Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Arab Women to Watch and Pakistan Wins Big on the Global Stage

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Who will be 2012's 100 most powerful Arab women? Slut-shaming and victim-blaming persist in India; Liberia is slow to reconcile decades of sexual violence; the UN Commission on the Status of Women is happening now; Female Pakistand director wins country's first Academy Award.

Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

Arab Women to Watch
In time for International Women’s Day, the second annual world’s 100 most powerful Arab women list will be released by Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, The United Arab Emirates’ Minister for Foreign Trade. Al Qasimi topped last year’s list and will unveil the names of nearly 40 brand new entries to the list, which is comprised of Arab women from 18 countries. The list will be released at an event in Dubai on 7 March. Last year’s list included a Jordanian taekwondo champion, former UNFPA executive director and Saudi Thoraya Obaid, and founder of the Arab International Women’s Forum, Palestinian Hafia Al Kaylani. Given this past year’s events in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, it will be interesting to see if more democracy and rights activists will grace the 2012 list. Via Arabian Business.

Liberia: Would You Want to Face Your Rapist?
Almost nine years after the end of a decades-long civil war that left 500,000 displaced, women who experienced brutal sexual violence in Liberia’s conflict are still waiting for justice. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to provide a space for survivors to speak about what they endured, and name and face their perpetrators. It’s an extreme approach to justice and historical-cultural mending, but has had some success in South Africa. Yet a group of women, who testified several years ago about what happened to them say they haven’t seen any benefits. There has been no follow-up, justice, or counseling. No one has yet been tried for war crimes in Liberia, and the initial recommendations of the TRC, released in 2009, caused an uproar: one was to ban President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from office for 30 years because of alleged ties to war criminals. Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, was recently re-elected and in her inaugural speech emphasized the need for more reconciliation, a fair assessment. Via Guardian.

Commission on the Status of Women Powers On at the United Nations
The 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is taking place right now at the UN. The CSW is a yearly event that draws representatives of UN Member States to discuss and evaluate the status of gender equity worldwide, and formulate recommendations for advancement. This year the gathering is largely focused on “rural women’s empowerment,” looking at poverty and hunger-reduction strategies as well as land rights issues for women in remote and rural parts of the world. Other sessions have looked at women’s voting access and youth employment. The CSW coincides with a women’s-focused bonanza in New York City, as dozens of side events, meetings, and conferences on a range of global gender issues will take place. CSW ends on March 9, a day after International Women’s Day. You can check out the live webcast of some of the sessions here. Via UN Women. 

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Victim-Blaming Flourishes in India
Widespread and rampant victim-blaming persists among Indian officials and general public with regards to violence against women. In a country where one woman is president, and another woman all but runs the Parliament, violence against women, and caste-related misogyny in particular, seems hopelessly endemic. A 2006 survey among 500 dalit (low-caste) women in four states found that 70% of them had been raped, sexually harassed or assaulted. Rapes and other instances of sexual violence and harassment are often recorded, but convictions are rare. These too often become instances where a victim is shamed publicly for wearing the wrong thing, staying out too late, or taking the wrong street home. SlutWalks in Delhi and Bangalore last year drew historic attention to this ongoing issue. In addition, parts of India under heavy security force presence (Kashmir, Manipur and Chhattisgarh States) see more conflict-related rape, though “the use of rape to punish women in insurgency-ridden areas is seldom mentioned in more general debates on rape, even though this is one more case of the powerful casting sexual abuse as justified by the victim’s actions or status.” Via International Herald Tribune.

Documentary on Acid Attacks Wins Pakistan’s First Academy Award
“Saving Face,” a documentary about violence against women in Pakistan won the country’s first-ever Oscar this weekend for “best short documentary.” The film was directed by a woman, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and chronicled the experience of women maimed by acid attacks, often at the hands of their jealous husbands, and the work of one doctor, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, to repair their faces. Pakistan’s Prime Minister has said he will bestow a high civil award upon Chinoy for her work to document this issue. There has been much coverage and excitement in Pakistan after the win, highlighting, as one columnist pointed out, how little ‘good news’ there is in the country, especially when it comes to women’s rights. You can watch the trailer for “Saving Face” here and learn more about acid attacks on women (and the work of Pakistani women’s groups to address this) here. Via The Express Tribune.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Sexual Health

Congress Fails to Act on Zika Before Seven-Week Recess

Christine Grimaldi

There was no last-minute deal on funding to address the Zika virus, even in the middle of mosquito season.

In the midst of summer mosquito season, the U.S. Congress is set to recess until September without taking action on the Zika virus.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate Thursday again blocked Republicans’ proposal for $1.1 billion in funding for the mosquito-borne virus linked to microcephaly and other fetal brain defects. The GOP-engineered agreement falls short of the $1.9 billion that the Obama administration staunchly contends is needed to combat Zika. The Senate plan also restricts what advocates consider to be essential contraceptive access, even though the virus can be sexually transmitted.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue condemned Senate Republicans for their response to Zika.

“Instead of digging deep to adequately respond to this global health threat, anti-choice Republicans are trying to restrict funding for the very clinics and health care that allow women to plan for healthy families,” she said in a statement. “Their constant claim that they are dedicated to ‘protecting the unborn’ falls flat when they refuse to give women the resources we need to bear healthy children.”

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The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives previously passed even less Zika funding—$622.1 million. House Republicans made a separate attempt to limit contraceptive access through gutting Title X in the appropriations process. “It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association President and CEO Clare Coleman said in a statement at the time.

Republicans insisted that their various plans protected women’s health, contrary to Democrats’ characterization of the plans as attacks on the same. Partisan bickering aside, Congress failed to strike a last-minute deal before a seven-week recess as Zika cases are already on the rise.

As of July 7, nine infants with Zika-related birth defects had been born in the continental United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As many as 346 pregnant people in the United States and 303 in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, may have the Zika virus, the CDC found.