Walking the Talk: Political Parity, Market Fundamentalism

Kavita Ramdas

It is vital to show by deed as well as by word that the United States means to walk its talk on gender justice. This would go a long way in rebuilding the trust and goodwill that the past administration has squandered in the rest of the world.

This post is part of our online salon: A New Agenda for Girls' and Women's Health and Rights, co-hosted with UN Dispatch.

Dear All:

I think it is terribly important for the new US administration to advance gender equality as part of a more comprehensive strategy for peace and social justice both at home and in the rest of the world. It is also vital to show by deed as well as by word that the United States means to walk its talk on gender justice. This would go a long way in rebuilding the trust and goodwill that the past administration has squandered in the rest of the world.

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The new administration needs to be willing to stand up and publicly recognize that the United States, despite being among the wealthiest nations, has a long way to go before it is close to meeting some of the most basic gender equality standards in terms of women's representation in the political process and in terms of economic justice. Women represent over 51% of the US population, but only 14% of representatives in both the US House and Senate are women. There is enough research to show that increased representation by women in legislative bodies results in policies that invest in the long term human security of their citizens. Repeated studies by the AFLCIO have shown that you can cut poverty rates in the United States (close to 70 percent of those who are poor in this country are women and their dependent children) simply by paying women equal pay for equal work. Not a single new Congressional appropriation would be needed for such a "war on poverty." Yet, the fight for the ERA – or Equal Rights Amendment, which would be the most effective strategy to achieve "equal pay for equal work" has long since ceased to be a mobilizing banner for the US women's movement. It is also arguably the most likely reason that the United States has simply failed to ratify the most universally recognized women's human rights treaty worldwide, the Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW.

Violence against women in the United States continues to claim unacceptably high numbers of victims and basic pre-natal care for pregnant women is almost non-existent for poor women without health insurance. Fifteen years ago when I worked in Chicago, Black women suffered from maternal mortality rates that were worse than Bangladesh. Poor children continue to die across the US because they lack basic preventive health care, including vaccinations against common diseases like measles. Despite the horrors inflicted on poor residents of the Gulf coast, it seems that Katrina barely ruffled a political feather – it hasn't shown up as a major policy agenda on a single candidate's stump speech. The new administration must demonstrate that it is willing to take action on such blatant violations of basic human rights – right here at home.

Finally, an effective US administration will need the active and tactical support of the women's movement in the US. To provide sufficient ballast, the movement in the US needs to deepen and broaden its message beyond the rather narrow confines of fighting to preserve Roe v. Wade. On reproductive rights and health, it must be willing to stand up for the right of all women (immigrants, the poor, rural, sexual minorities, etc) to be able to plan their families, have access to contraception, and to bear and raise healthy children. And the women's movement needs to show the political will and courage to refuse to cede the moral high ground by showing itself able and willing to speak to the moral ambiguities around the issue of abortion.

Internationally

At the most base level, a U.S. administration's commitment to advancing women's rights would serve to reinforce our country's commitment to social justice and international law. Neither our government, nor any other, can invade nations or bomb them into submission — even under the guise of "fighting terror" — with a carrot in the other hand touting "human rights." Such practice looks too much like the hypocrisy the developing world has come to expect from its former colonial powers.

The same holds for economic coercion or what I like to call "market fundamentalism." The free markets the West and the US are so keen to export and impose on the rest of the world are remarkably well regulated here in the US to serve the "national" interest. Look at how farm subsidies to the tune of $20 billion per year continue to underwrite US agriculture, even as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank are busy demanding that the rest of the world (Brazil, India, Egypt, and most sub-Saharan African nations) tear down their subsidies on agriculture and food. A recent article in The New York Times quoted the President of Malawi saying, "We decided to follow what the West did, not what they preached, and expanded subsidies to our farmers." Malawi has made remarkable progress in the past few years on food production as a result.

This speaks particularly to Michelle's point making the links between women's fertility, population growth and the rising cost of food. I submit that the cost of food prices has far more to do with oil prices, uneven and unfair trade practices than with how many poor mothers are having babies. This is not to undermine the critical need for inexpensive and reliable means of family planning. They should be made as widely available as possible. In fact, women's rights is as appropriate a lens by which to understand the challenges around population as any. What women's rights activists in the West need to be more outspoken about is the model of growth that is based entirely on consumerism.

A few statistics will make my point clear as day: Americans eat 815 billion calories of food daily, that is about 200 billion more than needed, more than enough to feed 80 million hungry people. Two hundred thousand tons of edible food are thrown out daily in the US. Eighty percent of corn grown and 95% of oats are fed to livestock in the US. Fifty-six percent of all available farmland in the US is used for beef production. In turn, when the US exports our model of high economic growth to the rest of the world consumption of meat rises in countries like China and India.

With all due respect, I would argue that those are the key factors contributing to rising food prices, not women in poor countries having babies.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”