California Women’s Policy Summit 2014

California Women’s Policy Summit 2014

Advancing Women’s Health, Wealth & Power

By: Lenka Bělková, Development and Policy, Women’s Intercultural Network

Although women today fully participate in the economy, they still fare lower in wages than their male counterparts. Notoriously, female led occupations pay less than male occupations with the same level of education. Single mothers are overwhelmingly more vulnerable to poverty, which in turn has an effect on the child’s development and life chances. On the other hand, holistic family health, emotional, mental and physical, and family economic stability endow children with lasting, positive impacts. These points served as the springboard for cross-sector discussions on the status of women and their families in California.

The annual summit on women and families took place at the Sacramento Convention Center, January 16.  Conference hosted by California Center for Research on Women and Families presented array of panels addressing burning issues for women and their families. Field experts spoke on the subjects of health care reform, poverty and women economic empowerment, paid family leave, health disparities between race, ethnicity and gender, as well as sexual assault, teen health and opportunities, or early childhood education and childcare.

Here are some takeaways from the Women, Poverty and Economic Empowerment panel with recommended actions.

At the Women, Poverty and Economic Empowerment panel senator Holly J. Mitchell welcomed everyone with statistics: the amount of poor people has risen in California since 1995 and, further, California leads the nation in the highest poverty rates. Today 23.2% of children live in poverty in California and 45% of children living with single mothers in California are poor. Moreover, poverty and access to quality education affect child’s life opportunities and chances to succeed. As Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the programs that are being cut need to remain to help families, and with the little we can do, at least preserve human dignity: “We are not even talking here about lifting [people] out of poverty, but about building a little respect.” The question today remains how to at least economically stabilize people in need. In all, socioeconomic safety net for families is essential to avoid penalizing children further into their adulthood for being born into poverty.

  • CalWORKS

Here are some recommendations from CalWORKs to keep programs that assist families in need:

  • Policy Objective #1

Ease the impact of the 2012 budget cuts to CalWORKs and increase grant levels to reduce deep poverty.

 Background

The Budget Act of 2012 (SB 1041) included nearly a billion dollars in cuts to the CalWORKs program, and also restructured CalWORKs in significant ways. Thought grants were increased by 5% in the Budget Act of 2013, they remain below half of the federal poverty level, a level that child development experts say is very dangerous for young children.

 Recommended Actions

A: The Legislature and Administration should closely monitor its new commitment to early, client-focused engagement and act swiftly to postpone the welfare-to-work 24-month cut-off if CalWORKs clients are not receiving early services.

 B. The Administration and Legislature should act immediately to increase grants to a level sufficient to prevent harm to children and to stabilize families so that the welfare-to-work investments are better utilized to achieve long-term self-sufficiency.

 Policy objective #3

Support work, health and early child learning opportunities for families with parents rehabilitating from prior criminal convictions.

 Background

High recidivism rates threaten the economic stability and the safety of our state, communities and families. Following the 2011 prison funding realignment and as the state faces court orders to reduce prison size, we embrace proven models for achieving cost-effective solutions to California’s high recidivism rates and to improve outcomes for families with an adult member re-entering the community after a stay in jail or prison. Research shows that while poverty status is a powerful predictor of recidivism among women, those women who receive state-sponsored support to address short-term basic needs when they leave prison reduce their odds of recidivism by over 80%.

 The federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (August 22, 1996) placed a lifetime ban on receiving Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) grants for people with past drug felony convictions. Later, states were allowed a full or partial opt-out of this ban. California maintains the lifetime ban for all CalWORKs parents with prior drug felony convictions and for CalFresh applicants who wre convicted for sale, possession or manufacturing of drugs. Children in homes with an adult who is ineligible due to this rule are denied child care, and their parents are not supported in securing work. The denial of benefits in reality acts as a sentence for further failure.

 Recommended Action

Enact legislation allowing people who have served their time for a drug felony conviction and are complying with their probation or parole to participate in CalWORKs and CalFresh and stop denying their children access to early learning environments.

 To find more recommendations for action go here.

 California Domestic Workers Coalition

These are recommended actions from California Domestic Workers Coalition, represented by Katie Joaquin, Campaign Director California Domestic Workers Coalition and Mujeres Unidas y Activas. She related today’s domestic workers fight to the fight of workers in 1938, to the enactment of Fair Labor Standards Act, a legislation that set standards for minimum wage and overtime pay for workers.  But, at the time, the law did not include the protection of domestic and farmworkers.  Therefore, the implementation of the AB 241 bill is crucial due to persistent human rights abuses, unfair wages, unregulated working hours, and unsafe working conditions in this sector. Accompanied by female entry into workforce, domestic labor is predominantly female. It is an industry that is becoming more and more needed, especially as babyboomer generation approaches retirement and require home assistance.

 Policy objective #1

The California Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE) should move aggressively to implement AB 241 and increase education and enforcement for all labor protections affecting domestic workers.

 Background

Domestic work continues to be seen as an industry in the shadows. There remains a widespread misunderstanding of what qualifies as domestic work and a tremendous lack of knowledge – on the part of state agencies, domestic work employers, and domestic wokers alike – of current labor law protecting domestic workers. With greater education and vigilant enforcement of the current statutes protecting domestic workers, we can make significant strides to shift the culture of domestic work, finally recognizing the dignity and value of the domestic workforce that cares for our homes and loved ones.

  1. A.     The DLSE should provide all district offices guidance on implementation strategies for AB 241. District personnel should be trained on the requirements of AB 241 and other statutes protecting domestic workers and to offer technical assistance to assure domestic workers have ready access to state wage claim enforcement mechanisms.
  2. B.     DLSE district offices should enlist the California Domestic Workers Coalition, with its trainings, materials, and other resources and expertise, to provide district office personnel with an industry overview and to provide resources to domestic worker claimants as needed.
  3. C.     The DLSE should develop and maintain a system to monitor data on claims filed by domestic workers, including information on the type of domestic work performed, the regular and overtime hours worked, the pay received, and the outcome of the case.
  4. D.    The DLSE should assist with outreach to 3rd party agencies and other employers of domestic workers and provide materials that inform them of their responsibilities. The DLSE should utilize the California Domestic Workers Coalition’s practical guides on how to implement AB 241.

For more information go here.

  • Women’s Foundation of California

Director of Programs, Nikole Collins-Puri from the Women’s Foundation of California introduced an improved Workforce Investment Act (WIA). A new strategy to develop training and education for women that would prepare them for better paying positions. Up until today, WIA program has overlooked the real problems of women who struggle with chronic poverty and unemployment due to insufficient skills and education. Programs such as this should help women to enter non-traditional female jobs while creating an access to higher wage jobs. Women and Workforce Investment for Nontraditional Jobs Act (Women WIN Jobs Act) is a strategy to develop training and educational programs for women to support economic mobility.

Policy objective #1

The Legislature and Governor should enact a Women and Workforce Investment bill to increase low-income women’s participation in high-wage, high-demand occupations in which women make up less than 25% of the current workforce.

Background

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs should be equipped to serve as a bridge between the labor market and postsecondary education, serving as a catalyst for women’s career development. Women an dothe disadvantaged groups have specific needs that must be recognized and addressed if they are to enter good, higher paying jobs. As we anticipate the outcome of HR 951, the Women and Workforce Investment for Nontraditional Jobs Act (Women WIN Jos Act), California can position itself as a viable candidate for federal funding that would invest in programs that recruit, train, and retain low-income women in high-wage, high-demand fields that are nontraditional for their gender.

Deliberate attention and a comprehensive set of policies that address the full range of employment barriers will allow our workforce system to better serve women. Passing a Women and Workforce Investment bill would require:

1)    workforce providers to increase women’s training and placement in higher wage jobs with career advancement,

2)    caseworkers and other agency staff to be trained about workplace laws(e.g. paid sick leave, compensation, discrimination, etc.) and nontraditional employment options for women;

3)    employers to cerate a work environment that is flexible and addresses barriers to employment for women;

4)    coordinated collaboration between workforce, education, and welfare systems to deliver comprehensive services that minimize barriers to employment for women; and

5)    a Workforce Investment Board (State Board) that has established benchmarks and success measures to track the progress of low-income women moving into higher wage jobs that result in sustained self-sufficiency.

For more information go here.

Women and their families need policies that support their social and economic advancement. In an era when women are breaking glass ceilings while millions of others remain on the bring of poverty, the next step becomes to extend the social mobility to others with direct political participation.

What We Have to Do in California – Closing Session

Research shows the continuous under-representation of women in political leadership in the USA. Inter-Parliamentary Union summarized the statistics as follows: The international average of female representatives in national legislative bodies is 19%. While countries like Rwanda ranks 1st with 56%, or Andorra with 53% of women leaders (Scandinavian countries remain in the top 10 along with countries like South Africa or Cuba whose numbers show 39% or higher for women representation in national governments), the US ranks 91st with only 17% of women leaders in legislation (2011). American women leaders do not even reach the international average – data that brings forward many questions on democratic decision-making.

One of the main obstacles, as other research suggests, is the lack of political ambition. Simply put, women do not feel confident enough to run for an office in the US. Betsy Cotton, director of close the gap California, appealed to women during the final session to run for office and help to identify leaders.  And to imagine the social, environmental and economic progress that would come with women leadership, Kimberly Ellis, Executive Director of Emerge California, evoked a vivid picture of California where women lead in political participation:

“Women took the lead to redefine the society’s social contract to re-claim their democracy and re-write their constitution […] Women decided to wage in a new age feminist revolution that had five golden pillars: to educate women, to recruit women, to train women, to mentor and support women, and to demand policies be implemented to break down the barriers to women’s ability to advance their health, wealth, and power.  And as a result, humanity experienced rebirth. Our environment was cleaned up, restored, protected. Our economy was fair, inclusive, and growing. Universal health care, child-care and pre-school was a law of the land. Our education system was the envy of the world. College was free to anyone who wanted to better themselves and become more educated citizens. Our food was clean, organic and free of hormones and antibiotics […] We had safety nets in place to protect the less fortunate, and we stamped out poverty and homelessness […] We put systems in place to address and correct the impact of generations of institutional racism and sexism […] Pay equity was finally a reality with women making 110% of what men made (…because women live longer). And finally, we no longer had to debate whether or not women would have the right to decide what to do with their bodies, making the reproductive decisions [… ]”

“I believe that our world is ripped for feminine leadership. I believe that having more women involved in politics will offer peace to our planet […] Ladies, this time is for us to rise together to change our state, our country, and the world to advance women’s health, wealth, and power.”

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Debriefing: United Nations 57th Annual Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

The following is a debriefing prepared by Board Secretary Jessica Buchleitner:

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The following is my comprehensive debriefing of the 57th annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

The importance of the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting and the parallel NGO (non-governmental organization) sessions is to bridge the global policy making body of the United Nations with the grassroots efforts of the non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGOs are the ammunition needed to jumpstart UN policy in member nations because they have the most direct grassroots influence on the micro level. What was witnessed at this year’s session was a merger between the micro and macro levels of the United Nations and its NGO consulting partners. This debriefing examines both areas.

The priority theme for 2013 was Ending Violence against Women and Girls. Violence against women persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of human rights and major impediment to achieving gender equality. Violence against women will not be eradicated without political will and commitment at the highest levels to make it a priority locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. Political will is expressed in a variety of ways, including legislation, national plans of action, adequate resource allocation, location of mechanisms to address violence against women at the highest levels, efforts to overcome impunity, visible condemnation of this violence, and sustained support by leaders and opinion makers of efforts to eradicate it. Over the past two decades, there has been significant progress in elaborating and agreeing on international standards and norms to address violence against women. Yet NGOs have a long way to go and a significant amount of work to do.


Microlevel: UN consultative NGOs and current progress at combating violence against women in the global grassroots

There are hundreds of global non-governmental organizations with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Each year at the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting they meet in parallel to the main ECOSOC commission in order to present their activities, research and panels of survivors and experts in order to keep other NGOs informed of their progress and key issues in their country pertaining to the theme of the meeting.

Recurring themes of these NGO presentations for this year’s meeting were armament and militarism, fiscal economic policy, women’s political participation, economic inequality and human trafficking.

The first panel discussion I attended was presented by my sponsoring NGO, Women’s Intercultural Network, on winning strategies at combating violence against women and girls where several experts spoke about municipal and government initiatives.

In a separate panel discussion organized by Global Fund for Women, it was brought to our attention that total military spending around the world amounted last year to 1,738 billion dollars. The United States is a top spender, topping out at 40% of total military expenditure. The other 60% is accounted for with China, Russia, UK and France.

An economist emphasized that the feminist movement should be focused on economic policy, budgeting, taxation and military expenditure as war and conflict situations yield high incidents of violence against women. More women need to participate in the security sector if we are going to reduce violent war crimes. UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, was cited multiple times during the discussions of military and armament. The Arms Trade Treaty, created just last year in order to regulate the sale of weapons, was also cited as a means of controlling the flow of armament and land mines circulating globally. In too many countries around the world, women are too often left out of the peace negotiation process when it comes to matters of military, peace and security. The United Nations and its consultative NGOs are working hard to ensure the inclusion of women in these aspects of governance.

These discussions further continued at a separate panel discussion with invitation from Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison at the US Mission to the United Nations (and older sister of our current Secretary of State, John Kerry). We were presented with a panel of UN experts and US UN Mission personnel to answer our policy related questions about violence against women, military spending and initiatives government entities are undertaking to combat it.

Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison to the US Mission to the UN

Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison to the US Mission to the UN

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Women, War and Economics presentation


In another panel organized by United Methodist Women which represented several NGOs from the Republic of Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Honduras, discussions on military and armament continued. For the Republic of Georgia, the NGO Atinati presented on the amount of displaced persons still remaining in the country after the 1992 energy war with Russia in a region known as Abkhazia. I was fortunate enough to interview the operator of the NGO about its creation amidst a trying time in the country. Although Georgia has its share of improvements to make, she cited recent improvements came in the form of prosecution for individuals who kidnap women as brides and an overall people oriented focus in the police force in recent years. In 1994, the Georgian parliament officially ratified CEDAW, the UN women’s bill of rights and this, she explained, has helped make progress in the country for legal matters concerning violence against women.

An NGO from the Democratic Republic of Congo reported about the 71 million people affected by the 20 years of war and ethnic conflicts happening in the country. It was reported that rebel group N23 was receiving aid from the United States and Europe and were committing 70% of the rape cases resulting from the armed conflict in the country. The presenter described the situation: “We have lost our dignity; our bodies have become a sanctuary for our rebel groups”.

Following the Democratic Republic of Congo, an NGO representative from Honduras painted a grim portrait of the changing sociopolitical circumstances in the country. Currently there are transworld capital investments and organized crime occurring and militarism was cited as one way of controlling the resources, territories and investments pouring into the country. In the current economic crisis, there are an influx of weapons circulating in the country. The presenter stated with great emphasis: “They have made life a commodity itself”.
Due to the 2009 military coup, the country has entered into an arms and drugs race and officially declared bankruptcy. The military coup consolidated all economic interests and started passing laws that systematically made life worse. All labor is temporary and employers pay per hour at a rate they decide, not at one that is regulated by law. As a result of this, the country is also being sold off in bits and pieces where multinational corporations are actually renting parts of the country. 18 provinces are now for sale and the biggest player in this race is the United States. The presence of the US military appears to be justified in the “war against drugs”, yet they are selling and participating in the drug trades. Resource wars, similar to the gas wars in Georgia, are happening all over the country.


I attended another NGO presentation on Wednesday by two Sudanese groups, where we were provided updates on the situation of disputed borders between Sudan and South Sudan. Due to the conflict over natural resources there is unequal power and economic resources, a lack of infrastructure, roads, bridges and hospitals. South Sudan has oil but needs North Sudan to transport it. The peace delegations currently in the country are almost entirely male with a severe lack of female participation. It is currently difficult for women’s rights defenders to operate because many of them are being detained and tortured. Rape as a weapon of war has long since been a factor in this environment. Currently the country is attempting to bridge Sudan and South Sudan in peace talks and a negotiation of their new constitution. Women’s rights groups are grappling to get women a seat at the table, citing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the CEDAW ordinance, since Sudan joins the United States, Somalia, and Iran in refusing to ratify the ordinance.

The last full NGO panel I attended was co sponsored by Women’s Intercultural Network and US Women Connect, where Board representative Ana Maria Sanchez gave a powerful speech about her struggle with Domestic Violence.

In this panel, an engaging discussion was launched on the cellular memory of generations. When a people are oppressed, the scars and burden of that oppression trickle through the generations and are felt by the offspring of the people.

These are just a few select observations that were made in panel presentations in the NGO portion of the meeting.

Macro level: United Nations Policy and the responsibility of its member states
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Two policy tools for combating violence against women

1. The Beijing Platform for action (BPFA) is a 150 page document that was adopted as a result of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It is the agenda for women’s empowerment which fosters women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political –decision making.

2. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) similarly defines the legal obligations of State parties to prevent violence against women and girls. Adopted in 1979, it is an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and thirty articles, if defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end it. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They must submit national reports every four years on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. Currently 187 States have ratified CEDAW. Countries that have not ratified CEDAW include Iran, Nauru, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and the United States of America.

It is necessary to realize that it is the responsibility of the member State to prevent, investigate and prosecute all forms of violence against women and to hold perpetrators accountable.

High level roundtable session of CSW

High level roundtable session of CSW

In attending General Discussions and High Level Roundtable of the Commission on the Status of Women, I observed a review of the (Beijing Platform for Action) BPFA and ways in which each member state is looking to implement BPFA and CEDAW. Some examples of this are as follows:

– Jordan and Slovenia reported on the adoption and reforms of laws and policies to address gender-based discrimination. Kuwait and Sri Lanka took measures to increase women’s political participation, and Sweden took measures to increase women’s access to labor markets and financial resources with a focus on rural and immigrant women.

– Many reporting states, including Denmark, Malta, Mauritius and Slovenia have adopted national action plans to address violence against women in general, or in specific forms.

– Several states, such as Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Mauritius, Mexico, Poland, Spain, and the Sudan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reported on the establishment of coordination mechanisms, including task forces, dedicated units, working and interministral groups or observatories.

– Senegal reported on a national action plan to address poverty as a means to address violence against women and girls, while in Japan, Hungary and Slovenia national action plans on gender also included measures to prevent violence.

– Jordan and Slovenia reported on the adoption and reforms of laws and policies to address gender-based discrimination. Kuwait and Sri Lanka took measures to increase women’s political participation, and Sweden took measures to increase women’s access to labor markets and financial resources, with a focus on rural and immigrant women.

– As a means of challenging gender stereotypes, Mauritius developed a program to promote men’s responsibilities within the family.

Suggestions from the Macro policy level for member states to combat violence against women:

– Implement, monitor and set periodic reviews and revisions of laws in order to punish perpetrators.

– Establish a reliable and consistent form of data collection on violence against women utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods. Many countries lack reliable data and much of the existing data cannot be meaningfully compared.

– Strengthen the awareness and knowledge base of all forms of violence against women in society

– Allocate funding for violence programs.

Agreed Conclusions of CSW 57

The agreed upon conclusions of the meeting have officially been released and are receiving objections by the Muslim Brotherhood. To view them click here.

My takeaways
Once again, I went into this experience a bit naïve. Diplomacy work is an oxymoron in a sense because you go into the experience believing you can make a difference yet what you are met with are many layers of corruption. I think most people assume being a diplomat allots you the fancy ability to make the world a better place. Yet, it can be a very dirty, cold and harsh reality. There are egos at stake of key players and leaders and a constant grappling for resources and power. It can be tricky to balance power with the needs of one’s member state. For example, the United States has been aware of the forced sterilization in China since it began, but is so economically tied to the country it that it is not in our best interest to “step on the toes” of officials to end the practice. Diplomacy is tricky in that sense. My experience at the United Nations proved to be a bit disillusioning. I want to believe that all the work I am doing is making an impact, yet in a delegate role- one observes the intricate layers of corruption present in every nation in the world. It is discouraging and disconcerting. In all truth, I felt like an immense failure when I came home. I was severely depressed for the week following the conference.

On the positive note, it has allowed me to connect with grassroots women from all over the world and gave me the fortunate ability to interview fascinating women from Georgia and from Bangladesh.

Receiving the opportunity to be a player in world diplomacy was a blessing in many ways. I was able to see what the real issues are and where many of the problems lie. To change the world, the key area of everyone’s focus should be economics. Money is where everything begins and ends. It is the source of corruption, of power and of greed. My recommendation moving forward is for activists and humanitarians to make economics more of an area of focus.

Overall, I am grateful for this intense experience. It is difficult work to do because it such a hefty dose of all of the world’s problems. The most inspiring aspect of CSW 57 was the amount of women I met from very impoverished countries. Some of them spent their life savings just to attend that conference and talk about what their NGO does to combat violence against women. That is very uplifting to conceive. I have decided to let that notion be my light.

54th Session on the UN Commission on the Status of Women Progress but Huge Political Challenges Ahead

Elahe Amani
April 28, 2010

Elahe Amani, Co-Chair of Women Intercultural Network

Elahe Amani, Co-Chair of Women Intercultural Network


2010 is a significant year for the global women’s movement. It marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPA), the 30th anniversary of Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW), known as the “Bill of Rights of Women and Girls, “ and 10 years since the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs) were drawn up. It is a time to reflect, measure the progress, and work on the challenges, failings, and future prospects.
This year, the meeting at the Commission on the Status of Women ( CSW), brought together the UN official delegations, and NGOs as the Beijing Plus 15 Forum was also on February 27th & 28th in New York. The NGOs in a two days intense programming reviewed the progress of the governments in their commitments to implement the goals set at the Beijing Conference in 1995, in addition to shaping a global conversation about the new UN Women’s Agency (due to be created by June 2010 ) and contribute to the General Assembly meeting on MDGs in September 2010.
In 1995 the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted the global policy framework Platform for Action (PFA), which has been the he most comprehensive and progressive document for women’s rights and empowerment ever since. The fact remains that fifteen years since the Beijing Declaration, there has been progress in the status of women and advancement of gender equality, but that progress has been slow, uneven, and has not achieved the goals set at the Beijing Conference.
The following are the Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: Poverty—education and training—health—violence against women—armed conflict—economy—power and decision-making—institutional mechanisms—human rights—environment—girl children.
From March 1st through the 12th, the CSW and more than 2000 representatives of NGOs, gathered in New York City to address the issues in the above-mentioned areas, in order to facilitate an “exchange of national experiences, lessons learned and good practices.” The theme focused on “implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women” as outlined in the review report of the UN Secretary-General. The following is a very brief summary of the review of the implementation of the PFA by member States :

1. Poverty

PFA stresses that eradication of poverty is of top priority in promoting women’s rights and empowerment. UNIFAM’s “Women, Poverty and Economies” (source: http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_poverty_economics/) indicates that “Poverty implications are widespread for women, leaving many without even basic rights such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and decent employment. Being poor can also mean they have little protection from violence and have no role in decision making. According to some estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. They are often paid less than men for their work, with the average wage gap in 2008 being 17 percent. Women face persistent discrimination when they apply for credit for business or self-employment and are often concentrated in insecure, unsafe and low-wage work. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with global economic changes taking a huge toll on their livelihoods.” Needless to say that certain groups of women are more vulnerable to suffer poverty, such as women farmers, migrants, older women, immigrant and refugees women and women with disabilities.”
Progress has been uneven across regions and within countries. While poverty in eastern Asia, for example, declined from 39 percent in 1995 to 19 percent in 2005, poverty levels in sub-Saharan Africa were only reduced from 57 percent to 51 percent over the same period. The current worldwide financial and economic crisis threatens to reverse the progress made in poverty reduction. There should be an increased focus on upsetting up means of social protection of women in poverty and their families, on increasing women’s access to land ownership, property, and other productive resources, as well as to increase their access to financial services, such as micro-credit, savings, insurance, etc.

2. Education and training

Access to education increased globally for girls at all levels especially in primary education. The ratio of girl to boy first-graders increased globally from 92 girls per 100 boys in 1999 to 95 girls per 100 boys in 2006. In 1999 there were 96 women per 100 enrolled in higher education institutions globally. By 2006 women outnumbered men, bringing the proportion to 106 women to 100 men. While in developed and transition countries, in the Caribbean and the In the Pacific and in Middle East regions, women tend to outnumber men, but also continue to lag behind men in many other parts of the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa. Gender segregation in the field of study remains widespread. Limited study choices of women and girls can lead to limited career choices and less earning prospects.
The world continues to progress towards gender parity in education, as many countries have successfully promoted girls’ education as part of their efforts to boost overall enrolment. But gender disparities in education are clearly evident in some regions. Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and Western Asia have the largest gender gaps in primary enrollment. At this current rate of progress, the MDG 3 target of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015 remains far from being achieved.
Efforts should be made to focus on education as a priority goal in national policies, to promote non-discriminatory education, to increase access to formal education, and to sustain attention to non-formal education and training of skills.

3. Women and health

Over the past decade countries have made efforts to establish and to improve the health infrastructure by broadening the range of services and quality of care. Regarding HIV/AIDS, emphasis has been on prevention, education regarding sexual and reproductive health, counseling /therapy, and testing and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. However maternal mortality rates remain high worldwide. Every year, 536,000 women and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth, or following delivery. Urgent resources and special attention are needed to reduce maternal mortality rates and to increase women’s access to health services, especially in rural and poor regions.
While some countries have succeeded in significantly reducing maternal death rates in the past decade, more than half a million women die every year – or one woman every minute – from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. MDG 5, which seeks to improve maternal health, calls for a reduction by three quarters in the maternal mortality ratio from that of 1990, and for the achievement of universal access to reproductive health.
But this is the MDG towards which there has been the least progress so far. This reflects the low priority given to the empowerment of women and meeting women’s needs.
UNICEF figures estimate that the number of child deaths in 2008 declined to 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the Millennium Development Goals. But the global rate of improvement is still insufficient to reach the target of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
Since 2001, a large majority of countries have integrated issues related to women into their national HIV policies and strategic plans and have attained gender equity in HIV testing and the delivery of anti-retrovirals. But 25 years into the AIDS epidemic, gender inequality and unequal power relationships among women and men continue to have a significant influence on the epidemic.
Globally, about half of all people living with HIV are female, with variations within regions, countries, and communities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 60 percent of people living with HIV are female and in Southern Africa, girls are 2 to 4.5 times more likely than boys to become infected with HIV.

4. Violence Against Women (VAW)

Since the review of the PFA in 2005, violence against women has been a priority issue at the global, regional, and national levels. Numerous countries have adopted policies on VAW in general, or on particular forms of violence, such as domestic violence, trafficking, female genital mutilation/cutting, and forced marriage. Many states also have incorporated VAW into their national policies on gender equality, health, HIV/AIDS, and migration as part of their overall goals of development.
In 2000, the UN Security Council adoption of Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions on women, peace ,and security underlines its commitment to ending sexual violence in armed conflict .The global campaign “UNITED to end violence against women” launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2008, will run through 2015. A database was also set up on VAW, a global one-stop site for information on measures taken by member states to address VAW. As of November 2009, more than 80 states have submitted information to the database.
Violence Against Women remains a major global concern to respect the human rights of women and girls. Women and girls experience violence at home, in community and also violence perpetuated by states. The growing presence of “Non-State Actors” role in Violence Against Women is a major concern particularly in Moslem majority countries.

5. Women and armed conflict

The Security Council’s landmark Resolution 1325 in 2000 has been adopted to ensure women’s full participation in the process of peace, security, and the elimination of sexual violence against women in armed conflict. Women’s role in post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction should be protected and promoted. In 2006, the Peace-Building Commission was established with provisions to mandate gender perspectives be included in all aspects of its operation.
As of February 2010, out of 27 United Nations peacekeeping operations, special political missions and peace-building support offices, women headed only 4 missions and were deputy heads of only 5. Some countries emerging from armed conflict have made efforts in promoting women in decision-making positions in government, police force and the parliament. Countries such as Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique, Nepal, Burundi, Timor-Leste ,and Afghanistan, are now among the 30 countries with the highest representation of women in parliament.
Since the Beijing Platform for Action, there have been several Security Council resolutions addressing women’s security needs. In 2000, the Security Council passed Resolution 1325 which established women’s rights in a conflict context as a security matter.
In 2008, Resolution 1820 was the first resolution to recognize conflict-related sexual violence as a matter of international peace and security. In 2009, Resolution 1888 followed. This resolution provides for concrete ways to track progress through establishing a reporting process and a mechanism to hold Governments and the UN accountable. These are landmark resolutions but they are only the beginning of what must be done to ensure the security of women throughout the world
Research by UNIFEM indicates that in 10 major peace processes in the past decade, women were on average six percent of negotiators and under three percent of signatories. Only five peace accords have referred to the use of sexual violence as a military and political tactic, despite its increase in both frequency and brutality.

6. Women and the economy

In 2008, an estimated 52.6 percent of women were in the labor force, compared with 77.5 percent men. Women are more likely than men to have low-paying and low-status jobs. Gender wage-gaps are estimated to be in the range of 3 to 51 percent, with a global average of 17 percent. Women also continue to have disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work, such as home care and care for ill/disabled family members, which hinder them from full participation in education and career-building. During general economic crisis, women also are more vulnerable than men to layoffs and unemployment. Climate change also has impacted negatively on farm women in some parts of the world, where droughts and the securing of water have added hardships to women’s work.
On the positive side, countries have adopted measures through legislature and implementation of policies to address discrimination against women in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, and dismissal due to pregnancy and childbirth. A few states offered the private sector tax and social security incentives for hiring women. Awareness-raising campaigns were also launched for the public through seminars, manuals, and information dissemination.
More women than ever before are participating in the workforce; women occupy almost 40 percent of all paid jobs outside agriculture, compared to 35 percent in 1990. But almost two thirds of women in the developing world work in vulnerable jobs as self-employed persons or as unpaid family workers. In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, this type of work accounts for more than 80 percent of all jobs for women. In developing countries, women consistently lag behind men in formal labor force participation and entrepreneurship, earn less than men for similar work, and have less access to credit and lower inheritance and ownership rights than men do.
As a result of the global economic crisis, many more women are being pushed into vulnerable jobs with limited or no safety nets that guard against income loss during economic hardship. The large number of women unpaid workers in family businesses also adds to their already heavy burden of unpaid care work in households.

7. Women in power and decision-making

Progress has been made in women’s political participation and decision-making positions. Globally, women held 18.8 percent of seats in single/lower chambers of parliament as of November 2009, as compared to 11.3 percent in 1995.
Women’s parliamentary representation has its greatest gains in the Americas, with 22.6 percent women in parliament, in the European countries with 21.5 percent , in Asia, 18.6 percent, in sub-Saharan Africa 17.8 percent, in the Pacific region 13 percent, and in the Arab States 9 percent.
As of November 2009, women were heads of state in 8 countries and heads of Government in 6 countries. In comparison, in 1995, 12 women were heads of State or Government. In the civil service, women have made progress in representation at the middle managerial levels. The judiciary and law enforcement sector remain mainly male dominated. However at the international level, 9 out of the 18 judges of the International Criminal Court are women, as of November 2009. Women make up 30 percent of the police force in only two countries—Australia and South Africa, with the global average below 10 percent.
Quotas and other temporary measure have been instrumental in increasing women’s representation in public life. Quotas have also been used in civil service recruitment processes, and in the selection of judges. Some member states have made the mandatory requirement that women represent 40 percent of the board of directors of state-owned companies within a specified time frame. Training and capacity development of women leaders as candidates and elected officials in public speaking and fund- raising and other skills have also been pivotal in women’s increased political representation.
Now, more than ever, more women are holding political offices. As of January 2009, women had reached the highest parliamentary position – presiding officer – in 31 parliamentary chambers. By March 2009, 15 women were serving as heads of state or government, up from nine in 2000.
Impressive gains were made in Latin America and the Caribbean, where women hold 22 percent of all legislative seats, the highest regional average. But women still hold less than 10 percent of parliamentary seats in Oceania, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. The global average of women holding parliamentary seats (18.6 percent) is far from the target of 30 percent set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. At the present rate, it will take another 40 years to reach gender parity.

8. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women

Increasingly, countries have established institutional mechanisms for gender equality in the legislative branch. Many countries report that all critical areas of concern outlined in Platform for Action (PFA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have been addressed by national institutional mechanisms. But the effectiveness of these agencies has been hampered by inadequate human and financial resources. Reliable data are also not available to adequately monitor the implementation of gender equality in all its aspects.

9. Human rights of women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive legal frame work for action to promote women’s human rights. With 186 state parties as of December 2009, the Convention is the second most ratified international human rights instrument. Countries have increasingly included in national constitutions and legal reforms the principles of gender equality. Several states have adopted legal provisions prohibiting discrimination against women and women’s legal rights on housing, education, health care, the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, disability, and other social entitlements.
Many states have launched national awareness-raising campaigns to promote women’s human rights and to combat negative attitudes on gender stereotypes. Public media, print, electronic, audio and other means, have been used to spread human rights information on large scale. The increasing cooperation between Governments and NGOs in legal and policy reforms on gender issues has proved to be of great value.
While the GO/NGO representatives from Iran declared that Iran has not ratified CEDAW and will not because it “undermines the role of family,” there was a positive assurance that ratification of CEDAW in US is now closer than it has been in any other time over the last 30 years!

10. Women and the media

Mainstream media is the most important and effective tool to disseminate information. PFA stresses the two strategic objectives to promote women’s rights and educate public attitude on gender stereotypes through the media: “to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication; and to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.”
More than a decade after PFA, women worldwide have increased their role in the public media, though employment inequalities between women and men persist, and women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making positions (i.e. in in advisory, management and regulatory bodies of the media industry). Gender stereotypes in the media also persist. The data collected from 76 countries by the Global Media Monitoring Project in 2005 indicated some progress of women in media. For example, women reporters increased from 28 percent in 1995 to 38 percent in 2005 across all media types.
The hot issue of “Women and Social Media “was discussed at two panels organized by Women Intercultural Network. At the panel of titled “Social Media and Social Movement,” it was concluded that based on the current statistics, contrary to women and media, in social media “ WOMEN RULE.”

11. Women and the environment

Some progress in this area has been made as countries are starting to make plans to include women in environmental decision-making, to recognize women’s right to access to natural resources for their livelihoods, their right to property and land ownership, and their right as consumers of agriculture, health and sanitation resources. But the under-representation of women in key positions in environmental agencies has limited their contributions to public policy-making, such as strategies on climate change. There is still a broad gap in public awareness of “gender-specific perspective on natural resources management and of the benefits of gender equality for the promotion of sustainable development and environmental protection.”

12. The Girl child

PFA recognizes the importance of the protection of the basic rights of the girl children, such as education, health, security and the chance to develop their full potential as human beings. In developing regions, the girl child is almost always treated as a lesser human being than her male counterpart.
Countries increasingly have recognized that the laws and legal reforms on the protection of children should include provisions to protect the girl child. A number of African countries and countries with immigrant communities have criminalized female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM)–a special form of violence against the girl child. Some countries enacted laws to prohibit forced marriage, while others raised the legal age of marriage to protect girls.
A growing number of countries have enacted legislation to combat the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and the trafficking of children. Countries also responded to the risks posed by the Internet by setting up measures and/or cybercrime police units against the spread of pedophilia and pornography.
A growing number of states conducted awareness-raising campaigns to prevent violence against children with public marches, exhibitions, publicized announcements and the creation of specific websites. Crimes and violence against children, especially the girl child, remain wide-spread and unabated. Trafficking, child prostitution, forced early marriage, FGM, and other issues are still issues still to be tackled.
Besides the information the Beijing 15 report provided, by a number of UN sessions and official UN documents, there were a few interesting panels conducted by the NGOs on the latest developments on women.
Sex trafficking of women and young girls was discussed and updated in several panels by the Soroptimist International, The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women, and other NGOs. The two above-mentioned NGOs have done great work and are reputable in their chosen fields. The conclusion of the discussions is that vigilance, legislation, and enforcement of existing laws are all much needed.
Another panel entitled “Voices of Haitian Women” gave perspectives of Haitian women in general and on their role in the crisis in particular. Several panels on pro-life issues, one of which was entitled “Conceived in Rape Symposium,” was the most controversial. The nine panelists who were conceived either in rape and/or incest, gave their testimony of life experiences. Many panels on health and gender equality were also educational and thought-provoking.

CSW/2010 stands out not only as the review year of the Beijing Plus 15, it also could be known as the year of General Chaos at the UN. The delegates of global NGOs had to stay up-to-six-hours-queuing for registration, roped-off corridors, darkened familiar conference rooms, detoured passage- way to unfamiliar rooms, less-than-spirited panel discussions, hard-to-get-admissions to panels, etc.

The CSW 54 ended with lingering questions crying out for answers.
Were there any commitments to protect the universality of women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights?
Was there any significant progress on the proposal to set up a separate U.N. agency – officially called a gender entity – for women?
And were there any indications of increased funding for gender-related issues, including resources to battle sexual violence?
The answers were mostly in the realm of political uncertainty, as the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) assessed the state of women’s rights, 15 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing approved a wide-ranging plan of action on gender empowerment.

On the positive side, important issues such as human trafficking, which is no longer seen as an emerging issue, was understood as part of a global space that required attention. An international coalition of over 300 NGOs, mostly made up of women’s rights activists, has been pursuing a global campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) in the U.N. system. Charlotte Bunch, founding director of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University and co-facilitator of the GEAR campaign, told TerraViva that decisions about gender architecture reform are part of the system-wide coherence process in the General Assembly.
“So the CSW is not really an arena for formal progress in terms of the resolution,” she said. “However, we do feel there has been a lot of progress in terms of gaining more governmental support and attention to this issue during the CSW.”
For example, she said, a significant number of countries from all regions spoke in support of the new architecture in their speeches. The secretary-general himself called on governments to take action to create the entity without further delay, she pointed out. Bunch said the NGO action – holding up a ‘GEAR UP NOW!’ sign in the balcony during his speech on International Women’s Day on March 3rd – was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience and a wave from the U.N. Chief.
Natalia Cardona of Social Watch, an international network made up of coalitions of civil society, said as far as her organization was concerned, the CSW was a success because “it captured the dynamism of women’s activism at the highest level.”
“There is no other place where women activists can come together and discuss women’s human rights situation from all over the world,” she said.
However, the space in terms of government accountability and government accessibility has dwindled since 1995 when the world conference on women was able to make key advances in terms of women’s rights as enshrined in the Beijing Platform for Action. There is a sense now in the women’s movement that this 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference was not much of an anniversary.

All in all, CSW 54 and Beijing plus 15 was a success but huge political challenges are ahead of global women’s movement to hold their governments accountable for their commitments at Beijing.

(This article used many NGO reports and other media sources including UN agencies and NGO forum documents)

Drought Adds to Hardships in California

Published: February 21, 2009

MENDOTA, Calif. — The country’s biggest agricultural engine, California’s sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase food prices and cripple farms and towns.

Across the valley, towns are already seeing some of the worst unemployment in the country, with rates three and four times the national average, as well as reported increases in all manner of social ills: drug use, excessive drinking and rises in hunger and domestic violence.

With fewer checks to cash, even check-cashing businesses have failed, as have thrift stores, ice cream parlors and hardware shops. The state has put the 2008 drought losses at more than $300 million, and economists predict that this year’s losses could swell past $2 billion, with as many as 80,000 jobs lost.

“People are saying, ‘Are you a third world country?’ ” said Robert Silva, the mayor of Mendota, which has a 35 percent unemployment rate, up from the more typical seasonal average of about 20 percent. “My community is dying on the vine.”

Even as rains have washed across some of the state this month, greening some arid rangeland, agriculture officials say the lack of rain and the prospect of minimal state and federal water supplies have already led many farmers to fallow fields and retreat into survival mode with low-maintenance and low-labor crops.

Last year, during the second year of the drought, more than 100,000 acres of the 4.7 million in the valley were left unplanted, and experts predict that number could soar to nearly 850,000 acres this year.

All of which could mean shorter supplies and higher prices in produce aisles — California is the nation’s biggest producer of tomatoes, almonds, avocados, grapes, artichokes, onions, lettuce, olives and dozens of other crops — and increased desperation for people like Agustin Martinez, a 20-year veteran of the fields who generally makes $8 an hour picking fruit and pruning.

“If I don’t have work, I don’t live,” said Mr. Martinez, a 39-year-old father of three who was waiting in a food line in Selma, southeast of Fresno. “And all the work is gone.”

In Mendota, the self-described cantaloupe center of the world, a walk through town reveals young men in cowboy hats loitering, awaiting the vans that take workers to the fields. None arrive.

The city’s main drag has a few quiet businesses — a boxing gym, a liquor store — and tellingly, two busy pool halls. The owner of one hall, Joseph R. Riofrio, said that his family had also long owned a grocery and check-cashing business in town, but that he had just converted to renting movies, figuring that people would rather stay at home in hard times.

“We’re not going to give up,” Mr. Riofrio said. “But people are doing bad.”

Just down the highway in Firebaugh, José A. Ramírez, the city manager, said a half-dozen businesses in its commercial core had closed, decimating the tax base and leaving him to “tell the Little League they’d have to paint their own lines” on the local diamond.

The situation is particularly acute in towns along the valley’s western side, where farmers learned on Friday that federal officials anticipate a “zero allocation” of water from the Central Valley Project, the huge New Deal system of canals and reservoirs that irrigates three million acres of farmland. If the estimate holds and springtime remains dry, it would be first time ever that farmers faced a season-long cutoff from federal waters.

“Farmers are very resilient, we make things happen, but we’ve never had a zero allocation,” said Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce, a melon handler and harvester. “And I might not be very good at math, but zero means zero.”

While California has suffered severe dry spells before, including a three-year stint ending in 1977 and a five-year drought in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the ill effects now are compounded by the recession and other factors.

Federal, state and local officials paint a grim picture of a system taxed as it has never been before by a growing population, environmental concerns and a labyrinth of water supply contracts and agreements, some dating to the early 20th century. In addition to the federal water supplies, farmers can irrigate with water provided by the state authorities, drawn from wells and bought or transferred from other farmers. Such water may not always be the best quality, said Mark Borba, a fourth-generation farmer in Huron, Calif.

“But it’s wet,” he said.