Report Shows Need for Financial Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

DV-Counts-CoverThe latest Domestic Violence Counts report is out and the 2013 census of domestic violence shelters and services shows the devastating impact that economic insecurity can have on victims of abuse and their children.

Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) takes a look at the people served and the services provided during one 24-hour period at participating programs across the country. On September 17, 2013, just over 1,600 programs participated in the census. They served over 66,000 people. The stories behind the numbers range from uplifting to devastating.

“One of our program participants received a job offer on Census Day,” a Missouri advocate reported. “This employment opportunity will provide her with an income to be able to exit the shelter and obtain and retain her own housing for her family.”

But an advocate in Alabama shared: “Despite extreme stalking and a high threat of danger, a survivor was denied community legal services because there was no physical abuse. The survivor makes minimum wage and is unable to afford a divorce attorney.”

For women who experience domestic violence, economic security and personal safety are closely linked. Sara Shoener from the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice recently explained to the National Domestic Violence Hotline that domestic violence increases the risk for financial insecurity, and that poverty can increase the risk of vulnerability to abuse. “Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans,” she added.

Support services that help women establish economic security can help them leave abusive situations and stay safe. In addition to the basic necessities that Shoener listed above, a significant number of women also need help navigating the social services system. They may also need help building their financial literacy skills. In order to maintain control, an abuser might ruin a victim’s credit, fail to pay or hide bills, steal a victim’s possessions or misrepresent the state of their finances. It may take time and guidance for a survivor to get her financial house in order.

The Domestic Violence Counts report found that 29 percent of programs provided services related to building financial skills on the day that the census was taken. Eighty-three percent of programs provide this service throughout the year. And 22 percent of the programs surveyed provided job training and employment assistance on Census Day.

In spite of the clear need for more counseling and support around financial issues – and the dangers associated with economic instability – funding cuts and reduced resources across the country have meant that dozens of programs have had to reduce or eliminate their financial literacy services and job training and employment assistance programs.

These cuts may seem necessary now, but the long-term expense on our entire community is far too great. At the release of the Domestic Violence Counts report, it was revealed that eight million work hours are lost each year as a result of domestic violence in the United States. Victims of abuse may miss work because of injury, legal proceedings or sudden changes to their living situations.

“If we don’t pay for domestic violence aid now, we pay for it down the line through healthcare, lost productivity and the impact on children exposed to violence,” said Kim Gandy, president of NNEDV.

The services and models for assistance are already in place – now we need to restore and increase funding to these programs so that more survivors can have the safety and security that everyone deserves. On September 17, 2013, nearly 400 people in DC, Maryland and Virginia who reached out to a shelter or service provider for help were turned away because the providers did not have the room or resources to serve them. No woman whose personal safety is at risk, and who reaches out for help should ever be turned away. And no mother should have to stay with an abuser because she has nowhere to take her children.

Three Things You Can Do to Help

Leadership Issues for Women of Color

CAP-woc-panelI’ve known the statistic for a long time, but it never ceases to amaze me each time I see it in black and white: just 4.5 percent of members of Congress are women of color. Out of 535 people, there are 13 African American women, seven Latinas, and four Asian Pacific American women. That’s not a minority – it’s a minisculority (if such a word existed). The issue, of course, is that women of color make up 18.4 percent of the US population. It makes you wonder when the House of Representatives – and all of the other branches of government – will actually represent all of the American people.

The disparity in population and representation is evident outside of the world of politics, too. Latinas make up just five percent of Fortune 500 boards. According to Catalyst, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color on their boards (10 percent have no women at all!). And while the number of women of color who are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fluctuates year-to-year, there are never more than a handful.

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress brought together a diverse group of women to have a conversation about leadership, mentoring, executive presence and the changing face of female influence. At the heart of the discussion was a concern that in the media, academic and business worlds, the experiences of white women have become stand-ins for all women – a fact that further complicates the challenges posed by gender bias. When it comes to inclusion and diversity, the voices and experiences of women across racial and socioeconomic lines must be taken into consideration.

The conversation was engaging, wide-ranging and way too short! Here are my three favorite a-ha moments:

If you don’t see yourself in government, you won’t think you belong there. Diana Hwang, co-founder and executive director of the Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative, made this point after sharing the story of her father’s reaction to the news that she’d landed her first job as an aide to a state representative. “You’ll never be one of them,” he told her sadly.

There are currently just 43 Asian women currently serving in elective offices at state and national levels (this number includes Congress, state legislators, statewide elective executive offices, and mayors of the 100 largest cities). It’s no wonder Diana’s father was concerned she’d only have the opportunity to work for an elected official – not be one.

When it comes to leadership, we are still telling women to fit in. Ella Edmondson Bell, associate professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and founder and president of ASCENT, said that cookie cutter behaviors and expectations don’t work. Yes, women have to be aware of cultural norms and expectations (in her words, knowing when to put on the pearls and the pink St. John’s suit). But we should not and cannot be expected to act just like the white men who currently hold most leadership positions.

We will never succeed if we do not have the courage to try. Val Demings was the first woman to be appointed chief of police in Orlando. She described “growing up poor, black and female” and the courage it took to go to Florida State University, to join the police force and to become police chief. After retiring from the Orlando Police Department, she ran for Congress in 2012. But it was not an easy decision. She shared that women typically have to be asked seven times to run for office before they’ll begin to consider it – and she was no different. She didn’t win her congressional race, but remains undeterred. She’s currently a candidate for Orange County mayor. Demings says that the three keys to anyone’s success are: courage, preparation and opportunity. Click here to watch her speech.

I think that’s great advice that can be applied beyond the individual level. As voters, consumers, managers, the owners of companies, taxpayers, etc., we all have a stake in seeing more women of color in leadership positions and the power to make that happen – plus, diversity has been proven to be beneficial to companies, organizations and societies. We can create a truly representative community by ensuring that there are plenty of prepared women in the leadership pipelines, by giving them opportunities to move up ladders, and by having the courage to make long-term investments in people.

Celebrating International Women’s Day With Our Sister Fund Nirnaya

international-womens-day In the spring of 1998, two women’s funds were launched 8,000 miles apart. In Washington, DC, a group of women established Washington Area Women’s Foundation, while in Andhra Pradesh, India, three women founded Nirnaya. Both organizations were started completely independent of one another, but we are deeply connected by our beliefs in the incredible potential of women and girls, our missions to invest in the economic security of women who live in poverty, and our shared emphasis on engaging donors who understand the importance and impact of investing in women and girls.

In observance of International Women’s Day, which is on March 8, we’re sharing a story written by Dr. Supriya Rao that ran in a recent issue of Nirnaya’s newsletter. The names and locations in the story may be unfamiliar, but you will likely recognize many of the themes and emotions. They are universal, and a reminder that everyone has the capacity to be a catalyst for great change.

The Tale of a Tribute
It is uncommon to find an individual that radiates beauty, intelligence, compassion and with a quick sense of humour at the seasoned age of 83. Pramila Nanda is one such person. The eldest of five siblings, Pramila took on the role of looking after her brothers and sisters very early in age. She graduated from the University of Delhi with a degree in Physics, married Mohan Nanda, an officer in the Indian Air Force and spent a few years as a homemaker. In 1958, after the passing of her husband, Pramila decided to begin a career in writing.

Pramila was among the earliest women writers to comment about life and events in the city of Hyderabad. She wrote about the lives of prominent women in the city and her articles featured regularly in magazines like Eve’s weekly and Femina. After working 30 years [in writing, public relations and advertising], Pramila finally retired in 1988, soon after which she lost her parents and more unexpectedly, her younger sister Shyamala.

Pramila Nanda_fr NirnayaEighteen years younger than Pramila, Shyamala was more like a daughter to Pramila and Mohan Nanda. Her sudden illness and death were extremely difficult to deal with for Pramila. But she continued to persevere and look for more positive ways in which she could still experience the strong bond of love she shared with her sister. She stayed in touch with Shyamala’s friend, Indira Jena, founder trustee of Nirnaya. She grew inspired by Nirnaya’s work and was especially touched by Vikasini [School], the free girl child education programme for girl children of Addagutta slum in Secunderabad.

In 2004, Pramila asked if she could start a scholarship scheme for the students of Vikasini School in the memory of her sister. She donated a sum of two lakhs [about $4,500], which along with [other donations was invested in bonds], the interest of which goes to support the scholarship awardee, after she has completed [5th grade] at Vikasini, to study in a well reputed private school…. Currently the Shyamala Pai Memorial Scholarship supports the high school education of Swapna from the Addagutta slum in Secunderabad. Swapna’s dream from age nine was to become a “Collector” and ensure the improvement of slum areas, similar to the one she lives in. Having battled tuberculosis during the past three years and yet performing extremely well in the [10th grade] examinations… she is now in [grade] 11.

[T]he Shyamala Pai Memorial Scholarship is not just a tribute fund; it is the miraculous interspersing of three women’s lives; across class, across three generations and even across the seeming barrier of death. Each of these women has inspired and enhanced the lives of the others, either purposefully or inadvertently. The love, friendship, generosity, courage and determination of these women have culminated in a wonderful philanthropic initiative, indeed a delightful tribute to all of them!

We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda-Ngozi-AdichieAre you a feminist? Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says that everyone should be an unapologetic feminist and work together to make gender inequity a thing of the past. In recognition of International Women’s Day and the worldwide efforts to improve access to resources and opportunities for women, we’re sharing Adichie’s popular Tedx Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.” Take a look (or read the transcript) and then let us know in the comments: are you a feminist?

Black History Month: Four Ways the Work of the Civil Rights Movement Continues in 2014

Fannie_Lou_Hamer_1964Just as Black History Month was getting started, I had the opportunity to attend the screening of a new documentary that’s coming out in a few months. Freedom Summer is about the hot, violent summer of 1964, when over a thousand college students from around the country converged on Mississippi. Among other activities, they got African American adults registered to vote and helped launch a new, integrated political party, which went to the Democratic National Convention and challenged the all-white delegation there.

The Freedom Summer represented a major sea change in the Civil Rights Movement, and I’ve been thinking a lot about its lasting effects as Black History Month has gotten underway. This year’s theme, “Civil Rights in America,” is a nod to that long-term impact and to the fact that black history is really a shared history here in the United States. Here are four ways the Civil Rights Movement continues to affect us all today:

1. The Voting Rights ActThen: At the end of the Freedom Summer, a group of disenfranchised black Mississippians – supported and organized in part by the volunteer students – walked into the Democratic National Convention and challenged the status quo. The next year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in voting and is considered the most effective civil rights statute enacted by Congress. Of course, the Freedom Summer participants were a fraction of the thousands of people pushing for this, but their concentration on getting Mississippians registered to vote left its mark. Since the 1980s, Mississippi has elected more black officials than any other state.

Now: Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires nine states with histories of racial discrimination to get clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court to make any voting law changes. Within 24 hours, five of those states had already moved ahead “with voter ID laws, some of which had already been rejected as discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act,” reported Frontline. Given that voter ID laws profoundly impact poor, minority and elderly voters, the fight for full enfranchisement continues.

2. Community InvolvementThen: The Civil Rights Movement remains one of the most effective models for mobilizing communities toward a common cause. One of the features of the movement was how diverse the activists were for the times. The well-off worked alongside those living in poverty. Women worked to ensure that they were represented in all activities that were undertaken. And, of course, the activists working towards racial integration had to be integrated themselves. Full participation was both the ends and the means of the movement.

Now: Organizers and policymakers see the value of informing and engaging the broader public. By winning hearts and minds, they are raising the financial and social capital needed to win elections, change laws and significantly influence public opinion. Additionally, it has been really exciting to see new conversations taking place online around recognizing privilege and the impact it can have – both negative and positive – on activism. Last year, Gina Crosley-Corcoran wrote this really thoughtful piece on “explaining white privilege to a broke white person.”

3. Political RepresentationThen: In the early 1960s, nearly half of Mississippi’s population was black, but only about five percent of adults had been able to register to vote, making it impossible for the “official” delegation at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 to truly represent the residents of Mississippi. That’s why the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) went to the convention to challenge the all-white delegation.

Now: Today, 19 percent of members of Congress are women. Eight percent are African American, seven percent are Hispanic or Latino, and two percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders.[i] All of these numbers are well below representation across the US population. Additionally, the median net worth of Congress is $1,008,767,[ii] while the median net worth of the American family is estimated at $77,300.[iii]

At the federal level in particular, we are nowhere close to true representation. Fortunately, organizations like EMILY’S List are encouraging and supporting women and minorities who want to run for office. And campaign finance reform like Clean Elections laws are making it possible for candidates who aren’t wealthy – or connected to a network of wealthy donors/influencers – to run for office.

4. Giving a Voice to the VoicelessThen: The highlight of the Freedom Summer documentary was that it included Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony to Democratic Party officials when black Mississippians were trying to secure their representation at the DNC in 1964. Hamer was a sharecropper who was fired and forced out of her home after she registered to vote. Undeterred – even after being beaten to near death by police – she traveled the state organizing Mississippians and taking on a leadership role in the new Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Hamer’s emotional testimony and plea for blacks to be treated as “first-class citizens” visibly moved the committee that was to decide whether or not the MFDP would be included in the convention. A few incredible things happened during her testimony (you’ll have to watch the documentary to get details!), but suffice it to say that a black woman from rural Mississippi who’d spent her life in poverty had a profound effect on people across the country – including the President. She went on to run for Congress, secured childcare and family services for others living in poverty, and helped launch the National Women’s Political Caucus. The Civil Rights Movement helped women like Hamer, Rosa Parks and Viviane Malone Jones find and raise their voices.

Now: At first glance, these voices may seem like they are vulnerable, inexperienced or unexpected. But the women to whom they belong have incredible power, and are often well-equipped to help create and implement solutions to problems about which they have first-hand knowledge. Today, we are moved to action by the words of women like Malala YousafzaiNaquasia LaGrande, Zerlina Maxwell and Laverne Cox, among many others.

When organizations like Washington Area Women’s Foundation continue to ensure that all women have a seat at the table and a forum for their voices, we, too can help create the sea change that transforms our community and carry on a legacy that has had a tremendous impact on our shared history.

Photo: Fannie Lou Hamer testifies before the credentials committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.




What Advice Would You Give to Your 13-Year-Old Self?

Last month, Washington Area Women’s Foundation announced that we’ve made new grants to three organizations that are developing two-generation strategies that will serve middle school girls and their mothers.

We’ve been talking and thinking a lot about middle school recently, and that got us reminiscing about those exuberant and confusing years between elementary school and high school. We asked the Foundation board, staff, donors, Grantee Partners and friends to think back to middle school and share the advice they’d give their 13-year-old selves. We may not have the ability to send anyone back in time, but maybe our lessons learned can help others – in middle school and beyond.

Many of you shared your advice on Facebook, Twitter and on one of the glass walls in our office. Here are some of our favorite words of wisdom:

13 yo advice

Thank you to all who shared your memories and thoughts! Got something to add? Leave a message in the comments below!

“I Still Have a Dream:” 50 Years Later, March on Washington Remains Relevant

MarchonWashingtonAs we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I’ve been re-reading and thinking a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I’m simultaneously in awe of and distressed by the timelessness of the speech. It encompasses feelings and aspirations that far exceed the boundaries of race. But so many of the challenges outlined in the speech are applicable today. I don’t say that to minimize the impact that King or the March on Washington had – but I’m struck by the fact that if you replace the word “Negro” with words like “poor,” or “black,” or “Latino,” or “undocumented” in the text of the speech, it’s still so relevant.

While the words “I have a dream” are the best-known parts of the speech, for me one of the most powerful passages is about America’s obligation to guarantee every citizen life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. King said that the nation had “defaulted on this promissory note” when it came to citizens of color. “We refuse to believe,” he said, “that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

That has never been more true in America’s history than now. When we look at what people are doing in fields like technology, finance and entertainment, the opportunities seem endless. But for far too many people, those great vaults are sealed and secured – those opportunities remain out of reach. The generational cycles of poverty that so many people find themselves in are testament to just how closed our society can be to some people, and so is the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Being mired in poverty is this generation’s chains. Economic security and independence are our freedom. King’s speech reaches back through time to reference the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation – all documents created at turning points in history when people in this country came together to break open chains and embrace freedom. Their efforts propelled this nation forward – we don’t look back on our history and regret becoming an independent nation, or ending slavery or giving everyone the right to vote.

The original 1963 march was officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers of that historic event knew that jobs and freedom go hand in hand, but I think that in the 50 years since, we may have forgotten some of that. Without the right resources, networks and opportunities, people can’t get good jobs. And without good jobs that not only sustain families but provide them with a stability and savings for the future, too many people are missing out on freedom, strength, independence and equality.

That’s why Washington Area Women’s Foundation is participating in the 50th anniversary rally and march on Saturday. As we walk elbow-to-elbow with thousands of other people I will be thinking about King’s speech and his unwavering faith in humanity, belief in the American dream, and confidence that by working together, we can live in a country that lives up to its promise.

I invite you to join us. “We cannot walk alone.” Email for details.

New Documentary Takes on Women’s Work & Worth


Twenty Feet from Stardom, the documentary currently playing in DC-area theaters about backup singers, is on its surface a stereotypical Hollywood tale: ingénue steps into the recording studio seeking fame and fortune, but comes up short – in this case, an achingly close 20 feet short.

It is also, of course, about so much more. It’s about the people – overwhelmingly women of color – whose names you don’t know but who are responsible for the best parts of your favorite songs – the voices with whom you have sung along for years. It’s also about the chances artists – and particularly women artists – take when their career trajectories lie in the hands of the Ike Turners and Phil Spectors of the world (even if you haven’t seen the film, you can imagine how that might turn out). Finally, 20 Feet from Stardom is an exploration of the dreams we have for our lives and what happens when they come up short – at least in the eyes of others.

A number of people interviewed for the film, for example, assumed that Lisa Fischer (who has sung backup for the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross and Sting, among others) wants and should have an incredible solo career. At a time when we’re so focused on celebrity, on leaning in and on having it all, this seems to be a logical assumption. But if you ask Lisa, she’d likely say that she already has it all. And she’d probably have some interesting things to say about what “having it all” means. In the film, Lisa makes it clear that she has everything she wants – and when she went for some prize that everyone else thought she should have, she discovered that it made her miserable.

Darlene Love had her a-ha moment decades after singing back-up for artists that included Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Elvis. After a career that was tightly controlled and limited by Phil Spector, Darlene left the industry and took on work cleaning houses for $100 a week. One day, while cleaning someone else’s bathroom, one of her old songs came on the radio and she stopped and asked herself what she was meant to do. Her answer: “God gave me this talent and I intend to use it.” She asked a couple of friends for a loan and returned to music – only this time she had her own strategy and controlled her own image. After taking any gig she could find, she worked her way up to Broadway and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Most of us cannot imagine what it’s like to be a backup singer, but the experiences and emotions portrayed in 20 Feet from Stardom are universal. I think that many of us can share the feelings of being unrecognized, of not having enough control, or not living up to expectations – whether they’re our own or others’. And that’s when it’s time to listen to the advice given by Dr. Mable John (a former Raelette who sang backup for Ray Charles): “…we need to know our worth; we need to know, as women, we’re important. I think the breakdown is when a woman doesn’t know what she is and she settles for less.”

It’s a lesson that works just as well off stage as on. The fascinating, devastating stories featured in 20 Feet from Stardom are unique because of their glamorous setting, but the lessons associated with them are not uncommon. The women in the film seemed to be happiest and most satisfied when they had control over their own lives, when they were getting recognition for their accomplishments and when they were fairly compensated. These are, of course, “no duh” statements – a fact that makes it seem even more criminal that they were denied these things to begin with, and a reminder that it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we value ourselves and one another fairly.

Photo from