It’s a Black and White Issue

overturn_hobbylobby_ruling_now.jpg

Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Women have rights. It is a black and white issue. Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby decision by the US Supreme Court

Rally near your nearest Hobby Lobby protesting this decision. Here’s a link to the Hobby Lobby’s “Store Locator.” Your local NOW chapter may also be participating in a local action. 

Wear Black and White on July 5.

Women Have Rights. It's black and white issue.. Show your support this July 4th. Wear black and white or red and blue.  Change your profil picture to a black and white one. Keep your pic up until August 26.

Women Have Rights. It’s a black and white issue.

And turn your profile picture or banner on all of your social media sites black and white through August 26; this is the anniversary of women’s right to vote being placed into the US Constitution.

Thanks for your support of this action continuing to oppose the War on Women.

Throwing Gun Safety Away in PA

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

I received an email late last night from CeaseFirePA  regarding pending legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Here’s the main part of that email regarding two bills designed to reduce gun safety within the state:

There has been a MAJOR development in our state House that is designed to seriously undermine our safety as Pennsylvanians. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ACT TODAY.

Our state House Judiciary Committee just released a surprise agenda for… March 18 and it’s a doozy. The legislators controlled by the gun lobby are trying to railroad five firearms related bills-at least two of which are extremely dangerous for Pennsylvania-through the legislature without giving the public time to weigh in on them. These dangerous Bills are:

-HB 921, which would eliminate Pennsylvania’s background check system (PICS)–a system that our state police swear by and that contains thousands of records, particularly mental health records and records of PFAs [Protection from Abuse orders]/domestic abuse, that are not included in the National Instant Check System (NICS);

-HB 2011, which would-for the first time EVER in Pennsylvania history-allow a special interest group (in this case, the gun lobby and groups like the NRA) and the interest group’s entire membership base special, automatic standing to sue towns and cities because the group does not like the ordinances that these towns have passed to increase the safety of their citizens, even when the ordinance has not been enforced against any member of that group.

—Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA, Western PA Regional Director

Based on the Gun Safety resolution that both Pennsylvania NOW and National NOW passed, respectively, in January and February 2013, Pennsylvania NOW decided to oppose both of these bills.  [FYI for disclosure purposes, I serve on both of these organizations’ boards — as a member of the Executive Committee for Pennsylvania NOW and as a member representing the Mid-Atlantic Region on the National NOW Board of Directors]. For more information on this NOW policy, go to the end of this blog to see the text of the resolution passed on February 25, 2013 by the National NOW Board of Directors calling for Sensible Gun Safety Legislation; this policy passed following the many concerns raised by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  My very first blog on this site was written the day of these shootings.)

Why Pennsylvania NOW Opposes these Bills

Pennsylvania NOW opposes HB 921 that eliminates PA’s background check for gun sales and increases the threat of gun violence to victims of domestic violence who have or want to seek out a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

Pennsylvania NOW also opposes HB 2011 since it allows special interest groups without legal standing to sue to overturn any local ordinance they don’t like.  This second bill could overturn not only local gun-related ordinances, but also other ordinances such as local anti-discrimination ordinances that have added marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in preventing discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Status of these Bills

The members of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee met at 10 am this morning.  I talked to Rep. Thomas Caltagirone’s (D-PA 127) office (he’s the Minority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).  The woman I talked to said that his entire staff (except herself) was in the Committee meeting and she had no idea as to whether or not these bills had been voted on.  At 2 pm today, I checked the General Assembly’s website.  As of that time, nothing had been posted regarding a committee vote on these bills.

Based on the make-up of the Judiciary Committee, we suspect that both bills will be voted out if they haven’t already been.  So all members of the legislature need to be contacted to tell them to vote no on both bills when they come to the floor.

Be/Become an Activist for Gun Safety

We don’t need to throw away our gun safety laws.  We need, instead, to make sure gun safety rules are in place to protect our loved ones.

So, please take time to contact your legislator.  Here’s where to find your legislator’s contact info. Tell him/her to vote NO on HB 921 and HB 2011 to protect the lives of our loved ones from unsafe gun sales and preemption of local ordinances that improve our local communities.

Addendum

CALL FOR SENSIBLE GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION

WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) “[E]nvision[s] a world where non‑violence is the established order”; and

WHEREAS, we, along with the rest of the nation, have witnessed in horror and, with deep sadness, the most recent massacre on December 14, 2012, by an individual with assault weapons, of his mother first, then innocent children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and

WHEREAS, this horrific incident is the latest in a string of recent, shocking gun attacks, all of which have been perpetrated by individuals with assault weapons and which have mostly targeted women and children around the country, including at:

  • a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon in December 2012;
  • the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012;
  • a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured, and where other casualties included the death of 9-year old Christina Taylor-Green; and
  • an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in October 2006 where 5 young girls were slaughtered and 5 more girls were seriously injured after the shooter released the boys and the adults; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congressional Research Services, there were more than 310 million firearms in private ownership in the United States in 2009, and another 5.2 million are manufactured annually and another 3.2 million imported annually, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 people in the US are killed each year by firearms, and the vast majority of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed with handguns by intimate partners rather than by strangers; and

WHEREAS, we respect the rights conferred under the Second Amendment but believe that the right to bear arms does not mean that assault weapons—which are designed solely to kill people—should be sold to members of the public; and

WHEREAS, as President Obama said in Newtown, “These tragedies must end;”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW calls upon our federal- and state-level elected representatives to protect and defend our children, our communities and our nation from further gun violence by immediately implementing sensible gun safety  legislation, including:

  • Reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that was in effect prior to 2004; and
  • Banning the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips of ammunition containing more than 10 bullets; and
  • Closing the “Gun Show Loophole” which allows individuals to purchase guns without a background check; and
  • Appointing a permanent position as Director of Tobacco & Fire Arms Department; and
  • Retaining the results of all Federal background checks for five years; and
  • Requiring universal background checks, including checks  for domestic violence for the purchase of any legal weapon; and
  • Creating a national gun registry that will allow law enforcement to track weapons; and
  • Requiring devices be added to weapons which would limit the use of any privately-owned gun to the registered owner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NOW encourages our chapters and members to:

  • Lobby their elected officials for effective legislation to end gun violence, with the NOW Action Center providing educational information to assist in such efforts; and
  • Contact entertainment providers and their sponsors to ask that they do not manufacture or sponsor video games, movies, television shows or music that glorify gratuitous violence; and
  • Lobby and/or protest professional organizations in the entertainment industry that honor exceptionally violent content; and
  • Advocate for programs and their funding in schools to teach tolerance and conflict resolution; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NOW endorses actions advocating for solutions to end gun violence when it can be done in accordance with NOW’s Coalition Guidelines.

—Passed by the National NOW Board of Directors, February 25, 2013

When Men Murder Women: The Violence Policy Center 2013 Report

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 following is a guest blog originally published here by Jerin Arifa, with an acknowledgement to Patricia Reuss for staying on top of this issue and sending the report to us.

Jerin serves with me on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and chairs NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force.

Patricia is the “godmother” of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), having worked very closely with now Vice-President Joe Biden when he authored the original VAWA back in 1994.  She describes herself as “a longtime women’s rights activist pretending to be retired and currently serving as a policy adviser to NOW and the National Task Force [to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women].”

Earlier this year, Pat wrote a guest blog for me on the Violence Against Women Act. It focused on a watered-down version of VAWA introduced by Republican legislators that fortunately failed and was replaced by a strong re-authorization bill signed into law by President Obama on Women’s Equality Day last March. Thank you Pat for all you do for women’s lives.

Here’s Jerin’s guest blog:

The Violence Policy Center has released their annual report, When Men Murder Women, in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study reports the statistics for females murdered by males, and includes a list of the top ten states with the highest homicide rates.

Some key findings:

  1. For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims were murdered by someone they knew. Compared to a man, a woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.
  2. For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 51 percent of female victims were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 73 percent were killed with handguns.
  3. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than five times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents
  4. For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 87 percent were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
  5. Of these, 60 percent involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
  6. For homicides in which the age of the victim was reported, 8 percent were less than 18 years old and 10 percent were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 39 years old.
  7. Owning a gun doesn’t protect women. Females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.
  8. A gun in the home is a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spousal abuse to homicide. In one study, firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults between family and intimates.
  9. Women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.
  10. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2010, the most recent final data available, are suicide (19,392), homicide (11,078), or fatal unintentional injury (606).
  11. South Carolina was followed by Alaska and Oklahoma as the states with the highest homicide rates for women.

I’m 16 and I’m a Clinic Defender

Sarah Roberts is one of Laurie Bertram Robert’s daughters.  They live in Jackson, MS. Laurie is President of Mississippi NOW and serves with me on the National NOW Board of Directors. Sarah’s blog focuses on her experiences surrounding the bullying and harassment of women seeking services at the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. Sarah, her sister, and her mother all serve as clinic escorts at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The story about how she reacts to this harassment is empowering. Thanks for the work all three of you — and all other clinic escorts across the country — do for women’s reproductive justice and health.

Defending The Last Abortion Clinic

By Sarah Roberts

I’m Sarah, I’m 16 and I am a escort/clinic defender at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I first started escorting after my mom, Laurie, told me about how women were harassed while trying to come in and out of the clinic. At first, I just wanted to see if it was really true and how bad it was. When I saw it for myself, I knew I had to stay and help.

My mom actually didn’t want me to escort because of the possibility of violence and the aggressiveness of protesters. My sister and I said if you go, WE GO. We also reminded her that she had always taught us about the role of children in the civil rights movement. If children could march, get beaten and sprayed with hoses for our rights why can’t we help women and defend our rights now? My sister and I…

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King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

Honoree, Distinguished Worldwide Humanitarian Award

Three days ago I got a call asking if I would accept a Distinguished Worldwide Humanitarian Award from Worldwide Who’s Who. I said yes. This is their announcement.

Marquis Who's Who Humanitarian Award

Tosti-Vasey, Joanne 1385793Dr. Tosti-Vasey is an optimist and believes that in the civil rights field, one oftentimes runs up against barriers; being flexible and being willing to look for a different way to achieve goals helps in the movement towards equality.

 
 
 
 

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Update on Pittsburgh’s Domestic Violence Policies

Last week I wrote a blog about an attempt by Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess  to backtrack on the city’s domestic violence policies.

There has been a week of outrage among advocates for the back-handed attempt to eliminate the police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance that was created in 2007.

Yesterday, three people, including former City Council President Douglas Shields and my friend Audrey Glickman (both of whom were quoted in last Friday’s blog), spoke out in committee to not backtrack.  Then today, advocates came out in mass to oppose the commingling of police-perpetrated domestic violence with police responses to domestic violence in the community.

Most of the advocates who spoke were given three minutes to express their concerns. Jeanne Clark (candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, long-time NOW member and a women’s rights advocate), Shirl Regan (Executive Director of Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh), Beth Pittinger (Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board), and Maryellen Deckard (State Campaign and Development Director for  Action United—a membership organization of low and moderate income Pennsylvanians that employed Ka’Sandra Wade before her death—and the convener of ANEW WOMEN—a group of women who have experienced domestic abuse and want to work for change) were given seats at the Council table to discuss the issues in more depth.

Following the concerns raised about domestic violence and with Jeanne’s call for a public hearing, Pittsburgh City Council quashed the attempt to eliminate the police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance.  They placed a hold on the proposed Domestic Violence Task Force ordinance until after a post-agenda hearing is held.  And they passed the resolution that allows funds to be expended to start the Maryland Lethality Assessment Training program.

The final vote on this resolution and the amendments made in committee today will be finalized on Tuesday, May 14 during the official business meeting of city Council.   Here’s a news article on what happened, along with some quotes.

After the Council met and voted down Burgess’ proposal to eliminate the zero-tolerance policy, Councilman Bill Peduto sent me the following email:

Joanne –

I wanted to let you know that Councilwoman [Natalia] Rudiak, Councilman [Bruce] Kraus and I were able to lobby Council to successfully pass the Police-response DV bills today while stopping the amendments offered by Reverend Burgess that would have weakened the Police-perpetrated DV legislation we worked so hard on back in 2007.

It is unfortunate that politics entered into this debate at all but I am thankful for the many women and men who wrote in to Council and came to Council Chambers today.  With your help we were able to stop the games and pass this important legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.  Thank you.

Thanks Council members Peduto, Rudiak, and Kraus for your leadership on this issue.  Additional thanks to Councilman Danielle Lavelle for your comments and Councilman Corey O’Connor for your clarification on the differences between a resolution and an ordinance.

A final decision on the Domestic Violence Task Force ordinance will occur only after the post-agenda hearing and public hearing are held.

Thanks all for all of your work.

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

And

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.”

Climate of Indifference IS Part of Why the Sandusky Sexual Assaults Occurred

This morning, Joe Paterno’s family released their report contradicting much of Judge Louis Freeh’s report on why the child sexual assaults at Penn State University occurred.  In this report, they state that there were essentially no issues within the football program (and, by implication, the Athletics program in general) that would have created what I call the “Climate of Indifference” at The Penn State University towards sexual assault, domestic and acquaintance violence, and stalking.

Whether or not Joe Paterno should be held accountable for his actions or in-actions in the Jerry Sandusky case, I do believe that those within the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions OR felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard.

Since 1994, I along with Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA), Pennsylvania NOW, and/or National NOW have been calling on the University to take all forms of assault against women—and subsequently children—seriously, to create a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence against others, to end the Climate of Indifference within Athletics, and treat all allegations of assault under the same rules and policies that the rest of the University community is held up to.

In November 2011, right after the Sandusky case came to light, The Nation’s Dave Zirin referenced a 2006 comment I had made in an article he titled “The World Joe Paterno Made.”  He first set up the background for my statement:

In 2003, less than one year after Paterno was told that Sandusky was raping children, he allowed a player accused of rape to suit up and play in a bowl game. Widespread criticism of this move was ignored. In 2006, Penn State’s Orange Bowl opponent Florida State, sent home linebacker A.J. Nicholson, after accusations of sexual assault. Paterno’s response, in light of recent events, is jaw-dropping. He said, “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.”

Zirin then stated,

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania’s National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, was not amused. With chilling unintentional prescience, Tosti-Vasey responded, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”

Upon seeing a Tweet by Mr. Zirin calling my statement “prescient,” I contacted him and told him that NOW continued to have concerns over the Climate of Indifference within the Athletics program.  He printed my comments in their entirety in a subsequent blog.  This included the following:

I truly wish that I hadn’t been “prescient” as you stated in your article when you referred to my call in 2006 for Penn State to address campus violence. Due to these newest allegations of child sexual assault and the possible cover-up that may have occurred, I have once again referred to this Climate of Indifference and minimization of abuse towards others, particularly in the Athletics Department….

For almost 20 years, we have challenged Penn State’s dismissive attitude toward violence against women, particularly within the Athletics department. It is time to stop this insular focus.  It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated.   Against any child.  Against any adult.  Against any member of the PSU community or a visitor to any of our campuses (yes, I am alum).

After NOW and many others called for an independent investigation into the Sandusky scandal, Judge Louis Freeh was appointed as the Special Investigative Counsel by the Penn State Board of Trustees.  On July 12, 2012, Judge Freeh released his scathing indictment against the upper administration, the Athletics department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight.

Regardless of whether or not Joe Paterno was culpable in this alleged cover-up (which I am not commenting on one way or the other), I continue to believe that the Climate of Indifference within the Athletic program contributed to this scandal and needs to be addressed.  It needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner so that no child or adult is ever stalked, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted again.

Once this report came out, National NOW posted a statement by me as a member of the National NOW Board of Directors regarding the Freeh report.   In light of today’s report by the Paterno family relating to the scandal and this Climate of Indifference at Penn State, I’d like to reiterate the following:

[The] University must step up to the plate and fully implement these recommendations. But they need to go even further to focus on policies to prevent all forms of campus violence — sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking — of both children AND adults….

One way Judge Freeh’s recommendations could have additional teeth is if the University also complies with the new Title IX regulations that were created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These new Title IX regulations were announced on April 4, 2011, by Vice President Biden, and according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “The Department of Education issued a policy guidance which made clear that Title IX’s protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence apply to all students, including athletes. It addresses athletics departments in particular when it requires schools to use the same procedures that apply to all students to resolve sexual violence complaints involving student athletes.”

In June of [2012], the Department of Education released its Title IX Enforcement Highlights report. According to this report, OCR provides detailed policy guidance documents to schools and colleges around the country with recommendations on what each school should do to meet these Title IX legal requirements. Since 2009, OCR has issued nine such documents. Three of these documents relate to Title IX, on topics such as “bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and equity in athletics programs.”

Penn State University and every other college, university, and school — both public and private — need to ensure that no child assaults and no assaults or harassment of faculty, staff, students or visitors occur on their campuses. Judge Freeh’s recommendations, particularly those focusing on the campus climate and compliance to school-wide polices within the Athletics department be expanded to all forms of campus violence; additionally, Title IX polices need to be fully reviewed and implemented as well.

And as Lisa Bennett, NOW’s Communications Director said in a blog she wrote on July 12, 2012,

[I]f we can direct the conversation to the role that sexism and patriarchy played in these cover ups, perhaps we can change these systems in a real and profound way. We must not let the reverence our society has for such institutions stand in the way of an honest dialogue — in fact, it is that very reverence that smothers the potential for justice and healing.

Let’s get started now.

White House Petition for the Equal Rights Amendment: Deadline to Sign is February 9

Please go to the White House’s “We the People” website & sign the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification petition; just 4 days left. Here’s an email I received from NOW and the Feminist Majority indicating that we can make this deadline IF each and every one of us acts now. For more details on why the ERA is needed, check out my earlier blog, “Why We are Pushing for Ratification of the ERA (the Equal Rights Amendment).”

ERA YES antique button

Dear Joanne ,

A petition for Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification is currently collecting signatures through the We the People petition process on the White House website.

The ERA petition has over 18,000 signatures. If the petition has 25,000 signatures by 11:59pm on February 9, the White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. (Currently, the We the People process requires over 100,000 signatures, but the ERA petition was filed before the increased requirement.)

It is time to get the ERA back high on the national agenda. This petition asks the White House to support lifting the deadline on the original 1972 ERA. Women would only need three more states to get full rights if the deadline was lifted. Thirty-five states have already ratified the ERA. We need you to go to the White House website and sign the petition.

Sign it today. Women have waited long enough for equality.

For equality,

   
Eleanor Smeal
President
Feminist Majority Foundation
  Terry O’Neill
President
National Organization for Women