other health care programs within Pennsylvania.  And we now have the results.



Health Care for All PA released the results of this economic impact study last week based on and in conjunction with the anticipated introduction of the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan bill by Senator Jim Ferlo on Tuesday, March 19 at 2:00 pm in the Capitol Media Center, Harrisburg.

The results prove that a single-payer health care plan will save families, businesses and tax payers $17 billion annually while at the same time providing comprehensive health care to all.

This study was done by University of Massachusetts – Amherst professor of economics Gerald Friedman, Ph.D.   It compares the cost of the current for-profit health insurance model in Pennsylvania whereby provider choice is limited and health services are rationed by health insurance companies to that of a consumer-driven health care system which lets people have the freedom to choose their own doctors, hospitals and health care providers.

Some of the important advantages of a single-payer system are:

  • Provides comprehensive coverage for every resident of Pennsylvania, including dental, vision and mental health services;
  • Eliminates the need for hospitals to absorb the cost of care for the uninsured;
  • Reduces bureaucracy for private physicians resulting in reduced administrative costs and improved compensation for private physicians;
  • Reduces or eliminates health insurance over-costs for small business, allowing for more job creation, greater reinvestment of profits, and reduced workers’ compensation costs.
  • Radically reduces the total cost of health care to levels more consistent with costs in the rest of the industrialized world.
  • Reduces healthcare spending in Pennsylvania by an estimated $16 Billion +
    (from $144 billion to $128 billion). This includes savings of $7 Billion + for businesses that currently provide health care benefits and over $6 Billion for state and local governments and school boards. It also reduces the cost to the average individual who pays well over the 3% of personal income for health care coverage that is called for in the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan.

Here’s some highlights from the EIS:

Friedman’s Executive Summary can be read here.

The entire Economic Impact Study can be read here.

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change to End Gender-Based Violence (in English y españoles)

From March 4-15, advocates are gathering at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City to urge governments to fulfill commitments to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Over the next week and a half, advocates are supporting this conference via the use of social media—including blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest to name a few—to spread the word about both the CSW meeting and to call for an end to gender-based violence.

Since today is International Women’s Day, thousands, if not millions of people are participating in this call to eliminate global gender-based violence by participating in a global Tweet-a-Thon.

Advocates who are Tweeting and who are participating at the 57th CSW session are documenting the incidence and impact of all forms of violence against women and children to [bear] witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide,…”  This documentation “also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that [countries, advocates, and service providers] may be more effective in stemming [all forms of violence] through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

Blogs are also focusing on this issue. One of them, originally published by IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region, states that documentation and research on violence is all its forms  can then be a catalyst for change.

As a policy analyst and advocate for civil and women’s rights with a research background in work and family issues I fully agree.  So I thought you, my reader, would like to see what Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion at IPPF/WHR has to say.

In an effort to make this as accessible as possible, I am presenting this blog in both English and Spanish.  First, here’s the reblog of the English version:

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change?

Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion

If an act of violence is perpetrated, but is never reported or documented, did it happen at all?

Of course the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. There are many reasons why survivors may not report incidents of violence, including fear of retaliation, stigma, or disillusion with law enforcement. Surveys from Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru show that up to 20% of women experience sexual assault, yet few to none report it to police. Many of the survivors who do report incidents of violence are met with ineffective judicial systems that parlay impunity or data monitoring systems that act like black holes, swallowing up the evidence of the tragedy they have endured. Either way, we know that whatever statistics we do have about gender-based violence reflect just a fraction of its harsh reality.

Yet, the larger point remains: there is critical importance in documenting acts of violence against women and girls – systematically, carefully, and over time. Collecting data on the issue not only bears witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide, but also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that we may be more effective in stemming it through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

While numerous country-level studies on gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean exist, there is a need for more current and comprehensive national prevalence data, as well as qualitative research into causes, and risk and protection factors. In short, we need to do a better job uncovering the full picture of gender-based violence in order to most effectively address it. Further, a persistent lack of comparability between national studies in the region has hampered the ability to draw broader, meaningful conclusions.

How do we zoom out to the bigger picture to understand violence regionally? How can we share successful prevention and response strategies across countries and globally?

A new study released in January by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attempts to answer these questions by re-analyzing studies from 12 countries in the region. For the first time, data reveals a broader and more in-depth picture of both the prevalence and nature of violence region-wide.

While globally it is estimated that one in three women will experience physical, sexual, or psychological violence in her lifetime, this rate is both higher and lower across different areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. For instance, more than half of women who have been married in Bolivia reported having experienced some type of violence by their intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate of intimate partner violence reported was lower, just 17%, in the Dominican Republic. Emotional abuse of women by intimate partners is also common in the region, and is closely linked to the incidence physically abuse. Nearly half of women in Nicaragua reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner in their lifetime.

While more information is needed, we are just now beginning to uncover a picture of the complex root causes and risk factors for violence against women in the region. After controlling for a number of factors, PAHO researchers found that the risk factors most closely associated with violence by a partner include being divorced or separated, having a high number of children, and if a woman’s father was abusive to her mother. This seems like an odd grouping, but it’s a key finding because it can help direct our attention father up the causal chain of violence, to focus our programming efforts on critical risk factors.

Documenting the stories of women who experience various forms of violence, qualitatively, is also important. Last year, the Nobel Women’s Initiative led a fact-finding mission to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to document violence against women – in particular sexual violence perpetrated by the state and the mining industry against women’s human rights defenders. Women from these countries stepped forward courageously to provide testimony, oftentimes at their own peril, of their experiences of violence – with their sisters bearing witness – enabling new nuanced documentation of this epidemic.

There have also been other efforts across Latin America to support increased reporting of violence among survivors, such as through the increased establishment of all-women police forces and courts specialized to address violence against women issues.

There are many reasons to be hopeful that increased data can help catalyze meaningful change, though there are reality checks left and right. While 97% of countries in the region have laws on domestic violence, fewer than half include explicit references to marital rape. In November, after decades of advocacy, the Law Against Violence Against Women was passed in Nicaragua. Yet, the country recorded 85 femicides in 2012, and new instances of sexual violence across the region make the news every day.

Despite the persistence of these abuses, the importance of documenting violence against women and collecting sound data remains. As data collection improves and more studies are done about this epidemic at the country and regional level, we may actually see something that seems like an uptick in violence against women. This may or may not actually be the case. Since gender-based violence is so hidden and often under-reported, the more we dig, the more we will find. An accurate picture is essential and pivotal to the achievement of our end goal: eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.


A partir de marzo 4-15, defensores se reúnen en la 57 sesión de la Comisión de la Condición Jurídica y Social de la Mujer (CSW) en Nueva York para instar a los gobiernos a cumplir los compromisos de eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas.

Durante la siguiente semana y media, los defensores están apoyando esta conferencia a través del uso de medios sociales, incluyendo blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn y Pinterest para nombrar unos pocos, para difundir la palabra acerca tanto a la reunión de la CSW y para pedir el poner fin a la violencia de género.

Como hoy es el Día Internacional de la Mujer, miles, si no millones de personas están participando en esta convocatoria mundial para eliminar la violencia de género mediante la participación en un mundial Tweet-a-Thon.

Los defensores que son Tweeting y que están participando en la 57 ª sesión de la CSW se documenta la incidencia y el impacto de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y los niños “testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.”.

Los blogs también se centra en el tema. Uno de ellos, publicado por la IPPF / Región del Hemisferio Occidental, afirma que la documentación y la investigación sobre la violencia en todas sus formas es entonces puede ser un catalizador para el cambio.

Como analista político y defensor de los derechos civiles y los derechos de las mujeres con antecedentes de investigación en el trabajo y la familia estoy totalmente de acuerdo. Así que usted cree, querido lector, le gusta ver lo que Jimena Valadés, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro en la IPPF / RHO tiene que decir.

En un esfuerzo para hacer esto lo más accesible posible, les presento este blog en Inglés y Español. La siguiente es la versión en español de este blog.

¿Cómo puede la investigación ser un catalizador para el cambio?

Jimena Valades, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro

Si un acto de violencia es perpetrado pero nunca reportado ni documentado, ¿pasó en realidad?

Desde luego que la respuesta es sí. Hay muchas razones por las cuales los sobrevivientes pueden no reportar incidentes de violencia, incluyendo el miedo a las represalias, estigma, o desilusión con los agentes del orden. Encuestas de Costa Rica, Paraguay y Perú muestran que hasta el 20% de mujeres han sufrido un ataque de índole sexual, pero pocas a ninguna lo reporta a la policía. Y muchos sobrevivientes que reportan incidentes de violencia, se enfrentan con sistemas judiciales ineficaces que apuestan a la impunidad o sistemas de monitoreo de datos que actúan como agujeros negros, tragándose la evidencia de la tragedia sucedida. De todas maneras, sabemos que las estadísticas con las que contamos en términos de violencia basada en género representa solo una fracción de la dura realidad.

Aun así el punto más importante sigue vigente: hay una importancia crítica en documentar los actos de violencia contra las mujeres –sistemáticamente, con cuidado, y con continuidad en el tiempo. Esto es necesario no solo para actuar como testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.

A pesar de que existen numerosos estudios sobre VBG a nivel país en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, hay una necesidad de obtener datos más actuales y de prevalencia nacional, así como investigaciones cualitativas en las causas, los riesgos y los factores de protección. En suma, necesitamos hacer un mejor trabajo para tener un panorama más claro y amplio de la VBG para poder responder mejor ante ella. A su vez, la falta persistente de comparabilidad entre estudios nacionales en la región ha disminuido la capacidad de sacar conclusiones más amplias y significativas. ¿Cómo alejamos el zoom para poder ver todo el panorama completo y entender la violencia a nivel regional –sus causas, lo que ha sido efectivo en prevenirla, sus costos, etc.? ¿Cómo compartimos estrategias de prevención y respuesta entre países?

Un nuevo estudio publicado este mes por la Organización Panamericana de Salud (PAHO) ha intentado re analizar investigaciones de 12 países de la región, y, por primera vez, revela un panorama más amplio y profundo sobre la prevalencia y naturaleza de la violencia en esa parte del mundo.

Globalmente se estima que una de tres mujeres experimentará violencia física, sexual o psicológica en su vida, pero este número es –al mismo tiempo- alto y bajo en las diferentes áreas de Latinoamérica y el Caribe. Por ejemplo, más de la mitad de mujeres que nunca contrajeron matrimonio en Bolivia reportaron haber experimentado algún tipo de violencia de parte de sus parejas en el curso de sus vidas. Este mismo índice es más bajo, un 17%, en la República Dominicana. El abuso emocional por parte de la pareja es endémico en la región y está estrechamente vinculado con el abuso físico. Casi la mitad de las mujeres en Nicaragua han reportado abuso emocional de parte de sus parejas durante sus vidas.

Aunque es necesaria más información al respecto, recién ahora estamos desentrañando un marco de las raíces y los factores de riesgo de violencia contra las mujeres en la región. Después de controlar un número de factores en la región, investigadores de PAHO encontraron que los factores que se asocian a la violencia de parte de una pareja incluye estar divorciado o separado, tener muchos hijos, o si el padre de la mujer era abusivo con su madre. Esto puede parecer como una mezcla rara de factores, pero es un hallazgo clave porque nos ayuda a dirigir nuestra atención más arriba en la cadena de causales de violencia, y enfocar nuestros esfuerzos programáticos en los factores de riesgo críticos.

Es también importante el documentar las historias de las mujeres que experimentan las varias formas de violencia de manera cualitativa. El año pasado, la Iniciativa Nobel de Mujeres lideró una investigación en México, Honduras y Guatemala para documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y en particular la violencia sexual perpetrada por el Estado y la industria minera en contra de las defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres. Mujeres provenientes de estos países se acercaron con mucho coraje a dar su testimonio – la mayoría de las veces bajo riesgo de vida- de sus experiencias de violencia, con sus hermanas como testigos, desarrollando nueva documentación sobre esta epidemia.

Ha habido otros esfuerzos en América Latina para apoyar el incremento de reporte de violencia entre sobrevivientes, a través de un aumento de fuerzas de policía exclusivamente compuestas por mujeres y cortes especializadas para atender los temas de violencia contra las mujeres.

Hay varias razones para mantener la esperanza que al incrementar los datos estadísticos podamos ayudar a catalizar un cambio significativo, aunque seguimos teniendo chequeos de realidad en todos lados. Mientras que 97% de los países de la región tienen leyes contra la violencia doméstica, menos de la mitad hace referencia explícita a la violación dentro del matrimonio. En noviembre, luego de décadas de trabajo de incidencia, la Ley de Violencia contra las Mujeres fue promulgada en Nicaragua. Sin embargo, el país mantiene un record de 85 femicidios en 2012, y nuevas instancias de violencia sexual salen en las noticias de la región todos los días.

A pesar de la persistencia de estos abusos, sigue siendo de vital importancia el documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y compilar datos de solidez estadística. A medida que la recolección de datos mejora y se incrementa el número de investigaciones que documentan esta epidemia a nivel nacional y regional, podríamos suponer el estar frente a un aumento de la violencia contra las mujeres. Esto puede, o no, ser así. Como la VBG es usualmente escondida y con bajo nivel de reporte, cuanto más escarbemos más vamos a encontrar. Pero el tener un panorama completo es esencial y crucial para llegar a nuestro objetivo final: prevenir y eliminar todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y niñas en Latinoamérica y el Caribe.

Global Tweet-a-Thon to Raise Awareness About Gender-Based Violence

March 8th is International Women’s Day.  This year, thousands of voices will come together on Twitter under the hashtag #EndVAW in a 24-­hour, global Tweet-­a-thon to raise awareness about gender-­based violence.

Our aim is to strengthen the work of advocates gathering at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), as they urge governments to fulfill commitments to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Who is participating? Individuals, media outlets, and international and local organizations whose work focuses on feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQI rights, sustainable development, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Tweet-­a-thon campaign partners will rotate hosting the Twitter chat on March 8th: Some hosts may engage participants in a conversation by asking intriguing questions about gender-­based violence, while others may simply post facts about gender-­based violence.

If you would like to join me in being a host of the Global Tweet-a-thon to #EndVAW, send an email to

Together, we will end gender-based violence!

Follow these hashtags: #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

You can follow me on Twitter at and you can invite your friends to join the Global Tweet-a-Thon to #EndVAW on the CSW Facebook Event page.

And thank you to Mandy Van Deven, Online Administrator at the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR) for organizing this event and for sending me the information contained in this blog.

El 8 de marzo, Día Internacional de la Mujer, miles de voces se unirán a través de Tuiter (Twitter) bajo el hashtag #EndVAW durante 24 horas, en un Tuiter-a-tón a nivel global para crear conciencia sobre la violencia de género.

Nuestro objetivo es fortalecer el trabajo de los defensores reunidos en la 57 ª sesión de la Comisión de la Condición Jurídica y Social de la Mujer (CSW), ya que instan a los gobiernos a cumplir los compromisos de eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas.

¿Quién participa? Individuos, medios de comunicación y organizaciones internacionales y locales, cuyo trabajo se centra en el feminismo, derechos de las mujeres, derechos LGBTQI, el desarrollo sustentable y salud sexual y reproductiva y derechos.

El 8 de mazo en el Tuiter-a-tón de la campaña los socios se estarán alternando para ser anfitriones de diversas charlas: Algunos de estos podrán involucrar a los participantes en una conversación haciendo preguntas insidiosas sobre violencia basada en género, mientras que otros simplemente puedan publicar datos sobre el tema.

Si desea unirse a mí en ser anfitrión del Mundial Tweet-a-thon a # EndVAW, envíe un correo electrónico a

¡Juntos, vamos a poner fin a la violencia de género!

Puedes seguirme en Tuiter en y usted puede invitar a sus amigos a unirse al Tuiter-a-tón Gobal de #EndVAW en la página del evento CSW Facebook.

Y gracias a Mandy Van Deven, Administrador línea en la International Planned Parenthood Federation / Región del Hemisferio Occidental (IPPF / WHR) para la organización de este evento y por el envío de la información contenida en este blog.

US Congress passes Violence Against Women Act: Article via AFP

This article was first posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 2:12:14 PM.  It gives a very good summary of how the Violence Against Women Act passed and why it took so long.

US Congress passes Violence Against Women Act (via AFP)

After months of partisan delay, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday, reauthorizing protections from domestic violence and sexual assault for millions of women. The bill — a reauthorization of legislation first enacted in 1994 but which includes new protections — passed…

About AFP: AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.