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Aid Groups Fight Anti-Prostitution ‘Oath’ on Free Speech Grounds

3:05 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

During the 2012 International AIDS Conference in July, ACT UP activists protested U.S. HIV/AIDS policies, including the PEPFAR anti-prostitution pledge.(Michael Fleshman / Flickr / Creative Commons)

 

Originally posted at In These Times

One of the few bright spots in the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been PEPFAR, the United States government’s program to fund treatment and prevention for vulnerable populations across the Global South. But several years ago, lawmakers singled out one group of people as less worthy of that care. In fact, aid groups must publicly denounce them—or risk losing U.S. funding.

That’s the basic idea behind the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” embedded in the global AIDS initiative legislation. As a condition of receiving federal funds, organizations must adhere to avaguely worded anti-prostitution pledge, essentially swearing to the government that they do not support or promote prostitution. The extent of this restriction on their work is unclear; the only thing that is clear is that federal health authorities have sought to impose ideological views on aid workers in a way that could undermine both public health and organizations’ free speech rights.

The policy has been blocked on constitutional grounds in lower court decisions, but the White House will now take the case to the Supreme Court, which will rule later this year on the question of whether the government can link support for U.S. health organizations to the adoption of certain ideological positions on prostitution. Read the rest of this entry →

A Bill to Make Employers Less Mean to Pregnant Women

7:55 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Pregnant women are often victimized by employers. (spaceodissey / Flickr)

Originally posted at In These Times

Whatever our political conflicts, we can generally agree that we should treat pregnant women nicely. We don’t hesitate to help them carry their groceries or give them a seat on the bus. Yet when pregnancy comes up as a political issue, lawmakers are far more fixated on what an expecting mom’s womb is doing, rather than her hands–as she slips the check under your plate and hopes for a decent tip–or her mind–as she loses sleep wondering whether she’ll lose her job as her due date nears.

Under current law, it’s easy for bosses to mistreat pregnant women or force them off the jobYet the men who run Congress are too busy sponsoring anti-abortion bills and slashing social programs, it seems, to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One of the many labor bills left off the congressional radar is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (PWFA) which would help prevent pregnant women from being arbitrarily fired and make employers better accommodate them.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the PWFA builds on existing anti-discrimination laws by extending specific protections to pregnant employees. The legislation directs employers to “make reasonable accommodations” for an employee or job applicant’s  limitations stemming from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” unless this would pose “undue hardship” on the business. In addition, as theNew York Times’ Motherlode explains, the law would bar employers from “using a worker’s pregnancy to deny her opportunities on the job [or] force her to take an accommodation that she does not want or need.” The bill also directs the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to set regulations for implementing these laws, including “a list of exemplary reasonable accommodations.”

It was introduced earlier this year in the House and this month in the Senate–and not surprisingly, faces pretty bleak odds for being enacted. Read the rest of this entry →

Missed Opportunity: Immigrants and Women at the DNC

5:03 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

A member of the NLIRH's Texas Latina Advocacy Network, which has mobilized around issues such as access to transportation to reproductive healthcare in rural communities. (National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health / Flickr)

Last week, two issues highlighted at the Democratic National Convention represented a notable departure from the talk of jobs and economic growth. There was a classic striving immigrant narrative, embodied in the poetic if oversimplified family story of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. And there was a passionate defense of reproductive rights delivered by Sandra Fluke, who famously incurred ultra-conservative wrath for speaking out on contraceptive access. Both speeches showed the double-edged power of political storytelling: to inspire while masking the deeper issues that the mainstream political realm deftly obscures every four years.

Pivoting to Latino and women voters, the Democrats were capitalizing on ideological divisions in Washington on reproductive choice and immigration. But while the party repackaged those issues into slickly marketed talking points, the messaging spoke to messier unrest at the grassroots. Responding to years of grassroots pressure (from the sit-ins staged by so-called Dream Activists to the bold protest-on-wheels of the Undocubus, which rolled defiantly outside the convention), Obama has offered temporary reprieve to undocumented youth and promised to ease mass deportations for many immigrants with clean records. Meanwhile, the White House has cautiously pushed back against right-wing assaults on women’s health in the Affordable Care Act. But the response to the war of attrition on women’s rights comes amid rising frustration among pro-choice advocates who’ve witnessed Democrats’ repeated capitulations to anti-choice forces that have monopolized the abortion debate. Read the rest of this entry →

Criminalizing Condoms: Sex Workers Get Policed but Remain Unprotected

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

If you worked a dangerous job, you’d expect the law to help protect you from workplace hazards. But for many workers in the sex trade, protecting their health on the job could land them in jail.

A new report by Human Rights Watch reveals how the criminalization of sex work in U.S. cities undermines civil rights and puts lives at risk.

Researchers say regressive prohibitionist policies make sex workers more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases as well as mistreatment and violence, sometimes at the hands of the very authorities that are supposed to be protecting them. The report focuses on a controversial police practice for targeting prostitutes: profiling people who are “caught” carrying condoms.

Taking a human-rights centered approach that views the selling of sexual services as a form of work, HRW found that sex workers are often deterred from carrying condoms for fear of getting nabbed by the cops. In New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco, an item that would in any other circumstance be seen as a reasonable—and responsible—protective measure against sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy becomes form of contraband in anti-prostitution crackdowns. As a result:

despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Read the rest of this entry →

Shame of the Nation: House VAWA Bill Ratchets Up Attacks on Domestic Violence Survivors

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Women have been under economic assault in Washington for months. Deficit hawks have taken aim at social programs and civil rights protections that help keep women safe, healthy and able to participate in work and community life. To some lawmakers, none of that is more important than “saving” taxpayer dollars—which is often shorthand for robbing working women of both their earnings and their safety net.

The hostility toward women crested this week as conservative lawmakers pushed legislation that would gut the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). House Bill 4970 isn’t just oppressive to survivors; it attacks the civil and social rights of all women. By raising barriers to economic assistance and legal recourse, the legislation sends the message to countless women living in violent households that their place is still in the home.

Even with protective laws on the books, a woman struggling to support a family and avoid foreclosure faces a devastating choice when the alternative to an abusive home is homelessness. The decision to break away is even harder when local service programs and battered women’s shelters are themselves struggling for survival amid budget cuts.

Adding insult to injury, many states have failed to protect survivors’ access to unemployment insurance, which aggravates the economic instability that often keeps vulnerable women tied to abusive partners.

The House version of VAWA would deal a blow to immigrants trapped in abusive relationships, making it harder to petition for legal status as abuse victims, and easier for abusers to terrorize partners who fear immigration authorities. Lisalyn Jacobs of the advocacy group Legal Momentum told In These Times that “immigrant women are particularly economically vulnerable and may either be relying on their abusive partner’s income, or in a marginal position themselves that prevents them from being economically stable enough to leave their violent partners.” The bill also erodes mandates for public housing authorities to develop policies to help abused residents relocate to safer places. Read the rest of this entry →

Facing Maternity Care Gaps, Midwives Push for Birthing Justice

12:39 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Walk for Midwives in Huntsville, AL. (Photo: Heather Ellis via OffBeatMama.com)

Cross-posted from In These Times

As wondrous a phenomenon as childbirth is, we often view it as a form of medical purgatory–hours of drug-dampened agony under starched sheets and sterile lights. But more women today are thinking outside the box about labor. Home-based births have shot up in recent years. Advocates across the country have persuaded governments to broaden medical coverage for out-of-hospital birth services.

And in the shift toward more natural childbirth, midwives are at the forefront. Born of a movement to reclaim the childbirth experience from the medical establishment, today’s professional midwives are a modern incarnation of an age-old vocation, defining themselves as an alternative to the hospital ward. Yet the workers who undertake this unique labor of labor long struggled for respect and equality under healthcare laws.

Midwife-assisted birth at home or at a birthing center–a facility specializing in childbirth and pregnancy care–allows many women with low-risk pregnancy to give birth safely without interventions like surgery. Advocates say this process provides a more holistic experience for a woman in a familiar setting, sans the medications or presence of a gaggle of strangers in scrubs. Read the rest of this entry →

Under New Guidelines, Cheap Birth Control Pays Off for Working Women

6:00 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

"Pill"

"Pill" by Beppie K on flickr

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Washington’s Old Boys’ club still has its knickers in a wad over the deficit “compromise,” but women across the country can breathe a slight sigh of relief this week. The White House just issued health reform guidelines that will mandate insurance plans to provide birth control to women at no extra cost. The measure is long overdue, part of an array of preventive services recommended by the Institute of Medicine for improving women’s health. But the promise of broader contraceptive access coincides fittingly with the debate over the nation’s budget woes, because birth control is an economic issue.

Consider how essential birth control is for working women. When women can control whether and how many children they bear, they can delay pregnancy until they feel they’re ready, and in the meantime focus on career goals, finishing school, paying off that mortgage or signing divorce papers. The “choice” in reproductive choice refers not only to her ovaries—despite the right-wing scaremongering about unfettered female sexuality—it’s about every choice in life affected by pregnancy and sex.

At the height of the economic crisis, the costs of family planning grew more severe, as did the consequences of having to forgo it. According to a 2009 study by the Guttmacher Institute:

Overall, 29% of surveyed women agree with the statement, “With the economy the way it is, I am more careful than I used to be about using contraception every time I have sex.” Those who are financially worse off are more likely than others to agree with this statement (39% vs. 19%).

The same economic dilemma ironically creates barriers to contraceptive care. Eight percent reported sometimes skipping birth control “in order to save money,” and this was “more common among those who are financially worse off.” Read the rest of this entry →