Church Groups Focus on Gender-Based Violence at IAC

Becky Johnson

Is the focus on gender-based violence at the Ecumenical Pre-Conference an encouraging sign that churches are moving past patriarchy and coming to term with a reality that affects an estimated 1 in 3 women worldwide?

Herlyn Uiras was 16
years old when she and a friend were hitchhiking with a group of men in their
native Namibia.
Persuaded to go to South
Africa because of the wealth and opportunities
that the country offered, Uiras and her friend were blindfolded at the border,
transported to the community of Potchefstroom, and raped. Urging the rapist to
use a condom, he complied, but later laughed when the condom broke. Later,
Uiras found herself in Johannesburg,
where she again tried to negotiate condom use during sex, but was unsuccessful.
After becoming sick and being hospitalized, Uiras learned of her HIV-positive
diagnosis.

Now 23 years old, Uiras
shared her story in front of nearly 500 Christian religious leaders and
delegates during the Ecumenical
Pre-Conference
to the XVII
International AIDS Conference
in Mexico
City. Not commonly a topic of discussion in religious
circles, gender-based violence and human trafficking was given its own plenary
session and six workshop slots during the three-day event leading up to the
world’s largest conference on a single health issue.

"Many faith-based
organizations are ill-prepared to deal with gender based violence and HIV and
AIDS," stated Pauline Muchina, Senior Women and AIDS Advocacy Officer at UNAIDS, and member of the Anglican Church
in Kenya.
She noted that religion has often been used to perpetuate gender based
violence, promote patriarchal views, and that churches have too often remained
silent on the issue. In a workshop earlier in the pre-conference Muchina said
that the church needs to re-educate its members, rethink its teachings on
gender, and involve men, boys and male religious leaders in its response to
gender based violence.

However, Muchina noted,
there are already some faith-based organizations involved in addressing gender
based violence. She cited the Malawi
Ecumenical Counseling
Center, which has created
a manual on gender based violence for religious leaders, and the Salvation Army,
which offers advocacy and a rehabilitative program for trafficking survivors.
Uiras herself is now working with Churches
United Against HIV and AIDS in Southern and Eastern Africa (CUAHA)
, a
network of churches that has pledged to target human trafficking into South Africa in
light of that country hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup by helping victims,
training counselors, and educating police about the dangers and potentials of
trafficking.

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Reflecting on her own
experience of being molested as a child, Kay Warren, Executive Director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative at
Saddleback Church
, a mega-church in Lake Forest,
California, said she felt like her church couldn’t
help her deal with her experience. Today her church has raised the issue of
sexual, physical and emotional violence during church services, organized
support groups for survivors, and created a resources page on its website.

Is the focus on gender
based violence in this Christian conference, and the handful of churches
already addressing it an encouraging sign that churches are moving past
patriarchy and coming to term with a reality that affects an estimated 1 in 3
women worldwide
? A packed session room for a workshop on addressing
sexuality and masculinity in the church, and research presented by an evangelical Christian
organization
that presented a program that was successful in changing
gender attitudes and cultural norms among churchgoers in two African countries
show signs of hope.

With 500 Christians
attending the pre-conference, and an estimated 1.5 billion followers worldwide,
the true test will come over time. Creating a fora for dialogue on gender based
violence and human trafficking amongst religious leaders and people of faith
involved in the global response to HIV is just the beginning, but sends a clear
message to churches that it is time to stop the silence and inaction surrounding
these issues.

Analysis Politics

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Record on Women’s Health at Center of Heated Race

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election. Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”

The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has been Planned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”

Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”

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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign touting Ayotte’s record on women’s health.

Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”

But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?

Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.

In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.

Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”

“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.

Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.

According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.

National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015 it examined.

In 2012, Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants some employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”

Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares about women’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”

Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”

Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”

Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’s introduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day this April. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.

Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.

Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”

Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votes against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.

Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.

Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.

There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.

Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keep this portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.

Roundups Politics

At Iowa Forum, Democratic Candidates Weigh in on Campus Sexual Assault, Hyde Amendment

Ally Boguhn

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them. 

The Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, which bills itself as the “oldest minority-focused presidential forum,” was hosted by news outlet Fusion and offered the candidates a chance to sit down and answer questions without interruptions from their fellow candidates.

The night’s line of questioning hit on everything from Kim Kardashian’s selfie strategies to more serious discussions of how each candidate’s platforms—including those related to sex education, abortion rights, immigration, higher education, gun control, and criminal justice reform, to name just a few—relate to issues of race, gender, and class

In this election season, debate moderators, sponsors, and even party leaders have continuously faced criticism for failing to provide voters with an unbiased and well-informed account of the candidates’ platforms. Through a series of tough questions and follow-ups on a number of issues typically excluded by the debates, Monday’s forum illustrated how journalists can better push candidates to answer to the issues that matter to the public.

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Here are some of the night’s highlights:

Bernie Sanders Spoke Out Against Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

Bernie Sanders kicked off the night with the first round of moderator and audience questioning—including an inquiry from a student about whether he would continue to fund abstinence-based sexual education should he be elected.

“Let me start off by saying something very radical,” Sanders replied. “I am a United States senator who believes in science and who believes in facts.”

“I think when we have too much unwanted pregnancy, I think that obviously women have the right to get the contraceptives that they need. When sexuality is an intrinsic part of human life, we should not run away from it,” he continued. When it comes to sex education, he concluded, “We should explain biology and sexuality to our kids on a factual basis. Period.”

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report surveying the policies and practices of schools throughout the country, finding that less than half of high schools and one fifth of middle schools are teaching all of the sexual health topics recommended by the CDC, such as how to use and obtain condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sanders Called for a “Serious National Discussion” on Campus Sexual Assault

Sanders answered questions about campus sexual assault during the forum, calling for a “serious national discussion” on the matter.

“Rape and assault is rape or assault, whether it takes place on a campus or on a dark street. And if a student rapes a fellow student, that has got to be understood to be a very serious crime,” said Sanders.

“It has got to get outside of the school and have a police investigation. And that has got to take place. Too many schools now are seeing this as, ‘Well it’s a student issue, let’s deal with it.’ I disagree with that,” the senator continued, explaining that schools should treat rape seriously by turning over their investigations to police.

When moderator Alicia Menendez followed up by asking Sanders about whether he supported affirmative consent policies and bystander programs, the Democratic presidential candidate responded with a simple “of course I do,” noting that it was time to have a “serious national discussion about sexuality” and consent.

But not everybody was onboard with Sanders’ plan to turn over cases of rape on campus directly to law officials.

In a post for Feministing urging Sen. Sanders to revisit his position, senior editor Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX, an organization that works to end sexual violence on campus, explained that “school responses to gender violence are necessary to protect students’ right to an education regardless of gender.”

Absolutely, it’s essential that students who feel like reporting to the police is best for them be able to do so,” explained Brodsky. “At the same time, school remedies, like dorm changes and tutoring, are crucially important for a survivor’s ability to learn. That’s why the anti-discrimination law Title IX requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault in addition to, not in place of, criminal law enforcement,” she continued.

Although higher education has consistently been an important part of Sander’s platform, the candidate has largely not engaged the issue of sexual violence on campuses—despite rival Hillary Clinton releasing her own platform on the issue, calling for increased prevention efforts and resources for survivors.

Martin O’Malley: No Situations Where a Man Should Be Able to Tell a Woman What to Do With Her Body

One of Martin O’Malley’s brightest moments of the night did not come until the end of his time with the forum, when he plainly asserted the autonomy of all women.

Responding to a moderator’s question in the “rapid fire” round about under “what scenario, if any, should a man ever be able to tell a woman what to do with her body,” O’Malley paused briefly before replying, “no scenario.”

During his time as mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley went on the record as “pro-choice” and earned a 100 percent rating from the Maryland chapter of NARAL, according to CBS News. His universal health care plan also includes a promise to “support universal access to reproductive health care” in order to help people “make the best possible choices for themselves and their future.”

Hillary Clinton Reasserted Support for Repealing the Hyde Amendment

Hillary Clinton once again pushed support for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which overwhelmingly limits government funding for abortion, telling the forum moderators that the restriction inhibits many low-income and rural women from accessing care.

“[The Hyde Amendment] is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion,” said Clinton.

“But if state governments, if politicians, use their power to try to restrict that right, well-off people are still going to have it. You know, we know that.  But a lot of poorer women, rural women, isolated far from a place where they can get services, are going to be denied,” Clinton explained, detailing how poor women are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, such as Hyde, which make cost a barrier to abortion care.

Last night wasn’t the first time Clinton has voiced her opposition to Hyde. Although the former secretary of state made headlines earlier this week for speaking out against the restriction on abortion funding while accepting Planned Parenthood’s endorsement in New Hampshire over the weekend, her campaign confirmed to Rewire in 2008 that Clinton was against the Hyde Amendment.

Clinton Called Criminal Justice Reform a Top Priority for the Next President

When asked by Fusion contributor and debate moderator Akilah Hughes how she would prove that Black lives matter as president, Clinton detailed the importance of reforming the criminal justice system, including policing and incarceration, and addressing institutional racism.

Criminal justice reform, policing reform, incarceration reform—and I believe strongly that this has to be the highest priority of the president,” Clinton explained, outlining her intentions to build on President Obama’s work on the matter.

Pointing to the system as it currently stands, Clinton called out the ways that institutional racism contradicts U.S. values. “It is such a violation of what we say our values are, you know, ‘equal before the law,’” Clinton explained. “Well, we have systemic racism and bias that is implicit in our system, and unless we begin to go after that and expose it and end it we won’t solve this problem.”

In her almost four-minute-long case for criminal justice reform, Clinton went on to call for the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline, emphasizing the need for more investment in education and jobs for inner-city and rural communities.

Clinton’s mass incarceration reform agenda has been a priority for the candidate on the campaign trail for much of the last year, although she has had what have been described as “tense” meetings with Black Lives Matter activists.

In late October, Clinton released a comprehensive criminal justice reform platform, which included her intentions to push legislation to end racial profiling and for fairer drug sentencing.

Sanders has also voiced support for criminal justice reform, calling the number of incarcerated persons in the United States an “international embarrassment” and saying that reforming it is “one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do.”