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?

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 3, 2014

Q: Who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic?

A: Amelia Earhart. She made her solo trip across the Atlantic in 1932.

Before becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart made history as the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic, joined by pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. “Slim” Gordon in 1928. The trip was all the more historic as three women had died within the year trying to be that first woman.  Read more about the remarkable Amelia Earhart on the family of Emelia Earhart’s official website.

When Data Tells a Local Woman’s Story

CFED asset scorecard coverWorking in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, it helps to be a bit of a data nerd.  Increasingly, tracking, crunching, and assessing data is not just a “nice to do” but a “must do.”  At The Women’s Foundation, we work hard to make sure we’re investing in strategies that are data-driven and evidence-based.

For those who are not data nerds, it helps when data tells a real story of a woman’s life.  That’s why I do a happy dance when CFED launches its annual “Assets & Opportunity” scorecard.  The scorecard is user-friendly and includes data beyond financial assets, such as education, health and jobs.

So, what does the 2014 scorecard tell us about the lives of women and families in the Washington region[i]?  Here are a few things that struck a chord for me:

  • DC and Maryland have stronger asset building policies, and stronger outcomes for families.  Virginia has weaker policies, and weaker outcomes for families.  For example, DC and Maryland have eliminated “asset tests” for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) that discourage recipients from building the savings that could otherwise help them move toward self-sufficiency.
  • Maryland has the highest adoption of asset building policies in the US – but it’s still only 60% of what could be adopted.
  • DC has the worst ratio of homeownership rates in the US, comparing the rate between two-parent (67.7%) and one-parent households (29.2%).  This, to me, says a lot about the financial status of one-parent households in the District, and the importance of investing in asset building for the low-income women we aim to serve.

When the scorecard comes out, I also always look at the “liquid asset poverty rate.”  It’s a jargon-y term for the savings on hand (cash and other accounts that can be liquidated quickly) to help individuals and families in the event of a crisis, like a job loss or medical emergency.  What I’m always shocked to think about is that these assets are what allow someone to “subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.”  We’re talking about the ability to simply subsist at poverty levels, which is awfully close to slipping below, and is certainly not enough to get by in our region.

  • In Virginia, 51.8% of single female-headed households live in liquid asset poverty.
    If it’s a two-parent household, this rate drops to 27.5%.
  • In Maryland, 48.4% of single female-headed households live in liquid asset poverty.
    If it’s a two-parent household, this rate drops to 21.4%.

These numbers are consistent – or in some cases even lower – than national rates, but they are nevertheless striking.  If half of female-headed households are living in liquid asset poverty – meaning they don’t have the savings to cover three months of basic expenses, let alone the savings to plan for the future – then we have a lot of work to do.

I encourage you to dig deep into the data.  Find out how it speaks to you.

Lauren Stillwell is a program officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.


[i] Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s geographic focus includes the District of Columbia; Montgomery County and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; Arlington and Fairfax Counties, and the city of Alexandria, in Virginia.  Based on available scorecard information, this post broadly discusses state-level information for Maryland and Virginia. There was insufficient data available in many cases for the District.

Message from the President: 2014 Priorities

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we have hit the ground running and are looking forward to an exciting 2014. As we start a brand new year, I want to share a few of my top priorities:

1. Catalyzing Investment:  We will continue to deepen both our impact and reach.  In addition to growing our important Stepping Stones investments supporting low-income women in our region, we are working to catalyze new strategic partnerships in our community that will result in targeted programming and support for middle school girls and their mothers, simultaneously.

2. Developing a Policy Agenda:  In partnership with the California Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, we are undertaking research to identify the key components of both a local and national women’s economic security agenda that women’s foundations can play a role in elevating.

3. Engaging our Stakeholders:  We will continue to find ways to engage you in our work, including providing you with opportunities to lend your voice to our efforts and to deepen your connection with the Foundation and the region.

4. Expanding our Resources: We have seen amazing results from our work but must continue to mobilize our community to build the human, social, political and financial capital needed to create the kind of transformation we all believe needs to happen.

We have an opportunity to build the momentum and national messaging generated by The Shriver Report, which emphasizes why we must make investing in low-income women and girls a priority. You — your presence, voice and support — are critical to our efforts to transform the lives of women and girls, and the Washington region. I hope that you’ll stand with us in 2014.

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.


[i] http://www.senate.gov/CRSReports/crs-publish.cfm?pid=%260BL%2BR%5CC%3F%0A

[ii] http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/10/5294500/US-congress-majority-are-now-millionaires-for-first-time

[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/business/economy/family-net-worth-drops-to-level-of-early-90s-fed-says.html?_r=0

Olympic Inspiration: Women I’ll Be Watching at Sochi

JLS brother and dad in snowTo say I’m a huge sports fan is a serious understatement. For as long as I can remember sports have been a big part of my life. My dad put me on skis right before my first birthday. I competed in gymnastics for 10 years; took up ballet (pointe no less) in high school just for fun when the physical toll of gymnastics caught up with me; played volleyball; raced in both downhill and cross country skiing; and competed in the hurdles and triple jump for high school track. If truth be told though, I really wanted to play soccer, hockey, or football. I played on my younger brother’s soccer team until I aged out and co-ed teams were no longer allowed. My brief bout with football ended after I broke my finger intercepting the ball from one of the boys on the playground in 6th grade. I believe my mom said that was enough of that. And despite my dad coaching hockey, somehow I never did make it out onto the ice….

But my real dream? My real dream was to be an Olympic athlete! Yes, I know the Buzzfeed quiz said that I am best suited to have a career as a humanitarian, and I suppose at the age of 41 it’s a little late to take up the Olympic challenge now, but to be an Olympic athlete would be the ultimate.

JLS long jumpSo it is with great anticipation that I eagerly await the Opening Ceremonies of the XXII Olympic Winter Games tonight in Sochi, Russia. For the next two weeks, I will revert to the sleep deprived days associated only with having a newborn. I will be glued to the television (and on occasion my computer screen) watching women and men defy all odds in pursuit of their Olympic dream.

While I love the competition – watching the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as the old ABC Sports promo stated – what I love most is hearing the stories of the athletes. The level of commitment and dedication, the willingness to sacrifice everything for this one moment is unlike anything most of us will ever aspire to or experience in our lifetimes.

There are so many stories of heartbreak and triumph amongst the 230 U.S. athletes who will compete over the next two weeks. Nearly half of the athletes are women. Of course, there are those athletes who are well-known, have significant endorsements, and huge name recognition – Lindsey Vonn, even though she is not competing, and Lolo Jones come to mind – and then there are the lesser known athletes; those who may grab the spotlight for five minutes as they put everything on the line, whether they are medal contenders or not. Some will say it’s just enough to make the team and compete. Others will be devastated when they miss the podium by just .03 seconds. And others will stand on the podium and watch tearfully as the American flag is raised and the Star Spangled Banner is played.

There are too many stories to share on this blog, but the stories of two women in particular really resonated with me personally:

Noelle Pikus-Pace is a 31-year-old mother of two who had retired from skeleton racing in 2010. Just two years later she decided that “she had a little bit more to give,” and announced her intention to come out of retirement to qualify for the 2014 Olympics. Rather than fully sacrificing time with her family, she raised the $70,000 necessary for her husband and two children to travel with her on the World Cup circuit. As a working mom, I can only imagine the juggling act that Noelle, her husband, and their two kids have managed in dogged pursuit of her dream. It is a testament to love, support, and sheer determination.

In 2009, Lindsey Van became the first world champion in women’s ski jumping. Until the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she held the hill record for the longest jump by a man or women at the Vancouver venue, and for 10 years Lindsey fought to JLS and brother ski jumpget women’s ski jumping recognized by the International Olympic Committee. This year, women will compete in ski jumping for the first time in the history of the Winter Games. As a little girl, I remember attending a ski jump championship at Gunstock Mountain Resort, the New Hampshire mountain that I learned to ski on. I remember the ski jump being enormous and super scary, especially after hiking up the hill to the top, but I also remember being intrigued by what it would be like to fly.

Each of these women may have taken a different path to get to the Olympics, but each of them started out as a little girl with a dream, and when the Olympics open today I’m hoping that they both soar to new heights.

You can follow the stories of these women and many more on either the NBC Olympics or Team USA sites. And while these Olympic Games are not without controversy – the discriminating anti-gay laws, the unprecedented cost, the hotel rooms not finished, the corruption – I will be watching, and I will be cheering. I will be inspired. Who will you be watching in the days to come?

Photo 1: The author (center), her brother and their father. Photo 2: The author competes in the long jump. Photo 3: The author and her brother in New Hampshire.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Wage Gap and Nontraditional Jobs for Women

The Shriver Report, released earlier this year, has helped draw national attention to the conversation around #WhatWomenNeed. The report has focused particularly on the gender wage gap and the significant economic burden that women bear.  It found that closing the gender wage gap would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families, and that if women received pay equal to that of their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income. These are huge benefits, not just for women, but for all Americans – and they start with closing the gender wage gap.

At The Women’s Foundation, we’ve noted that occupational segregation and the wage gap remain persistently connected, with women often relegated to “female occupations” that typically pay less and offer fewer benefits than male-dominated occupations. As you can see in the infographic below, there is a significant wage disparity in the types of jobs that are most frequently occupied by women and the jobs with the least female representation:

Nontraditional jobs5

A recent case study on nontraditional jobs released by The Women’s Foundation found that women face a number of barriers to these occupations, and also offers solutions for overcoming those barriers. For more details on how support services, partnerships with community colleges, and a focus on basic skills can help break down those barriers, please check out the report here.

5 Ways to Make 2014 Less Tax-ing

tax formIn the deep freeze of winter, it’s hard to think of a coming spring, but April will be here soon with bright sunshine, blooming flowers and… Tax Day! But don’t panic. Filing taxes can be fun — especially if you can get a nice refund from it. Here are five tips to keep in mind for this upcoming tax season.

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute: To take advantage of key tax credits and receive a refund, you must file a tax return. By filing early, you can avoid those last minute problems that cause you to be late or make mistakes. An accurate and timely tax return is not only essential for claiming a refund, but it is also critical for avoiding penalties and benefiting from financial opportunities, such as qualifying for financial aid, a mortgage, or a small business loan.

2. Be careful when selecting your filing status: Your filing status determines the types of tax deductions and credits you receive as well as whether you are on the hook for tax debt triggered by a spouse. If you are unmarried, legally separated, or lived apart from your spouse the last 6 months of the year and have children, you may be eligible to file as “head of household,” which reduces your taxable income. If you are married, “married filing jointly” may be the best choice to minimize your tax and maximize your refund. (If your spouse owes for back taxes, child support or student loans and your refund is intercepted, you may receive your share of the refund back by requesting “Injured Spouse Relief.”) However, injured spouse relief is not available on all state returns. If your spouse’s tax situation is more complex, consider “married filing separate” to preserve your refund and protect yourself from joint liability arising from a future audit of your return.

3. Determine your eligibility for tax credits based on your income, children, dependent relatives and expenses: You may be eligible for tax credits based on basic factors like how much you got paid and how many children or relatives depend on you. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit provides money to people who worked but did not make a lot of money; the Child and Dependent Care Credit helps to cover child care expenses; and Education Credits helps to cover education expenses. Bring your tax preparer the names and social security numbers of your spouse, children and dependent relatives, income documents (W2, 1099, etc.), documentation of child care, and education expenses for these credits.

4. Pay yourself: By contributing to an IRA or to your retirement plan at work, you may be eligible for a Saver’s Tax Credit. That’s right, saving may give you a tax break. And there is still time. Contributions made to an IRA designated for 2013 by April 15th qualify. (Most people can contribute up to $5,500.) To find out more, click here.

5. Purchase health insurance to avoid future penalties: If you are currently uninsured, you can avoid a penalty on your 2014 tax return by obtaining insurance before March 31, 2014. You may be surprised to find out that you qualify for Medicaid or a Premium Tax Credit, which helps make purchasing health insurance more affordable by offsetting the cost of paying an insurance premium. To find out more, please click here.

Following these tips can give your finances a boost. If your income is under $58,000, you can file for free at www.myfreetaxes.com/dceitc. Need help? If you are single with income less than $35,000, or have a family and income under $52,000, you may be able to get free help with your tax return through Community Tax Aid and the DC EITC Campaign. Here’s to a less tax-ing 2014!

This post was written by Teresa Hinze, Maria Dooner and Pamela Chan of Community Tax Aid, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.

Giving Back: Why I Volunteer

Lauren-HowardMartin Luther King’s birthday reminds me how grateful I am for the fullness of my life – wonderful family and friends, good health, and a rewarding professional career.  The holiday also reminds me that others, whether by birth or circumstance, have not been so fortunate and that I have both the time and resources to, in some small way, do something helpful for them.

The day of service sponsored by The Women’s Foundation gave me a chance to do just that.  That the Foundation chose A Wider Circle for this “giving back” opportunity reflects its expertise at selecting organizations that make a substantial contribution to the lives of vulnerable women and girls in our community.

Among so many worthy organizations, A Wider Circle was a great choice.  It provides furniture – free of charge – to families who frequently sleep on the floor because they don’t have beds, pick out their clothes from plastic garbage bags because they don’t have dressers, and sometimes eat in the bathroom because the toilet provides the only seating in their home.  Last year, A Wider Circle furnished more than 4,000 apartments to grateful families in our region.

A Wider Circle also provides professional clothing to adults needing this service – again, free of charge.  Coats, suits, dresses, pants, and shirts are arranged by size and category on circular racks.  Only clothing in excellent condition makes it on to those racks, and A Wider Circle even steams those items needing a light pressing before they’re made available to its clients.

The room that houses the “store” is bright and clean and looks very much like an upscale retail showroom.  That’s because A Wider Circle’s founder and executive director, Dr. Mark Bergel, insists that each of the more 100,000 adults and children who have come to his facility be treated with dignity.  His goal, as A Wider Circle’s website states, was to create an organization that “would develop programs to address the ‘whole person’ – programs that would not only tend to people’s tangible needs (e.g., furniture and home goods), but also to their ‘inner needs’ (e.g., stress management, financial planning, and healthy self-esteem).”

And that’s why I chose A Wider Circle for my own special day of service.  I knew the organization because I recently led a winter coat drive at Temple Sinai, which contributed more than 100 articles of warm clothing to the Circle.  On the MLK holiday, I spent my hours at A Wider Circle examining clothing to make sure it wasn’t stained or torn and placing them on the appropriate racks.  I enjoyed both the camaraderie with other Women’s Foundation volunteers and the knowledge that I was helping families in need in our community.  It was a truly rewarding experience.  Many thanks for the opportunity, WAWF!

Lauren Howard is a Women’s Foundation donor and a co-chair of the Rainmakers Giving Circle.

Forget the Commercials: Why Activists Are Using the Super Bowl to Get Your Attention

Anti-human-trafficking-super-bowlThis Sunday, more than 100 million pairs of eyes will be on New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos and Seahawks will meet for Super Bowl XLVIII. Just outside the stadium – but a world away from the lights and cameras – some of this country’s most vulnerable women and girls will be forced to work as part of the modern day slave trade. Worldwide, sporting events attract a flood of human traffickers and here in the US, the Super Bowl has been called “the single largest human trafficking incident” in the country.

With so much attention focused on one place, we have a rare opportunity to advocate for and support the women and girls whose circumstances are too often ignored or unrecognized. Traffickers force or coerce victims into labor, services, or commercial sex acts, and they target vulnerable populations, like women who live in poverty, runaway and homeless youth, and undocumented immigrants.

While trafficking can happen to anyone, women and children are far more likely to be the victims of trafficking: a report from Polaris Project, an organization that fights modern day slavery, found that 85% of sex trafficking cases and 60% of labor cases referenced women as the victims. The University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center states simply that, “at its core, trafficking is a result of women’s unequal economic status.”

In New Jersey, advocates are conducting trainings for transportation and hospitality workers and using street outreach efforts to help people recognize the signs of trafficking and help those who may be victims. Law enforcement officials have stepped up their efforts as well, and this week the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on preventing trafficking at major sporting events.

One of the women who testified at the hearing was Holly Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking. It was 1992 and Holly was 14 when a man she met at a mall convinced her to run away from home, promising her the life she dreamed of. “Within hours of running away,” she testified, “I was forced into prostitution on the streets and in the casino hotels and motels of Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

Within a couple of days, she was arrested and “treated like a criminal.” For years after that, she said she didn’t realize that other women and girls around the world shared her experience until she watched a documentary about it. Now, she wonders if campaigns, media attention and public concern around the 1992 Super Bowl may have heightened awareness and prevented her situation.

Whether you are headed to New Jersey for the big game this weekend or not, there are potential indicators of human trafficking that can help you recognize warning signs wherever you are. According to Polaris Project, potential victims may:

– Be fearful, anxious, tense, nervous or paranoid

– Exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement

– Show signs of physical abuse, restraint, confinement or torture

– Not be in control of her/his own money and/or identification

– Not be allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).

Polaris Project has a more comprehensive list here. If you see any of these red flags, you are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888 or send a text to BeFree (233733).

So while you excitedly cheer on your favorite teams this weekend, be mindful that human trafficking thrives on the chaos and celebration of the Super Bowl and similar events. By being educated and vigilant, we can be advocates for women and girls, and work together to make sure that no children have to go through what Holly Smith experienced.