Every Day is Election Day: Catching up with Rebecca Sive

Around this time 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. Since that event, Rebecca has been touring the country talking about her book and meeting with women at all levels of leadership. We were lucky enough to catch-up with Rebecca by phone recently for an update on what she has learned through these conversations with women across the country. 

What are some of the top things that you have learned in the last year traveling around the country talking to people about your book?

I think the thing that stood out to me the most is that — across race, ethnic, age and geographic lines — there are women everywhere who want to be politically active. That was very interesting to me, not to mention heartwarming. Going into the book tour, I thought perhaps women’s sentiments would differ from place to place, but they didn’t. Everywhere across our country, there are women who are very clear that being a public office holder is very important to them.  And there are also, for instance, women who have already been the PTA president or a member of the school board, who have now decided that the next step is the state legislature or some other higher office. That was wonderful to see and hear about. They were not a homogeneous group, either, but a heterogeneous group of women who care deeply about their communities and making them better.

Related to this was the eagerness I saw to learn how to run and win: “How do I go about running for office? What are the steps I can take to do that, to seek the leadership position I want?”

Something else that I think is important, and that I saw reaffirmed — throughout my book tour — was how important it is for women to acknowledge that while they are seeking an office or political leadership in order to, in most cases, make advances on a particular issue, it is also necessary for them to understand and acknowledge that they are seeking power; that it is okay to seek power, and that to seek power to do good is the best. I find women are still sometimes hesitant to talk about this aspect of public leadership. So many women start their public careers by saying, “Well I really want to work on this issue.” Regularly, I found myself reminding my audiences that, in order for them to be effective on issues they care about, they would have to seek influence and power, wholeheartedly. Actually, this truth needs to be underscored for all of us!

Another key lesson that came up during my book tour is this: women who seek leadership positions really need sponsors (as well as tools like Every Day Is Election Day). To me, sponsors are people who open doors and bring you into the room. They say, for instance, “I understand you want to be in the state legislature; so, I’m going to invite you to be my guest at this important event — or speech or meeting — so that you can meet some of the people that can help make that happen for you.” Mentors are great, but sponsors are indispensable.

What do you see as the benefits that women get from running for any kind of office?

I feel strongly that when women put themselves out there and run for office, they are saying to their community: “This issue matters, and this office matters.” They are saying that it shouldn’t be just anybody who is the PTA president, or the school board president, or in the legislature; that it really matters who sits in those decision making chairs on a daily basis.

Yes, of course, there are also personal qualities that women will gain. For instance, they will learn to speak with confidence; no doubt, their self esteem will grow; but running for office is really about civic engagement. It is part of engaging successfully on behalf other people. That’s the big gain, the most important one gain.

Here is one story to illustrate this truth.  Earlier this month, I went to a county fair in a rural, agricultural area of Michigan. At the fair, I talked to a woman who was running for state representative. She had a classic women’s leadership story to tell me: she had been an accountant, and then a teacher, who was very involved in her community, but she just got fed-up with some things. Since she had retired as a teacher, she said to herself: “Okay, I’m going to run for the state legislature and work to make things better.” So, there she was at the fair. It was 90 degrees out; the humidity was 100%, but she was there shaking hands and talking to as many people as she could, telling them that she wanted to go to Lansing and fight for them. She embodied the notion that: “I understand that, if I am in public office, I can make a positive difference for others.  It’s not so much about me, it is about the world around me.”

In fact, since I visited with The Women’s Foundation last year, I encountered this same story –over and over: women who were clear that their search for political leadership and power wasn’t about them; it was about the potential to make a difference.

When you look at issues of sex and race discrimination, when you look at the systemic barriers to advancement, breaking those barriers down requires a group effort. That’s why The Women’s Foundation exists; that’s why donors give to you; and I think that’s why women who are effective politically are effective: they understand they are mobilizing a group of people; that they are agents of change.

Why is this work important to you?

I have been organizing women, helping and leading women’s causes my whole adult life. This work of mine has never ceased being really important to me because I just see so much power within women to do good. This isn’t to say that we’re all perfect, or that we don’t all have our faults, because we all do. But, it is to say that there is so much opportunity for women to build institutions, like The Foundation, to run for office, to be activists, to make this world better. So, over the course of time, I have just tried to figure-out ways to mobilize women to do that. And, if, sometimes, they don’t realize they have the power to make change, well, then, that motivates me, too.

Think about Women’s Equality Day; think about how hard and how long the suffragists fought to reach that day. That organizing went on for almost 100 years.  So, if we get tired now, well we’ll just take a look at them and keep on going. In this context, I want to say to you that I think we are now at the most important time for women political activists since suffrage. That’s because, for the first time in American history, women are being considered — and running — from the presidency on down. We are in a moment we haven’t experienced before. This is a wonderful (and important) time for all of us to mobilize to advance women’s political leadership.  Thanks to the Women’s Foundation for the work you’re doing to make this happen.

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?

 

Takeaways from the White House Summit on Working Families

obama-working-families-summittYesterday, I had the privilege to attend the White House Summit on Working Families.  The White House hosted the Summit along with the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress, to highlight and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing workers and families in our 21st century workplaces.

The Women’s Foundation will have a series of blogs on the Summit, but for now, here are my immediate takeaways:

1. Expect to hear more about paid family leave, especially parental leave; fair pay; and early learning. These were several policy areas the President explicitly mentioned in his speech. He also mentioned many more and announced new and greater flexibility for federal workers.

2. Get engaged at the local level.  National change is slow and, as the First Lady encouraged when she spoke to the Summit, we have to be okay with incremental progress of 20%, stacked on another 20%, and so on.  It is this steady – albeit slow – progress that can help us push forward.  On the local level, mayors and governors can enact change much sooner in their cities and states.  Likewise, CEOs can enact change in their own companies, and show others how these policies support workers and improve the bottom line.

3. Women everywhere, at all levels, are making sacrifices and choices.  As some women ascend, it is our responsibility to mentor the next generation and set “the tone from the middle” or “the tone from the top” – depending on where we are in our careers – and take it upon ourselves to create workplace cultures and policies that are fair, supportive and productive.

4. These are not just women’s issues.  These are issues for all working people, of all family types, and they can’t be pigeon-holed.  Whether it is a working dad, who wants to care for his infant in the first days of parenthood, or a childless worker that needs to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment, issues like paid leave affect the ability of all working people to provide and care for their families while they earn a living and contribute to the economy.

Stay tuned for more in depth coverage of the Summit from The Women’s Foundation! In the meantime, you can find more information on http://workingfamiliessummit.org or check out the conversation on Twitter using #FamiliesSucceed.

Memorial Day: One Veteran’s Perspective

Editor’s note: In honor of Memorial Day and the brave women and men who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we bring you today’s blog piece from a Women’s Foundation donor and supporter, Former Sergeant Stacy Kupcheni.

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor military men and women who died in the service of their country, primarily in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Although female service members are included in the definition, they are often forgotten. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, approximately 280,000 women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and as of early 2013 more than 150 women have been killed in these wars, according to the military. This is more than the number of U.S. military women killed in action in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm combined.

Memorial Day photoRecognition of these fallen women on Memorial Day is somewhat of an afterthought, and is a bit ironic, considering women were almost entirely responsible for the recognition of Memorial Day. Just weeks after the Civil War ended, Ellen Call Long organized a women’s memorial society to reconcile embittered enemies. Usually named some variant of “women’s relief society,” groups sprang up in both the North and South that not only memorialized the dead, but also cared for the war’s disabled and its widows and orphans. The efforts of these women led the way in turning the horrors of war into something that encouraged serenity and reflection.  Unfortunately, many people don’t know the significance that women have played in the origins of this holiday, but even more upsetting, is that all too often, we forget to spend the time reflecting on the meaning of the day itself.

Before joining the Army, I was like many other Americans who just thought of Memorial Day as another day off of school/work, another day for sales events, and the start of summer BBQs. People saying “Happy Memorial Day” didn’t bother me then, and honestly, the day had no true meaning to me. On some level, I knew it was a day for remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but I did not fully comprehend the scope of it.

After nearly 10 years of service in the military, and another 10 years of civilian service in the Department of Defense, 4 deployments to Iraq, and 1 deployment to Afghanistan, Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning.

To me, it is not only to remember and honor those who died in the service of their country, but also to honor those who returned home, like me, feeling like a shell of the person they once were.

No one who goes to war ever fully comes home – at least not in the emotional and psychological sense.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real battle wound that affects everyone differently. Some make it back mostly the person they were before, but many return only physically, forever unrecognizable psychologically.  These invisible wounds of war can be even more devastating than the battle scars that can be seen, but even harder to find support around.  This is a sad state of reality, and while strides have been made to provide mental health services to returning veterans, more must be done.

For many people, the military is a place that means opportunity for higher education and career advancement that they would not otherwise have access to – for me, it made the difference between going to college or not.  Yet, in many cases, the potential for economic security as a result from these opportunities is quickly negated by the impact of the psychological trauma caused by PTSD.  At best, PTSD can make it difficult to perform well at work.  But for many, the implications are farther reaching, resulting in an inability to keep a job, substance abuse, and other destructive behavior as coping mechanism.  For some, the trauma is just impossible to bear.

According to a 2012 Veterans Affairs study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Among active duty troops, 2012 was the worst year for military suicides – making troop suicide more lethal than combat, although this data has only been tracked since 2008.   As women, we are often expected to return to the roles that we led as spouses/partners, mothers, and caregivers while bearing these additional burdens of war.

This isn’t the kind of thing that most people want to talk about.  It’s heavy and it is hard.  But those are exactly the reasons why it is so important to talk about.  As a veteran, my desire is that every veteran returning from combat has access to the supportive services they need to try to return to their life at home as whole as they can be.

As a woman, I hope that these services reflect the full reality of our lives as spouses, mothers, sisters, etc., and that they also recognize the often tenuous line that returning veterans walk between economic security and insecurity when battling PTSD, especially women who are already at an economic disadvantage to our male counterparts in our society.

I hope that those who lose their battle with PSTD or “Shell Shock” after returning home are also recognized and honored with appreciation and reverence on Memorial Day because these too, were wounds sustained in battle.

But for today, this Memorial Day, I hope you will honor those among you who risk it all to serve their country by taking part in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm (local time).  Take the time to pause for one minute in an act of national unity, amongst the cook-outs and sales, to honor America’s fallen service members, their families, and the women long ago who made it a priority to recognize them.

Labor Force Participation by Mothers in the Washington Region

For Mother’s Day, we’ve taken a look at the labor force participation of mothers in the Washington region. With over 72 percent of mothers with young children participating in our region’s workforce, families are increasingly relying on the wages of women in order to achieve economic security. It’s never been more important that workplace policies reflect the realities of women’s lives. Flexible schedules, family leave policies, paid sick days and higher wages are critical to ensuring every mother in the region’s workforce has the chance to succeed.

Mother's Workforce Participation (4) (1)

Find this data interesting? Leave us your comments and questions!

 

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.

NASA Administrator Bolden: Women of NASA Inspire Girls to Dream

Charles_F._Bolden,_JrMaj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., (USMC-Ret.) is the 12th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

It’s appropriate for NASA that the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration is “Women of Character.”  The women of our nation’s space program have made countless sacrifices to advance our nation, and their expertise and dedication have been crucial to our many successes in exploration.

I was fortunate to fly to space twice – STS-31 and STS-45 – with the distinguished Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, now the NOAA Administrator, and on my final Shuttle mission – STS-60, the historic first joint U.S.-Russian Shuttle mission – I had Mission Specialist Dr. Jan Davis on my crew.  From these flights, we formed strong bonds that we will share all our lives. The addition of women to our astronaut corps has only enhanced and strengthened what we can accomplish.

Our latest group of Astronaut Candidates is 50% women, the highest percentage ever, and we hope to maintain that level of representation well into the future.  It is no secret that the requirement that our earliest astronauts be military test pilots essentially precluded applications from women.  It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as part of a Space Shuttle Challenger mission, STS-7, to deploy communications satellites.

Since then, there have been 43 NASA women astronauts who have taken that leap and proven, as Amelia Earhart once said, that men and women were equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”

NASA is a major employer of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline.  The women of NASA to me represent character of the highest order.  From those who lost their lives in the cause of exploration, to those who are working on tomorrow’s missions and training to travel to new destinations where we’ve never been, our future in space depends on them.

There were a lot of female pioneers before the space age, and I like to think that the great aviator, Amelia Earhart, whom I quoted earlier, was alive today, there is a good chance she would be a NASA astronaut.  She was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean, in 1935, and disappeared in 1937 attempting to fly around the world.

I say that she would have been an astronaut, not only because of her passion for breaking barriers of possibility in flight, but also for her determination to break barriers of exclusion here on Earth.  At a time when women and minorities were rarely seen in the cockpit of an airplane, Amelia Earhart’s pioneering achievements broke the silence barrier, inspired a nation and paved the way for so many others who have followed in her path.

The spirit and curiosity of Amelia Earhart lives on through the women aeronautics researchers who continue to break new ground.  These are women, for instance, working to find solutions to lowering the level of sonic booms so that someday, commercial planes can fly at supersonic speeds over land.  They’re also working on technologies to improve air traffic flow and reduce delays and designing more aerodynamic aircraft to reduce fuel use and emissions.  These women of NASA are not only making valuable contributions to our aeronautics program, they are an inspiration to others and are helping close the gender gap in the STEM professions.

You can read about many more NASA women at women.nasa.gov.

I’m grateful that if you look through the biographies of all the astronauts who have ever been, you’ll find not only Sally Ride, but also Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space; Peggy Whitson, who has logged 377 days in space, the most of any woman, and became the first woman to become the Chief of the Astronaut Office; and Suni Williams, holding the record for spacewalks by a woman and most accumulated spacewalk time by a woman.  There you’ll also find Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnick, who lost their lives on space missions.  Among the newest entrants in those biographies, you’ll find our newest astronauts Serena Aunon, Jeanette Epps and Kate Rubins, who, along with the 4 women among the Astronaut Candidates of 2013, represent our future.  There are many others.

I hope that girls reading this – particularly my three beautiful and talented granddaughters, Mikaley, Kyra and Talia – will feel that they can join the conversation about space and science and technology just as much as the boys; that they can take the classes and dream about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics if that’s where their passion lies and that they know they too can fly in space.  If their dream is not fixed on flying, they can work on the design of future spacecraft; or turn the bolts on those spacecraft, or perhaps be the ones interpreting the scientific data that a spacecraft millions of miles away is sending back.

STEM, and space, are broad and inclusive.  We invite everyone with a passion to explore to follow our missions and know it is possible for them to be part of aeronautics and space exploration.

Celebrate Women’s History Month at the National Archives

Record of RightsMany of Washington, DC’s museums proudly display the highlights of American history from Judy Garland’s red slippers to the command module of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. But a new permanent exhibit at the National Archives not only gives us an in-depth look at our country’s complicated past with civil rights, but also asks us to consider how we can play a part in shaping our nation’s future.

When you first walk into the dimly lit Records of Rights exhibit at the National Archives, your eyes are drawn directly to the centerpiece of the room, the Magna Carta. When visiting for the first time, I was struck by how the weight of such an important document fills the room. From the screens next to the Magna Carta that allow you to explore its history, to a large interactive table where archive goers are encouraged to sift through historical documents and tag them with their reactions, it is clear that this exhibit aims to draw you in. But it is the images on the walls when you first enter that give the impression that perhaps this exhibit will be more than just a parade of historical documents; the entry is lined with what appear to be frames from a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, when the viewer changes their perspective the images change with them: they are holograms. Revealed images start to depict things such as African American soldiers, women’s suffragettes, and immigrant laborers.

These are the real focus of the new Records of Rights exhibit, the recently constructed Rubenstein Gallery that aims to “illustrate how Americans throughout our history have debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.” The exhibit highlights the struggles of three specific sectors of society: immigrant populations, African Americans and women. On my visit, I focused my energies on the section depicting women, called, “Remembering the Ladies,” a title pulled from a quote from First Lady Abigail Adams as she urged her husband, President John Adams, to “remember the ladies” as they drew up a new code of laws for the new United States of America. The exhibit showed the absurdities of laws and practices that were once commonplace and reminded me that the power of one person and one word (a penciled mark-up adding the word “sex” to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964) can alter the course of history.

Considering how moved I was by the exhibit, I was surprised that there could be any opposition to its depiction of civil rights throughout America’s history. Yet, when the gallery first opened, the New York Times ran a rather critical article that suggested that an exhibit discussing America’s tumultuous past with extending liberties justly should not be so prominently featured at the National Archives.  Expressing his criticism, the author, Edward Rothstein, stated, “This is a peculiar way for an institution that is a reflection of the government itself, to see the nature of its origins, the character of its achievements, and the promise of its ideas,” and asked,What is a visiting class of students to think, except that the United States has been uniquely hypocritical and surpassingly unjust?”

However, after seeing it for myself, I believe the Records of Rights exhibit is exactly the kind of frank and unsparing journey that our students need to understand and appreciate how their own rights and liberties have been shaped to this day. This look at our country’s history – and its fraught relationship with implementing the “rights of free men” that Mr. Rothstein extols – shows that the “promise of [this country’s] ideas” has historically only been guaranteed for some – often those writing the ideas – and reminds students that if we forget this truth, we run the risk of repeating it. Facing these tough issues in America’s history is exactly what we want a visiting class of students to do; a trip to the Archives is not meant to be a glamorous whitewashing of our nation’s story, but rather a teaching experience that sparks debate.  If we don’t show these struggles in our National Archives, what students will learn is revisionist history, that the “hard parts” of delivering these rights to our citizens can be brushed under the rug. Taking responsibility for our history is not a sign of weakness, but rather a way to ensure the strength of our nation in the future. Women are teachable

In this day and age we take it for granted that a woman can grow up to become a doctor or business owner, that she can build her own credit and buy her own home (a right the exhibit reminds wasn’t granted until the 1970’s), and that women don’t need to be taught how to use job related equipment by “referring to them like kitchen gadgets” as one booklet in the exhibit urged new managers of women to do (à la this gem). It took the concentrated efforts of thousands of people to see where inequality existed and try to overcome those stereotypes. The honesty of the Records of Rights exhibit is less about how America is imperfect, and more about how America has overcome many obstacles in its journey to form a more perfect union: when faced with a problem, individuals as part of a larger American society, helped push us forward.

Rothstein also lamented that in the exhibit, “we aren’t being asked to think: We are being drilled, unrelentingly, in injustice,” and later, “The exhibition notes that Americans have “debated issues” like these, but there is no debate — only compassion opposing intolerance.” Yet, I believe the Records of Rights exhibit does an exceptional job of showing us how Americans have debated these issues; only because of our privilege of hindsight can we look back and see that the rights we fought for were really just “compassion opposing intolerance.” For instance, a letter from Alice H. Wadsworth, the female President of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, to U.S. House of Representatives member Charles E. Fuller, states that giving women the right to vote would be “an endorsement of nagging as a national policy.” Other documents in the exhibit also depict how the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was opposed by key woman suffragists for fear it would wipe away gains made through gender specific labor legislation. Eleanor Roosevelt opposed the ERA. The Record of Rights’ nuanced and comprehensive portrayal of our history reminds us that there were multiple sides to these issues, and these debates were very real for our citizens, even among women. In many ways, it is exactly the job of The Archives, as our nation’s keeper of historical records, to show us the totality of this debate.

wartime cartoon childcareMoreover, this exhibit reveals that some of the struggles of bygone eras are struggles we still face today. For instance, I couldn’t help but note that political cartoons from the 1940s joked about the lack of childcare for women in the workforce during the wartime effort, a very real issue that we are still working to address today. In many cases, we still haven’t learned from our past.

When leaving the exhibit, I felt equal parts exhilarated and sobered. We as a nation have come together to recognize and right injustice time and time again, something that propels us forward and makes us stronger. But there are many things we still need to improve, and reminding ourselves of this is the only way we will know that we have the ability to change things. The exhibit highlighted individuals  – whether it be a woman writing the state railway commission asking for a chance to work for a living wage, or famous suffragists calling for the 19th Amendment to be passed; these remind us that no matter who or where we are, we can play a role in changing history.

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.

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.