A Response to The Washington Post Editorial Board

When The Washington Post Editorial Board recently released its endorsements for the upcoming Fairfax County Board of Supervisors primary election, it was criticized for supporting all male candidates. Reporters from other local news outlets interviewed some of the candidates about the questions they were asked by the Editorial Board, and it was discovered that one of the questions that the Post asked all candidates who are parents was how they will manage the long hours and stress of an elected position.

Here at Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we are all about transparency, but we also know that not all questions are helpful. Here are the top five reasons why asking a parent if having kids will affect their job performance as an elected official is completely inappropriate and totally unnecessary:

Number 5 Elected office is just one of many demanding jobs that parents perform on a daily basis.

Parents are public school teachers, nurses, police officers, members of the armed forces. If we don’t question if a parent of young children can be deployed, we don’t need to question if a parent can handle local elected office.

Number 4 Childcare is a policy issue. Full stop.

While it is difficult to find and afford high-quality childcare in the DC metro region, we should discuss the issues from a policy perspective, not as a requirement an individual needs to have in place before securing political office.

Number 3 – Answers to this question are not helpful to voters.

There is no way that a candidate, in response to this question, is going to say, “Now that you mention it, that is a problem for me. I shouldn’t run after all.” Of course every candidate is going to say that they can handle the job. They wouldn’t have decided to run otherwise. Therefore, this question doesn’t actually provide any useful information to voters or to the interviewer who asked the question.

Number 2 – Asking this question demonstrates a gender bias.

This is not a question that would have been asked if all of the candidates were male. Now, that is an admittedly presumptuous statement, but we all know it’s true. If all of the candidates were men, no one would question that the dads would be able to do the job. We know this because there are a billion books and articles on “how women can have it all” but not one about how men can. It’s just expected that men can be parents and professionals simultaneously, but people still question if women can.

Number 1 – It is wrong to judge parents differently.

There is a federal law against employers asking potential job candidates about a number of personal things, including if they have kids. This is in place because, presumably, as a country we don’t want to discriminate against parents. True, it is not illegal to ask a political candidate about her family, but the same ethical principle should apply. Parents and non-parents should be considered fairly for a position, based on their merits.

Instances like this help make the case for our work at The Women’s Foundation, where we center the voices and experiences of women and open doors to opportunities. As more diverse voices and experiences are included in leadership conversations, we’ll all start to ask smarter and more appropriate questions.

Women’s Political Participation and Representation in the Washington Region

This month, on August 26th, we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, designated as such by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.  As we approach the day to celebrate this milestone in women’s history, we see there is both much to celebrate, and much work to be done around women and civic and political engagement.

First, the good news: women are making it out the polls in record numbers. Today, women are actively voting, running for office and creatively using their individual and collective power to bring about social and community change. The Census Bureau reports that since 1996, the number of citizens who have reported voting has increased in every presidential election. As in the country as a whole, in our region women are the majority of voters, and both register and vote at a slightly higher number and proportion than men, particularly in the District of Columbia.

 Chart Voting by sex in Nov 2012

Source: The Women’s Foundation compilation of data from the Bureau of the Census, 2012

In the November 2012 election, slightly under three-quarters of DC women voted (71 percent) in comparison with 64 percent of men. This was more than ten percentage points higher than the national voting rates for women (59 percent) and  about ten percentage points higher for men (54 percent) in that election. Voting in Maryland and Virginia had lower rates than DC, closer to the national average; still, women’s civic participation was higher than men’s.

The same pattern holds for voter registration: Seventy-seven percent of DC women were registered to vote in 2012, in comparison with 72 percent of men, which was also higher than the national rates of 67 percent of women and 63 percent of men. In Virginia, 71 percent of women registered to vote compared to 66 percent in Maryland.

Now for the challenging news: While women may make up the majority of voters, there is a significant under-representation of women in political office. Today, women’s representation at the state and national levels falls short of the 51 percent needed to reflect their proportion in the population. For example, women only make up 18.5 percent of the US Congress: they hold just 99 of 535 full-voting Congressional seats, which is up from 90 in 2010.

The District of Columbia has one non-voting Congressional seat, which has been held by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton for twelve terms. In Maryland, women hold two of the 10 Congressional seats: Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Donna Edwards. Thirty percent of the state legislature is made up of women and Maryland ranks 9th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature.

Virginia holds 13 Congressional seats, none of which are currently filled by women.

The proportion of women in Virginia’s  state legislature decreased from 19 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014. Virginia ranks 40th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature. The governors of both Maryland and Virginia are men, and neither state has ever elected a woman governor.

Equal political representation for women at the national, state and local levels is critical as it increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and their families. Last year, we hosted a brown bag lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, to discuss this important topic. We encourage you to read highlights from the conversation and tweet your thoughts using #UseThe19th.

In the 43 years since Women’s Equality Day was designated, we have made impressive strides in the number of women who turn up at the polls to make their voices heard; however, women still are not sufficiently represented in political office – a place where, more than just having a voice, they have a platform and the power to make critical change for women, their families and the communities in which they live.  We may be celebrating Women’s Equality Day this month, but equality in political office still remains far too aspirational. What can you do to raise your voice and be heard?


Advocacy for Early Learning in Northern VA: A Report from the Field

Emily Griffey is a Senior Policy Analyst for Voices for Virginia’s Children, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.

Much like your typical preschool classroom, activity, opportunity and challenge were in the air in Fairfax the week of April 7-11th.  That week happened to be the Week of the Young Child and public hearings on the Fairfax County budget, creating a perfect opportunity to rally early education supporters to demonstrate their impact on school readiness and ask for increased local support. Adding to the opportunities and challenges this year, Fairfax is faced with numerous requests for funding from different stakeholders groups and budget uncertainty. With proposed local budget increases for early learning opportunities on the table – a $714,000 package for additional mentors and professional development for child care providers and an expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) – advocates were needed to go on the record, along with these many other groups asking for increases, so that early learning would be included in the final budget.

Voices for Virginia’s Children is fortunate to have the opportunity to weigh in on early learning opportunities for Northern VA children through a grant from the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative. While it may seem that Northern VA is one of the more affluent parts of Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax are home to 6,000 children under age 5 living in poverty (2012 ACS 1 year estimate). And Virginia’s early learning resources lag behind those provided across the metro area.

Calling the campaign #SchoolReadiness4Nova, Voices activated a network of local community leaders, early childhood program providers, and advocates to participate in a letter writing campaign, rally and public testimony to support the funding increase for early learning. (A report by Mission: Readiness, another  Grantee Partner of the Collaborative, notes that Fairfax falls short of the potential of VPI.)

Voices VA Children 2

Wednesday, April 9th became a Day of Action for Early Learning in Fairfax and kicked off with a rally at one of Fairfax’s 4-star rated early learning centers and a community-based VPI provider, Main Street Child Development Center. Details and video from the rally are available on Voices’ website and Facebook page.

Speakers urged the Board of Supervisors to include the proposed $714,000 investment for school readiness in the final county budget, and to look to the coming years with a plan for significantly expanding VPI participation.

WTOP news radio covered the rally and interviewed Carol Lieske, Director of Main Street Child Development Center and Mary Beth Testa, Voices’ local policy consultant. A clip of the interview ran throughout the afternoon commute that day, and an article was published on the WTOP website.

Advocates proceeded to the public hearing on the budget that afternoon, delivering art from children from Reston and Falls Church to the members of the Board of Supervisors.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is now in the final days of decision-making on the county budget. We think that the flurry of activity during the Week of the Young Child will help to make the case that strengthening school readiness opportunities are essential services in the Fairfax local budget.

You can take action now to show local leaders in Fairfax that early education matters; for more information on #SchoolReadinessforNoVa and how you can participate, visit Voices for Virginia’s Children.


New Year's Resolutions for Women and Girls

This month, we invited our Grantee Partners to share some of their New Year’s resolutions with us.  Their passion and commitment to transforming the lives of women and girls and improving our community are evident in the aspirational goals they’ve set for themselves this year.

Read on to find out what some of our grantees will be doing for our region in 2012 and tell us in the comments below what you envision for women and girls this year.  Washington Area Women’s Foundation will be sharing our own list of resolutions later this month in a special e-mail message from Foundation President Nicky Goren.  Make sure you learn what we’re planning for 2012 by signing up to get monthly e-mails today!

IWPR’s 2012 Resolutions

  • During this election year, get people talking about the issues that affect women, such as jobs and the economy, the gender wage gap and workplace discrimination, STEM education, Social Security and retirement, work/family balance, and maternal and child health.
  • Celebrate our 25th anniversary by marking the progress that women have made while highlighting areas where policy changes could make a huge difference in advancing women, families, and communities.
  • Illustrate the current status of women displaced by Hurricane Katrina through an upcoming report that also identifies their specific needs.
  • Improve success rates for student parents by sharing best practices and forging strong partnerships with administrators, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers within the worlds of higher education, youth development, and early care and education.
  • Give young women opportunities to gain career experience while expanding their knowledge of research and policy issues through our internship and fellowship programs.

Goodwill of Greater Washington’s 2012 Resolutions

  • In 2012, Goodwill of Greater Washington resolves to train, equip and place nearly 200 people into local jobs that support the local economy. We anticipate that these 200 jobs will come through the continued expansion of Goodwill’s retail stores, as well as the placement efforts from our intensive job training programs;
  • Goodwill of Greater Washington also resolves to continue providing 600+ jobs to local residents through our retail stores, janitorial contracts, and administrative and support divisions, many of which are filled by people who face significant disabilities or other barriers to employment.

NOVACO’s 2012 Resolutions

At a client Life Skills meeting at NOVACO in January, several clients set goals and made resolutions.  They included:

  • believing in themselves so that they could achieve their goals;
  • being better parents; and
  • setting small goals and telling themselves that they could accomplish those goals.

One mother, Kay, reflected on how much she’s achieved so far.  She earned her high school diploma through night classes, learned to drive and got her driver’s license, and worked with lawyers to get a work permit.  She also improved her parenting skills while she worked full-time at a restaurant and was offered a management position after just one year.  She volunteered her free time as a pen pal and greeter for the USO.

DCVLP’s 2012 Resolution

The DC Volunteer Lawyers Project resolution is that every victim of domestic violence in DC seeking a civil protection order who wants representation by an attorney will have one this year.

SMYAL’s Women’s Leadership Institute’s 2012 Resolutions

  • Provide a much-needed free space for young women to gather and form community.
  • Using that space, build our community of women and strengthen our bonds through discussion and shared service.
  • Promote further discussion about maintaining healthy relationships, recognizing unhealthy relationships, and combating domestic violence.
  • Develop connections to extend our diverse community deeper into the DC metro area and beyond.
  • Seek out community partners and collaborate on at least four service projects.
  • Connect more young women to mentorship opportunities with local volunteers.
  • Long-term resolution: Create a community of confident, empowered women through opportunities for leadership development and civic engagement.

FAIR Girls’ 2012 Resolutions

We, FAIR Girls, resolve to work as hard as we can to make sure that by the end of 2012…

  • 200 teen girl survivors of exploitation have received compassionate care, including counseling, emergency housing, assistance in finding legal and medical support, resume building and job placement, educational attainment support, and a sense of family and community at FAIR Girls.
  • 1000 teen girls and boys in high schools and youth shelters have participated in our Tell Your Friends workshop and have learned how to keep themselves safe from sexual exploitation and trafficking.
  • 1000 law enforcement officers, teachers, and social workers are better able to identify and assist victims of trafficking having attending a FAIR Girls training.
  • A law, inspired by Daisy, will have passed in Washington, D.C. ensuring that all missing teenage girls are considered “critical missing” and have access to FAIR Girls and our partners’ services when they are found.
  • 2000 hours of art therapy and economic empowerment workshops will have helped inspire and restore more than 125 girls.

Thank you to the Grantee Partners who shared their resolutions with us!  You can share your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to register for our e-newsletter to learn more about The Women’s Foundation’s plans for 2012.

Makin' the Law: Women, Girls and the New Laws That Go Into Effect on July 1 in Maryland and Virginia

On July 1, hundreds of new laws go into effect in Maryland and Virginia.  While most of the attention during the last legislative session was on laws concerning carrying weapons and speed limits, there are a number that will directly impact the women and girls in both states.  Read on for some of the highlights…

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*A new foreclosure law will keep more families in their homes by requiring lenders to try to negotiate new payment plans.  Governor Martin O’Malley (D) told the Washington Post that the law will put families on “more equal footing with mortgage companies that too often can’t be bothered to pick up a phone before beginning a foreclosure proceeding.”


*The “Kids First Express Lane Eligibility Act” will allow the Maryland Comptroller to use tax returns to identify families with children who may be eligible for Medicaid or the Maryland Children’s Health Program.  The comptroller will share that information with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which will then send application materials to the families.  The new legislation builds on the “Kids First Act of 2008.”


*The state has established a Tuition Stabilization Trust Account in the Higher Education Investment Fund that will help stabilize tuition for resident students at public universities and colleges.  The legislation also limits tuition increases to a “percent not to exceed the increase in the 3-year rolling average of the state’s median family income.”  The bill was written, in part, because “Maryland has fallen from the 6th highest public tuition state in the nation to a current ranking of 17th.

*The state cut funding to programs for disruptive children in Maryland public schools.



*Domestic violence victims will be able to extend protective orders obtained in cases of family abuse or stalking.  Protective orders can be extended for two years and there is no limit on the number of extensions that can be requested.

Public Supports

*New legislation allows Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants to continue to receive financial support payments to which they are entitled, either on their own behalf or on behalf of a family member, prior to beginning to receive TANF.


*Residents convicted of nonpayment of child support will need certification from the Department of Social Services to renew a driver’s license or end the suspension of a license that was suspended because of nonpayment.  The law also establishes the option of home or electronic incarceration of a person convicted of nonpayment of support.

*Courts will now be able to appoint vocational experts to conduct evaluations in child and spousal support cases where the earning capacity, unemployment or underemployment of an individual is being disputed.


*Virginia residents will not be required to obtain or maintain individual health coverage with certain exceptions.


*A special license plate law authorizes the issuance of a number of plates, including one that reads “Trust Women / Respect Choice.”  Last year, “Choose Life” plates became available to drivers in Virginia.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

U.S. Capitol

In today’s rundown: Help may be on the way for the unemployed whose benefits are running out.  |  Georgetown law students will help low-income D.C. residents.  |  The Washington Post calls a proposal that would restore voting rights to Virginia’s ex-cons a disgrace.

— Despite objections from conservative Republicans, the U.S. Senate has agreed to consider a temporary extension of unemployment benefits. The measure would mean that unemployed Americans who are exhausting their benefits would still receive checks and federal subsidies for health insurance. Click here for more details.

— Georgetown University law students will begin helping low-income residents with legal cases as part of a new program.  The Community Justice Project will take on cases ranging from helping homeless people find housing to obtaining medication for HIV patients.  To listen to a report on this story, click here.

— A northern Virginia woman has been charged with practicing dentistry without a license.  She and a business associate were arrested after a patient developed an infection after a root canal that was performed in a hidden office in a Fairfax County basement.  The patient was told she could get dental work performed there “for a much cheaper price than a regular dentist.”  Click here for more.

— An editorial in today’s Washington Post calls into question the fairness and “decency” of a plan by Virginia’s governor that would allow ex-cons to vote.  Governor Bob McDonnell has proposed that in addition to the current application process former felons must go through in order to vote, they also be required to write a letter explaining what they’ve contributed to society and outline why they should get their voting rights back.  To find out why the Post is calling this proposal a disgrace and tantamount to Jim Crow, click here.

You can get more information and news from The Women’s Foundation here:
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How about Cars for People Who Need Them But Can't Afford Them Day?

Today is Car Free Day, an international event celebrated every September 22nd that encourages people to leave their car at home.  Our region signed on last year and is participating again this year.

Car Free Day is intended to highlight transit, bicycling, walking and all alternative modes of transportation and take cars off the road so people can think about what their region, city or neighborhood might be like with fewer cars.

I want to propose a different type of car day: Cars for People Who Need Them but Can’t Afford to Buy, Insure or Maintain Them Day.

I know, I know – it’s not as catchy.

It’s not that I’m opposed to Car Free Day. 

I celebrate it nearly every day because I don’t own a car.  I am a big fan of public transportation (I commute by bus) and walking.  But I live and work in parts of town with rich public transportation options.

The frustrating truth is that many low-income residents in our region – especially low-income, women-headed families East of the River and in Prince George’s County – actually need more access to private transportation to be able to work and take care of their families.

According to Census data, nearly half (48%) of all non-elderly poor in the District lived in households without a car.  They participate in Car Free Day every day but not all willingly.

Car ownership programs for low-income families and individuals have demonstrated their effectiveness by producing significant income and asset gains for participants. Programs in our region, like Vehicles for Change, and national programs like Ways to Work and its local partners Northern Virginia Family Service (a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation) and Family Matters of Greater Washington need and deserve support.

I hope we can all agree that our region’s transportation challenges call for multifaceted solutions beyond just “more people should take public transportation.”

Gwen Rubinstein is a Program Officer at The Women’s Foundation.

We're celebrating $1.1 million in grantmaking this year!

As school lets out for the summer, there are many proud moments to celebrate, whether it’s a graduation milestone, a decent report card or the beginning of something new.

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we’re celebrating meeting an ambitious goal: maintaining our grantmaking as we close out the fiscal year!  With our most recent approval of grants, we hit our goal of granting $1.1 million to nonprofits working to improve the lives of women and girls in our region.

Our Stepping Stones grants support critical work in the areas of financial education, job training and early care and education, all of which provide the essential tools and support needed to assist low-income women and their families during these tough economic times.

Organizations like Community Tax Aid, Doorways for Women and Families, and Manna, Inc. will continue their work with low-income, women-headed families by providing them with the financial education and tax prep assistance needed to start them on a path of economic success.

SOME and Year Up are providing the job training that is essential to putting women on a career pathway.

Food stamps are an important work support and play a critical role in moving a women and her family out of poverty.  DC Hunger Solutions will continue its advocacy work to ensure that eligible women and their children are receiving food stamps.

Another key work support is access to quality child care. Montgomery College Foundation, Prince George’s Child Resource Center and WETA will work to improve the quality of early care and education.

Now more than ever, nonprofit organizations face a myriad of challenges and navigating complex systems can be overwhelming. The Human Services Coalition of Prince George’s County will work to improve public policies so they enhance, rather than hinder, the effectiveness of the work nonprofits do on behalf of low-income, women-headed families in Prince George’s County.

Through our Open Door Capacity Fund, we’re funding capacity building work that aims to shore up the long-term sustainability of organizations. This work is essential to ensuring that these organizations have the necessary resources to address key organizational and operational improvements, while maintaining the much-needed services they provide to our region’s at-risk women and girls.

Please take a moment to review our most recent grants and take pride knowing that together we’re making a difference in the lives of women and girls in our community.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is the Vice President, Programs at The Women’s Foundation.

Congratulations to the Catalogue for Philanthropy Greater Washington's 2009-2010 Class!

Every year, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington chooses our region’s best, brightest and most promising nonprofits to feature. 

The list is a prestigious one given that organizations are vetted by a diverse, knowledgeable group of stakeholders throughout the community who know our region, its issues and the organizations and work that is making a difference–much like the volunteer committees and giving circles that participate in The Women’s Foundation’s grantmaking processes.

Not only is The Women’s Foundation proud to have a number of staff members who volunteer on the review committee, but each year, we are always thrilled to see our own Grantee Partners make the list!

Last year, there was a lot of overlap, and this year is no different.  Today, when the Catalogue of Philanthropy: Greater Washington Class of 2009-2010 was announced, we were proud to note the following Grantee Partners listed:

Centro Familia, which engages immigrant families in early care and education
Urban Alliance Foundation, which facilitates year-long professional internship opportunities for at-risk youth
ASHA for Women, which empowers South Asian women to live free of abuse
Through the Kitchen Door International, which provides life and employment skills training that changes trainees’ lives
Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), which provides legal, economic, counseling and educational services for domestic violence victims
Pregnancy Aid Center, which provides prenatal and health care for women and newborns in need
Doorways for Women and Families, which provides shelter and services for homeless families and domestic violence survivors
Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition, a transitional and supportive housing program serving homeless and low-income people
Tahirih Justice Center, which protects immigrant women and girls who are fleeing gender-based violence
Computer C.O.R.E., which provides job-readiness training in computer and life skills for low-income adults
Jubilee Jobs, which provides compassionate, skilled job placement and ongoing support
STRIVE DC, an employment program transforming the lives of disadvantaged people in Washington, D.C.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to partner with these organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of our region’s women and girls, and congratulates them and all of the 2009-2010 Catalogue Class, which represents the effective, innovative work The Women’s Foundation is proud to support throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

Wash Post: Rainmakers Grantee Partner does room makeovers for girls in Alexandria!

Things like this make me just love my job.

A few weeks ago, staff from The Hatcher Group, who help out with The Women’s Foundation’s public relations, came in to do hourly one-on-one sessions with select Grantee Partners that we thought would benefit from some training and technical assistance in media relations. 

This is all part of The Women’s Foundation’s approach to "beyond the check" grantmaking, wherein we not only provide grants to help our partners conduct their work, but also support them in doing that work more effectively and efficiently.

We started this particular capacity building effort last year at The Hatcher Group’s suggestion and it was a great success, with a number of the meetings leading to significant media coverage, such as that for Fair Fund around their work combatting human trafficking.

This year, they’ve worked their magic again, and yesterday, new Rainmakers Grantee Partner, The Art League–and their "Space of Her Own" program–were featured in a Washington Post story.

According to the story, Space of her Own was created in 2003 when the Alexandria Court Service Unit and the Art League started it "with the goal of helping low-income girls who were identified by their school as at-risk, including many who had a relative incarcerated. The hope was that adding to the girls’ support systems would help keep them out of the juvenile justice system. This year, 12 fifth-graders on the east end of Alexandria participated in the program, and the group aims to expand to the west side of the city next year."

The program culminates every year in an "Extreme Home Makeover-esque" event in which the girls’ mentors help makeover their bedrooms. 

But the changes from the program go well beyond the aesthetic.  As the article continues, "Ta’Janae, 12, who was working on her room next door with mentor Samantha Sirzyk, described attending a tea party and going ice skating for the first time. She spoke in a whisper but is much less shy after going through the program, said her sister Diamond, 13. "She broke out of her shell," she said."

Leading me to remember Phyllis’ post when the Rainmakers first decided to invest in The Art League, that it’s important to invest in the arts, even when resources are tight

As Phyllis said, "The programs our giving circles have chosen to support use the arts as a means to help our community’s young women to build self-esteem, academic skills, and an expanded sense of their place in their community and the world.  Opportunities like these are all-too-often lost in communities and families where resources are limited and must be directed to more basic needs like food, shelter and clothing.  So, at a time when attention is focused on where to cut back so many programs and opportunities, I’m proud to see our giving circle members taking the lead in recognizing the need for youth in our area to imagine and create a future based on all of their unique talents and potential."


Now, go check out that story to learn more about Space of Her Own and to see the makeover pics!

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.