Posted by Maya Paley
Remember Sandra, the former Georgetown law student who spoke in front of a Democratic congressional panel on women’s health and reproductive rights back in February, 2012 only to be publicly attacked on national radio by none other than Rush Limbaugh?
I’m not going to go into the details of that incident, but I admit that I’m ironically happy that Rush made such a stink about Sandra because it brought her and all of the issues she advocates for to the forefront of our national media. And after meeting Sandra last week, I couldn’t be more pleased with the woman behind the name.
On January 22, 2013, Sandra spoke on a panel at NCJW/LA with Michele Kort of Ms. Magazine, Serena Josel of Planned Parenthood LA, Reina Martinez of Hollywood NOW, and Dr. Arthur Fleisher, long-time abortion provider. The panel, “Abortion Under Siege,” commemorated the 40 year anniversary of Roe v. Wade by highlighting where we are in the reproductive justice movement today.
Sandra is sincere, intelligent, and capable and she just gets it. I was honored that Sandra took the time to sit down with me and answer some questions. Here is the interview:
Maya: Some reproductive rights advocates have been dialoguing about the use of the word “abortion” as opposed to “women’s health” or “access to healthcare” or the use of “pro-abortion” versus “pro-choice.” What do you think about such discussions on lingo within the movement?
Sandra: There are real opportunities for commonality when we talk about the values that underlie these efforts. When we talk about things like allowing women to make decisions for their own healthcare, which I think some people feel is a euphemism for abortion, a way of avoiding saying it. But I think that’s an overly simplistic criticism. I think when we talk about allowing women to make those decisions and to control those decisions, what we’re appealing to is the values behind these types of rights. It’s a way of finding common ground with those who have more concerns about abortion, for example, in their own personal life, but can respect other women making their own decisions. I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to use that kind of language as a way to talk on a grander scale and to find commonality and allow people to be part of the conversation who might be turned off otherwise. It’s really situational and about context. It’s the same as when we speak about…rather than say “gay marriage” we say “allowing people to marry the person they love.” That’s not about being afraid to say the word “gay.” That’s about why we believe that this is a right that everyone should have. I think that it accomplishes something to use that kind of language.
Maya: How do you personally define the word feminism?
Sandra: I think it can be defined in a lot of different ways. And it's hard to have one all-encompassing definition. I believe it was Rebecca West who had that great quote; something to the effect of “I get called a feminist when expressing views that differentiate me from a doormat.”
Side note (here’s the quote): “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”--Rebecca West (1913)
Sandra: For me, what my feminism is about is my broader social justice agenda and that is both the reproductive justice aspects of everyone being able to control when and if they have children, free of violence and discrimination, but it’s also about ensuring that there’s racial equality in these types of questions and that LGBT folks have equal rights with their straight brothers and sisters. So for me feminism is about all of us having full access and being full persons in our society regardless of gender and identity.
Maya: Do you identify as a feminist yourself?
Maya: Growing up did you plan on becoming a women’s rights activist?
Sandra: No, I grew up in a conservative area and there were some limitations that seemed unjust to me and sometimes I felt the things I was seeing weren’t right, but I did not have a construct for explaining why or the language to use to oppose them. It was really when I went to college that I discovered the rich feminist history that we have and the rich social justice history as well and formed the language and way of understanding the types of oppression and how these practices fit together and formed a repressive framework. A lot of people experience this big eye-opening awakening moment in college, but it was really about accessing those tools and beginning to understand why everything went wrong and how to explain it and how to fight it. Law school was another step in that path of having another set of tools to be able to fight these social justice battles and to advance social justice.
Maya: Do you want to practice law?
Sandra: I have always intended that my career as a lawyer would be public interest focused and that it would contain both litigation and legislation and advocacy and perhaps go back and forth or try to use both of the strategies. That is why I went to law school. We know from the history of social justice movements that we need both and that different tools are best at different times and that there are roles that need to be played by people other than lawyers. I think at the moment that I am focusing on the legislative advocacy and the public policy advocacy and less on the litigation for this particular time, but I imagine that my career will probably include all of the above strategies.
Maya: If you think back to how Roe v. Wade happened forty years ago, many think that things have regressed since then. What is the ideal situation forty years from now?
Sandra: I would love to see economic positioning mattering less in our ability to access reproductive healthcare, but all types of healthcare. I would like to stop seeing racial disparities that are frequently connected to the economic circumstances across these lines. Certainly, we need to find a cure for breast cancer and for some many other reproductively related diseases. On a global scale there are specific policies that must be changed to be able to offer better life outcomes to our sisters around the world. But the most significant thing would be to find a unity around supporting women's health and to make it and all of our health a priority. To get to that point would be forty years well spent because we have to fight the political battles. We have to fight the restrictions on our healthcare that can’t go unnoted, but having women’s health become a divisive issue, an issue that is used for political gain rather than one that we can make progress on in our legislatures, is not a sacrifice that we can make. It’s a balance that we have to have between fighting to protect each other and to protect each other’s health, but also making sure that women’s health doesn’t become so divisive and polarized that we’re paralyzed and can’t make further progress.
Maya: What would you tell young women who refuse to call themselves “feminists” or who say that they might agree with feminism, but don’t want to call themselves “feminists” or those who are not involved in any way and think everything’s fine? What would you say to them?
Sandra: On the thinking everything’s fine and not being involved questions, I’ve found frequently over my campaigning efforts and work that the fastest way to demonstrate to someone how not fine a situation is is to get into the details. Show them the number of bills. Show them the chart that says these are the anti-women’s health laws that we’ve seen over the last few decades and this is 2013. And show them what’s really happening from a quantitative point of view to describe what the impact of these bills would be. To talk about bills that would criminalize aspects of in-vitro fertilization and make certain forms of birth control illegal. I know Supreme Court precedent is not readily accessible to everyone, but to say look at the votes, look at the count, this [Roe v. Wade] was five to four. This is hanging by a thread. This is real. And to get into those details so that people really understand this isn’t rhetoric and hype for electoral outcomes or any other purpose—this is something that’s really happening and that we have to be aware of and active on, informed and engaged and involved. So I think that’s one step.
I would certainly defend the label and define the label for anyone, but the label’s not the point. The struggles are the point. The values underscoring it are the point and that’s a much more important fight. You don’t want to lose the label. I’ll talk to them about that for a few minutes, but then let’s talk about the work we can do together because that’s more important.
Maya: Are you in dialogue at all with the people who were attacking you in public media, like Rush Limbaugh?
Sandra: We’ve never had contact other than what you’ve seen in the media and that’s okay with me. I don’t desire personal contact with those figures. My biggest concern in that area is just the rampant misinformation that’s put out guised as news and that’s a big concern for our democracy overall. My reputation aside, when there are absolute lies about what policies we’re talking about and what their consequences are, it’s difficult for people to make informed choices when they’re being potentially misled. So that’s my biggest concern in that area.
Maya: How did you deal with it on a personal level?
Sandra: On a personal level I made it not so personal. I said you know what, I’m being individually attacked, but it’s important for me to recognize that these people know little to nothing about me and so this isn’t really about me. In fact, this is about all women. This is about women who speak out on reproductive healthcare. This is about any community that stands up and demands its human rights, its access to healthcare and challenges and entrenched power structure, and this is about silencing those types of voices in our civil conversation and in our political conversation. So this is much less about me being personally insulted, but about closing the door to that community and those conversations and that is far more dangerous. That’s what I wanted to focus on fighting.
I thank Sandra Fluke, Serena Josel, Dr. Arthur Fleisher, Michele Kort, and Reina Martinez for their years and dedication to advocacy for reproductive justice, women’s rights, and equality. You can watch last week’s incredibly informative panel by clicking here.
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January 22, 2013 | 10:20 am
Posted by Maya Paley
by Maya Paley of NCJW/LA and Serena Josel of Planned Parenthood LA:
In 2012, Arizona passed legislation prohibiting the state from contracting with abortion providing organizations except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Meanwhile, the California state legislators were the first to approve a state exchange program under the federal government’s Affordable Care Act that expands access to abortion and healthcare for low-income women. When it comes to securing women's rights and being a model for the rest of the nation, California has much to be proud of.
Californians play an important role when it comes to the reproductive rights agenda: we expand the parameters of conversation and put new policy ideas on the map. On the upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Californian women and men should remind themselves of California’s legacy of setting an example by creating more change within our state and by increasing pressure on others and on the federal government to support comprehensive women’s health policies and programs.
We should be proud of our successes: the Reproductive Privacy Act was passed in 2002, ensuring a woman’s right to abortion in CA even if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the future. California provides funding so that teenagers can obtain contraception and get tested for sexually transmitted infections. They can even obtain emergency contraception without parental consent through California’s Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment program (Family PACT). In 1999, California became one of only 11 states at the time that required private insurance companies to cover contraception. Family PACT was started as early as 1997, providing either free or very low-cost health services to low-income women. Family PACT does not cover abortion or prenatal care, but it does cover gynecological preventive care, birth control, the “morning-after pill,” STI testing, and infertility treatment.
While we take pride in these accomplishments, we mustn’t become complacent. California still has one of the highest rates of women without health insurance at over 21%, which is above the country’s average of 19%. There is more work to be done and we might start with asking why so many women in California are uninsured and what we can do about it.
It is also our duty to utilize our strategic positioning as the progressive and visionary state to continue pressuring other states and the federal government to protect the Roe v. Wade ruling. States such as, Arizona, Texas Virginia, Michigan, Missouri, and many others continue to introduce and pass prohibitions on women’s health. The Guttmacher Institute has documented that in 2011, 24 states enacted 92 provisions restricting access to abortion including arbitrary waiting periods, scripted counseling, and ultrasound requirements. 26 US States stress abstinence in sex education, ignoring what really works in STI and pregnancy prevention today.
Nationally, several anti-women’s health bills have already been introduced by Congress members in 2013. There’s the Sanctity of Human Life Act, defining life as beginning at fertilization and promoting a ban on abortion without exception. There are two Title X defunding bills aiming to bar Planned Parenthood from its participation in federal health programs. Michele Bachman has introduced a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides breast cancer screenings, pap tests, and other preventive care to women with no additional co-pay. And Steve King has introduced another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
While none of these bills have much support within Congress, they reflect how serious and how determined some elected officials are when it comes to preventing women from accessing proper, preventive, and necessary healthcare. They represent the ongoing goal to undermine the Supreme Court decision made 40 years ago, on January 22, 1973, which stated that a woman has a right to privacy, and therefore a right to decide what is right for her when it comes to her body and her health. Every year since 1976, Congress has passed a ban called the "Hyde Amendment" which withholds coverage of abortion for women in most federal health plans.
Beyond making phone calls, writing emails, and sending petitions, we in California have a duty to continue our legacy of being on the frontlines of progress for women’s health. We are the visionaries, creating common sense programs that have led to the largest reduction in teen pregnancy in the last decade, emergency contraceptives in the emergency room, and the guaranteed right to choose in our state constitution. Whenever we expand access and healthcare to women in California, we are effectively pressuring the rest of the country to follow suit. In honor of Roe v. Wade, we encourage California to renew its dedication to women’s health, access to abortion, and the right to choose.
Maya Paley is the Director of Community Engagement and Special Programs at NCJW/LA. Serena Josel is the Public Affairs Director of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Join NJCW/LA and Planned Parenthood for a panel featuring Sandra Fluke, Serena Josel, Dr. Arthur Fleisher, and Reina Martinez and Moderated by Michele Kort of Ms. Magazine: “Abortion Under Siege: Discussing Today’s Challenges on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.” Event takes place on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 from 11:30-1:30 pm at NCJW/LA Council House (543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles). Event is free to the public.
January 10, 2013 | 4:52 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
The Guttmacher Institute’s analysis of state policy changes affecting reproductive rights shows that 26 states currently “stress abstinence in sex education.” In Tennessee, a new 2012 provision calls for the exclusive teaching of abstinence. This means that lessons on ways to practice safer sex are largely excluded from the curriculum. In Wisconsin, a recent change “removed requirements that information provided in sex education classes be medically accurate and that it include education on contraception.” In other words, Wisconsin teachers are now permitted to teach sex education without concern about whether or not what they’re teaching is evidence-based. And they can now talk about sex without having to bring up condoms.
Does anyone disagree with me when I say this backlash against comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a serious problem?
The only positive change in 2012 as noted by the Institute was that Oregon added a provision mandating that sex education include information on teen dating violence, an important and often overlooked issue in the classroom.
In reading through the FAQ page of the National Abstinence Education Association’s (NAEA) website, I noticed that one statistic was repeated throughout. The NAEA aims to establish credibility for its abstinence-only position based on a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was published in February, 2009. The study, NAEA states, shows that “70% parents and more than 60% teens believe that sex should be reserved for marriage,” claiming that “abstinence-centered education is the only sex education approach that provides youth skills to reach this goal.” Who cares? This is not reality.
When I looked up the study myself, what I found much more notable than the statistics the NAEA published was how it was noted that the study’s research and analysis does not “constitute an evaluation of the influence of abstinence or sex education on adolescents.” NAEA is making this argument for an abstinence-only approach in the classroom and their evidence is that parents think it’s a good idea, rather than providing evidence that teaching abstinence actually reduces the amount of unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections among adolescents.
In high school my friends and I were peer educators with Peer Education Program/LA. We would visit schools, shelters, and teen groups to teach teens HIV prevention. We always made it clear that the safest strategy is abstinence, but we were realistic in our approach. Teens are sexually active and many are going to be sexually active regardless of whether or not we shove abstinence down their throats. The most important tool I learned from PEP/LA when I received their training (which instantly convinced me to start volunteering for them) was that they were realistic about teenagers and their expectations of them. We were taught how to use condoms, other forms of contraception, and what HIV/AIDS is. This is comprehensive sex education.
Planned Parenthood has posted some studies on their website providing evidence that abstinence-only sexuality programs don’t work and that comprehensive sexuality education does. One of the studies they quote states that “88 percent of students who pledged virginity in middle school and high school still engage in premarital sex. The students who break this pledge are less likely to use contraception at first intercourse, and they have similar rates of sexually transmitted infections as non-pledgers. (Bearman and Brueckner, 2001; Walters, 2005).” And on CSE, Planned Parenthood notes that “students in comprehensive sexuality education classes do not engage in sexual activity more often or earlier, but do use contraception and practice safer sex more consistently when they become sexually active (Guttmacher Institute, 2002; Jemmott et al., 1998; Kirby, 1999; Kirby, 2000; NARAL, 1998; Shafii et al., 2007).”
As far as I can tell, a strict abstinence-only approach is detrimental to the health and well-being of many adolescents in our country.
I know many of my readers are health practitioners, teachers, and parents. Have you had any experiences that have convinced you that either approach is better than the other? I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.
December 31, 2012 | 2:55 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
These past few weeks I’ve been getting calls from friends, all women, expressing how sad they are about what they did not accomplish in 2012 and how anxious they are about what awaits them in 2013.
Why are so many women blue during the holidays?
As far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between December 31, 2012 and January 1, 2013. Aside from getting a day off of work and the government’s tax policy making this day significant for donations, the “change” we allude to is imagined. The media and its corporate sponsors have convinced us that this one night each year carries deep significance in our lives. We create new lists of goals: lose weight, move out, move up, find a partner, spend time with family, get more sleep, get a raise, get a new job, take a class, read more, cook organic, and so on. Whatever the goals are, we put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves around this time of year only to ultimately stress out and give up entirely. We make it to the end of the year, wonder why we did not achieve our goals from last January 1, convince ourselves that we are failures, and spend the holidays being self-deprecating and sad.
There are no easy answers to dealing with sadness whether it’s been going on for a while or it’s a seasonal thing, but knowing that there are other people feeling the same way is one way to put things into perspective, which we often lack when we’re down.
I’m not a psychologist or a social worker, but I do go through ups and downs and I’ve finally figured out what makes me feel better. The first is letting go of the concept of failure. I have to remind myself that we’re all different and we each achieve at our own pace. Goals are important and helpful and, as someone who works in women’s empowerment, I will never downplay how useful it is to set goals. However, I will say that we need to keep our self-expectations in check and that means setting goals that are doable, and realistic within the time frame we’ve allotted for them.
Also, being around people really helps. For many women, the hardest thing is asking for help and the easiest thing is to give it. Being around others is critical. We are social creatures and we need relationships with others to thrive. I sometimes laugh on my own, but I laugh a hundred times more often when I’m with friends or family. I sometimes exercise on my own, but I do so much more often if someone invites me to a hike or a yoga class. I mostly cry on my own, but when I cry to a friend I usually end up laughing and feeling better by the end of the conversation. I know I need people around and I have had to get over my pride and call people when I need them around.
Did you know that women suffer from depression twice as often as men do?
There are many reasons for this, which we’ll have to delve into in another post, but the main point is that there are many other people feeling the same way you or your friends do. In other words, lets’ not be too hard on ourselves and let’s help ourselves and each other by figuring out what we need to do to make ourselves feel better and by doing it. Small efforts go a long way.
I would love to hear from you on what you do when you’re down or what you advise others to do when they’re down. I wish you all a happy, healthy, and positive 2013!
This blog post is dedicated to my grandfather, Lester Paley, who passed away on December 31, 2010. He taught me to know my limits, but to also make sure I move them up and out from time to time.
December 19, 2012 | 1:59 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Like everyone else who heard about the tragedy on Friday morning, I was devastated, saddened, and shocked by the event. But with the amount of debates, opinions, and “tipping point” rhetoric surrounding last week’s shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I see no point in adding to the heated debate about whether the problem is guns or mental health.
Each problem we have in this country is complex. Gun violence and easy access to ammunition and assault weapons are huge problems. Mental health access is a huge problem as well. Economics, education, security, healthcare—these all played a role in what happened last week both in Newton and in Portland. There is no one solution and no guarantee that any legislation will ensure that this never happens again.
On a more positive note, I am impressed by the amount of conversation, action, and energy being put into making change so that these tragedies do not occur. It took us a while to stand up and recognize that something needs to be done about both access to guns and access to mental healthcare, but it’s finally happening and it’s up to us to make sure that the conversation goes the way we want it to. In an interview with ABC News, Alison Fine, author of The Networked Nonprofit, said: "When, a week from now, there isn't movement, the social networks can play an enormous part to say 'we are still here.' That's where they can keep alive issues that would have gotten quieter before."
With that, I have decided to provide you with some options for taking action from your bedroom. And yes, “slactivism” does work if there is a critical mass of people signing on. I encourage you to do the following, which will not take you more than 5 minutes total:
1. Send a letter to your representatives to “End the Epidemic of Gun Violence” through the National Council of Jewish Women’s website.
What the letter says:
“…Assault weapons remain legal in our country, and are easy to buy, often with no questions asked. And, individuals who should have never been permitted to buy guns are able to because of insufficient background check systems and controls. Guns are used in a significant percentage of domestic violence incidents and the presence of a gun in the home triples the risk of homicide in the home. Contact your members of Congress to let them know that the time is now to enact background check reforms and a ban on assault weapons, common sense gun violence prevention measures to ensure the safety of our families and friends at home, in our schools, and in our communities.”
Click here to send the letter directly to your representatives in Congress.
2. Sign the most popular petition asking the Obama Administration to “immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress.”
What the petition says:
“The goal of this petition is to force the Obama Administration to produce legislation that limits access to guns. While a national dialogue is critical, laws are the only means in which we can reduce the number of people murdered in gun related deaths. Powerful lobbying groups allow the ownership of guns to reach beyond the Constitution's intended purpose of the right to bear arms. Therefore, Congress must act on what is stated law, and face the reality that access to firearms reaches beyond what the Second Amendment intends to achieve. The signatures on this petition represent a collective demand for a bipartisan discussion resulting in a set of laws that regulates how a citizen obtains a gun.”
Click here to sign the petition, which already has over 192,000 signatures.
3. Sign another petition asking the U.S. Government to fund mental health facilities instead of prisons. The petition’s author is a passionate and concerned mother with a mentally ill son. Read an article about her activism by clicking here.
What the petition says:
“Encourage congress to shift funding from prisons back into the mental health system to re-open hospitals and provide long-term treatment to people with mental illnesses instead of waiting until they commit a crime and placing them in jail. Open more long term care facilities and lengthen the allowable stay for appropriate treatment and stabilization. Authorize police to transport mentally ill patients to hospitals without requiring them to have first committed a crime. Reestablish the rights of legal guardians of mentally incapacitated people to voluntarily sign their wards into a long term care facility without requiring another court order.”
Click here to sign the petition, which already has over 5,200 signatures.
If you have any other action items you’d like to add to the list, post a comment below explaining what the item is and how you think it can make a difference on this issue.
December 11, 2012 | 2:07 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
While I was ecstatic that more women were elected to the 113th Congress than any previous election period, I was equally frustrated by another piece of news that I read about this week:
“The House Republican Steering Committee announced an all-male slate of committee chairs, including 12 returning lawmakers who will head up some of the most important panels in Washington.”
There you have it: You get a glimpse of progress only to realize that you are prematurely rejoicing. Getting more women into Congress is a step, but we recall that we are nowhere near equal representation in our government, and we definitely do not hold the positions of power within the power system.
At a risk of offending some, I would like to bring up the infamous electoral quota system. Did you know that half of the world’s countries have implemented electoral quotas for their parliaments?
This means that there is a specific number of ensured seats in government for women. In some countries it’s 50%, in others it’s a minimum of 30%. Either way it’s better than our miserable 17% in the current Senate and our applauded increase to 18% in 2013.
In graduate school I studied economic and political development. The program drilled into my brain that there is no universally effective blueprint that will help all countries develop. Similarly, there is no blueprint for ending gender discrimination worldwide. I believe that my graduate school colleagues will agree with me, however, that sometimes trying something new does work, or at least if you learn from trial and error.
The United States is a country that loves playing the hero in international aid. We loan out tons of money, provide grant assistance, and send aid workers to other countries. We love consulting everyone else on what they should be doing. What we don’t usually do is look around to see if anyone else has a good idea that might help us.
Drude Dahlerup, a professor of Political Science from Stockholm University in Sweden, explains a concept called “equality of result,” arguing that “real equal opportunity does not exist just because formal barriers are removed. Direct discrimination and a complex pattern of hidden barriers prevent women from being selected as candidates and getting their share of political influence. Quotas and other forms of positive measures are thus a means towards equality of result.”
Why are we so afraid of electoral quotas in the U.S.?
For one, we fear the unknown, the other, and the government. Some people see the quota system as an example of the government trying to meddle in our democratic rights. Some fear what would occur if more women were in power. But democracy is more than just voting for your representative. It’s about representation of all members of society. With half of the population struggling to get elected, afraid of running in the first place, and not even getting positions of power when they do get elected into office, representation and equal rights are obviously not leading us to “equality of result.”
We must open ourselves up to discussions about our political system and how it can be improved or adjusted in line with the changing times. It does not have to be an electoral quota for women, but we need real and quick progress that goes beyond the slight gains we made in the 113th Congress. We need change that reflects who we think we are: a country that values women equally as it does men. I’m no longer sure that the 113th Congressional gains are as promising and newsworthy as I originally thought and I continue to wonder: Are we open to change?
For a listing of the quota systems in place in countries throughout the world and the percentage of women elected into their legislatures, visit http://www.quotaproject.org/country.cfm.
November 28, 2012 | 10:43 am
Posted by Deepika Narasimhan
In the world of education reform, there has been a lot of talk lately about bringing accountability into the teaching profession. The newest set of policy pursuits is based in research that says that a good teacher is one of the most important factors in student success. As a result, I have seen various attempts to recruit the best, weed out the worst, and measure their success in my last few years working in education policy. But with American spending on education substantially higher per student than most industrialized nations and students still falling behind in reading, math, and science, educators and policymakers alike have been seeking out solutions to this education “problem.” Various proposals have been suggested and/or implemented, including getting tougher on tenure, evaluation frameworks that include measures of student outcomes, and even offering cash incentives to teachers who get students to pass tests.
But in a profession that is overwhelmingly female, (76% in public schools nationwide): why isn’t gender considered to be an important factor in the education reform debate?
Look at Finland, a country being touted for its educational successes. Finland is consistently a top performer in the Programme for International Student Assessment, an international exam from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development given to 15 year olds. The U.S. came in 17th in overall standings, setting off a round of alarmist speeches and spelling out impending doom for America’s educational (and economic) future.
For many reformers, the refrain has become, “How do we copy Finland’s success?”
Well, one of Finland’s top school reformers, Pasi Sahlberg, recently argued that, as evidenced in his country, educational success is connected to other development factors, including gender equality. He contends that the current educational reform movement is a “masculine construction of market rationale and power” and that this business-minded approach to education is a result of minimal female representation in the political and corporate arenas, which is in direct contrast with Finland’s nearly gender-equal political representation (The Answer Sheet).
The numbers in the United States support Sahlberg’s stance. Only 32% of the highest education posts (Superintendents/Commissioners/Secretaries of Education) are held by women. That is to say, even in a female-dominated profession, the majority of top leadership in the United States is male. Add this to the mostly male-funded philanthropic efforts, such as the Broad and Gates Foundations, and female representation in the reform movement is further diminished.
Sahlberg continues to argue that gender equality is a “particularly relevant variable to be included in the analysis of a country’s child welfare and education policies” because women are particularly attuned to children’s needs. He also projects that more women making decisions on education policy would result in a stronger focus on early childhood development programs and better pay for teachers.
We can challenge the validity of such hypotheticals and argue that several other pedagogically-based factors produce more direct results, but bringing more female voices into the reform debate can only have positive outcomes, particularly because the majority of those affected by teacher reforms happen to be women. And by improving the quality of teaching, we can make it a more appealing profession for both men and women.
To find out more about your state's teacher effectiveness action plan, visit the US Department of Education's page on Teacher Quality Grants. You can also find more updated information on each individual state or district's Department of Education websites.
Deepika Narasimhan is an educational media consultant, and has worked with the New York City Department of Education, and on international education in India, Egypt, and South Africa.
November 21, 2012 | 12:12 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
In Ms. magazine’s Winter 2012 issue, the 40th Anniversary Issue, there is an eight- page long timeline of the last 40 years of feminist history in the United States. As someone who is still under 30, the timeline woke me up. Recall some of these significant accomplishments in recent history:
• 1972: Title IX passes prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government
• 1973: The Supreme Court decides in Roe v. Wade that states cannot ban abortion.
• 1986: The Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment in the workplace is sex discrimination.
Beyond these obvious accomplishments, there were some events listed in the chronology that honestly shocked me:
• There was no shelter for battered women in the entire United States until the first one opened in 1974 in Minnesota.
• Women were not permitted to get credit cards and accounts in their own names until Congress passed a law against this in 1975.
• The word “Ms.” was finally used by the New York Times in 1986 instead of identifying the marital status of women mentioned in newspaper articles.
Women of my generation and younger: is this not shocking to you?
I find it so hard to believe that less than 10 years before I was born women could not get credit cards without a man’s name on them!
I continue reminding myself of the privileges I have, but I also must urge those in my generation to learn about our own history and just how late in the game we obtained these rights, which to us seem so inherently natural. We are privileged because of women and allies in previous generations taking their struggles to the streets and the courts.
Some of us do not believe that we have any obligations to the women’s rights movement, but I disagree. I have obligations to the women who struggled so that I can have a credit card in my name and even to those in earlier eras who fought for my right to vote and own property. The purpose of studying history is to ensure that we remember the past and utilize it to build a better future.
My role is no longer to fight to legalize abortion on the federal level, but I must make sure that this right is upheld. I do not have to prove that sexual harassment is discriminatory, but I have to make sure to speak up when it happens to me or under my watch. We are not equal yet, not under the law, not socially, and not culturally. Abortion is still highly contested, limited, and regularly attacked. Even birth control is back at the frontlines.
On Thanksgiving my family and friends go around the room and say what we are all thankful for this year. For me, it will be my rights, my freedoms, my voice. But with these come responsibility and it is up to my generation to ensure that we are aware of our history and to continue the struggle. I am ecstatic that there is an unprecedented amount of women in Congress this year, but we have yet to achieve anywhere near 50 percent. I am grateful that abortion is legal in the state of California, but I must stand in solidarity with abortion clinics that are operating in constant fear of assault in other U.S. states. I am lucky to be able to work in fields in which women in previous generations were courageous pioneers, but I must remind myself that we are still only getting paid three-quarters of what men are paid in those same fields. Equality means full equality under the law, within societal structures and institutions, and within cultural and social contexts.
Thank you to all the generations of women who stood up for my rights. Happy Thanksgiving!