A Few Words about Cervical Cancer

On Friday, February 9th, the DC City Council will begin hearings on whether to mandate the HPV vaccine for females in the District under the age of 13. This piece of legislation is crucial to the health and well-being of the District and the future of its citizens. Washington, DC’s City Council is one of eighteen legislative bodies — including the state legislatures of Michigan, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Maryland — to address the problem of HPV through mandatory vaccination.
HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, infects at least 80 percent of sexually active women by age 50. According to the American Medical Women’s Association, cervical is the second-most-common cancer killer of women worldwide, and HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. And The ISIS Project reports African American women are 50% more likely to get cervical cancer than white women.
The vaccine, Gardasil, prevents 70% of the cancer-causing strains of HPV, effectively reducing the chances of developing cervical cancer. This means that girls who get the vaccine before becoming sexually active are much less likely to get cervical cancer than girls who do not receive the vaccine. Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company that makes Gardasil, is financially supporting the lobbying efforts through contributions to Women in Government to help pass the legislative mandates.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, cervical cancer was diagnosed in 9,700 women, and 3,700 died of the disease. The national incidence rate is 8.8 per 100,000 females; the District’s rate is more than 50 percent higher, at 13.5 per 100,000. African-American women have the highest death rate of any group.
The vaccine costs about $360, or $120 a dose. Not all private insurance plans pay for the vaccine, although it is provided without charge through public programs for low-income, uninsured and under-insured children, and more insurance plans are starting to cover it.
This information legislative activity is incredibly exciting for women throughout the nation. I do not think we could possibly downplay the importance or the implications of such a mandate. The fact that we can prevent the majority of cervical cancer cases with a single vaccine is amazing news for women’s health.
It disappoints me, as an educated and healthy woman that people move this issue from women’s health, where it belongs, into the realm of sexual activity among youth. There is no evidence suggesting that this vaccine causes young girls to become more sexually active. This outrageous theory was created by those who want others to view the mandate as an issue of sex education and not health, effectively dismissing the well-being of millions of young girls for political purposes. This has nothing to do with sexual education and everything to do with preventing the main cause of cervical cancer.
As a young woman, as a future mother (possibly of girls), and as someone who is aware of the health risks regarding cervical cancer, I urge you to research HPV and the vaccine and make your own decisions about the benefits, then contact your local legislators and urge them to legislate for women’s health. We owe it to our daughters and to our future to do all we can to eliminate cervical cancer in the nation. Cervical cancer is preventable, and that should be our goal.
– Elisabeth Crum

Saturday’s Peace Rally – Women Say Pull Out

Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey at Women Say Pull Out Rally
Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey at “Women Say Pull Out!” Rally (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On Saturday, my daughter and husband joined me at the “Women Say Pull Out! Convergence for DC Mobilization” rally to show support for an end to the war in Iraq. The event was sponsored by CODEPINK and other women’s organizations including the National Organization for Women, V-Day, Women’s Action for New Directions, Feminist Majority, Feminist Peace Network and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual.
People from all over the country attended. Speakers at the CodePink rally included Representatives Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and actors Sean Penn, Jane Fonda, Rhea Pearlman and Maxine Kennedy, among others. I was so pleased to hear them speak out for an end to the war that has already taken too many lives, too many husbands and wives away from their families, and too many sons and daughters from their mothers. Especially touching was the wife of one Army infantry officer who said “bring them home…where they can be safe.”
After the rally, we walked over and joined the United for Peace and Justice rally on the national mall. Although we didn’t hear Jane Fonda speak earlier, she did speak at the main event. There was no official crowd count, but organizers say it was near 500,000.

Moms Say No To War

My family has a history of military service as both my parents were reservists in the military and my grandfather served in both the Army and Navy and helped rebuild Pearl Harbor. My cousin has already served one tour in Iraq, and is scheduled to go back again in the spring. I also have girlfriends whose husbands have been sent over or are scheduled to be sent over. I have a great respect for our servicemen and women.
I haven’t had anyone I know die or loose limbs, but I hate seeing it happen to other families, mothers and wives across the country and in Iraq.
– Michelle Schafer

A Vote of Confidence

Hillary Clinton in 2005
Hillary Clinton in 2005 at the TitleIX celebration (Photo by Elisabeth Crum)

For the first time in the history of the nation, a woman is a clear front-runner in the primary race for the presidential nomination for either party. Almost everyone in the US knows the name Hillary Clinton, whether because of her husband or because of the constant buzz surrounding her recent announcement of forming an exploratory committee .
As a young woman who believes in equality though has never really seen it in our government (Congress is still only 16% female compared with 51% of the US population), I’m thrilled to see the first viable female candidate really have a strong chance. And political scientists cited in the article on her candidacy in USA TODAY claim that her gender isn’t even a big enough factor to keep her from being elected. So why are so many articles saying she can’t win?
A USA TODAY/Gallup poll from January 5-7 found that 29% of Democrats cited the belief that Hillary can’t win the election as the reason they might not or would not vote for her. Aside from being illogical, this argument is very frustrating. If Democrats have a lack of faith in Hillary’s ability to pull out a win, then she won’t be able to succeed. If on the other hand Democrats engage in a new rhetoric of confidence, she’ll have a better chance.
There are a lot of strong candidates in the field on both sides of the aisle in this election. It would be a shame to see such a strong candidate, and the first well-positioned female candidate, go down because of a lack of confidence. I think the Democrats would have a better chance of reclaiming the White House if they showed more faith in their strongest candidates. Unfortunately the party doesn’t seem very interested in uniting, and that might have a disastrous outcome for them in 2008.
– Elisabeth Crum

A Woman’s Face on the Minimum Wage Issue

Senator Kennedy and Vicky Lovell
From left to right: Entmacher, Lovell, Gandy, Kennedy and Stabenow (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On January 24th, Senator Kennedy held a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building. Joined by Senators Stabenow and Klobuchar as well as Kim Gandy, President of NOW, Dr. Vicky Lovell of IWPR and Joan Entmacher, Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center, the press conference focused on putting a woman’s face on the minimum wage issue.
In the wake of the Senate delaying a vote on the House measure to raise the minimum wage, Senator Kennedy wanted to make sure the public understands the urgency of the issue. The minimum wage, as all the speakers noted, affects women and families more than any other groups. As Dr. Lovell presented (view the PDF of her statement here), the nearly 8 million women working at or near minimum wage are currently only earning about $10,712 per year or $893 a month. At this rate a woman would have to work three jobs to support a family of 3 or more without living in poverty, and that’s pretty much impossible.
Two of the Senators noted that they remembered what it was like working a minimum wage job, and each commented how lucky he or she was to not have to work for such low wages. Senator Klobuchar spoke about women she’d recently spoken with who were working minimum wage jobs and had a very hard time scraping together enough money to put their children through college. All the speakers were very disappointed that the vote was being put on hold, although Senator Kennedy was proud to announce that five Republican Senators had joined with the Democrats in support of the measure.
Kim Gandy summed up the sentiments of the day clearly when she stated, “paying a living wage is an investment in the future of the United States. Good for hardworking families, good for business, and good for the country.” Hopefully the bill will make it to the floor and be passed clear of any tax cuts for big businesses. It is wonderful to see Senators Kennedy, Stabenow, and Klobuchar along with 51 other Senators, come together to vote for working women in America.
– Elisabeth Crum

All Eyes on Albright!

Madeleine Albright and Elisabeth Crum
Madeleine Albright and IWPR’s Elisabeth Crum

Last December I received an invitation to the Center for National Policy’s holiday party and anniversary celebration. I was especially intrigued when I caught the name of the guest speaker, none other than Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State and co-founder of the Center for National Policy. I consider myself an amateur political junky, and being able to meet women leaders of our nation is just too good to pass up. I RSVPed and awaited the event.
The night came and I was full of anticipation. Dr. Albright’s impressive resume and important work in foreign affairs inspires me. The physical and mental distance she traveled to achieve all the successes in her life shows my generation of women that the sky is the limit when it comes to your dreams. This woman is well known and well respected all over the world, and I get to hear her speak.
She made her way through the crowd, and although her short stature made it impossible to see her, a buzz filled the room so electric that you knew she was coming. I stopped her for a picture because I wanted to capture the moment and share it with everyone I know. When she finally reached the podium she spoke about the importance of diplomacy and healthy relations with other nations. She reminded the crowd that in this age of globalization no country can work alone, and I was struck by the passion and intensity in her voice. No longer a member of the Cabinet, Dr. Albright is clearly still committed to progress for our nation and for the world.
She closed with a comment about the value of seeing more women in top public offices, and I knew I needed to thank her. I approached her when she was finished and expressed my gratitude for her work. I told her she paved the way for women like me to achieve equal and higher posts globally. Her response was brief and to the point; she simply said, “that’s what it’s all about.” I couldn’t agree more.
– Elisabeth Crum

Social Security for us 20 and 30 somethings

A Woman Running

My grandfather jokes that he makes more now off of Social Security than he did when he was working. He will turn 90 this year, and I am turning 30. I remember reading about the need for Social Security reform when I was in high school and even wrote an article for my school’s papers. The bottom line: many experts were saying back then and still are that Social Security will not be available for us when we are ready to retire, or will be greatly reduced.
What does that mean for me? Well, I started a 401K plan at my first job out of college as soon as I became eligible. Now, seven years later, I have approximately $29K saved in my IRAs. The problem for others in my age group? They are delaying starting a personal savings plan, which can be a costly mistake for their future.
I don’t understand everything there is to know about investments, but I do know this: You need to start saving early and the longer you keep saving, the more money you’ll make over the long term. Maybe Social Security will be there for us (at least if IWPR where I work now, has anything to say about it) but Social Security was never meant to be a complete retirement package—it’s supposed to be combined with employer pensions and personal savings.
It’s not always easy financially to take out that extra $20 or $50 a paycheck, but I’m hoping down the line it will pay off for me with a secure (perhaps early?) retirement. I feel proud looking at my account to see what I’ve accomplished so far at my young age.
This also points out the need for reform, and for us 20-30 somethings to ask for change in the system. Yes we know we can’t rely solely on SS for retirement, but we have paid into the system with our payroll taxes, so we deserve and are entitled to fair benefits based on our contributions.
– Michelle Schafer

Boxer v. Rice

Political blogs have been having a field day with the supposed cat fight between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator Barbara Boxer. Bloggers have been reducing these two professional women to the political equivalent of Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, which in itself is more entertaining than objectionable. What IS objectionable is that bloggers claim to be taking sides in this ridiculous squabble in the name of feminism. Amidst all the name calling, who knows what really happened? Well, as best I can tell . . .
It all started last Thursday during a Senate hearing, when Boxer asked Rice: “Who pays the price [in Iraq]? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families. And I just want to bring us back to that fact.”
The next day a wide array of media outlets covered these remarks as a vicious attack against Rice, single women, childless women, and black women. The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said in an interview on Fox news that Senator Boxer may not have been “intentionally tacky,” but that her comments were “a great leap backward for feminism.” In an interview with the New York Times, Secretary Rice seemed to agree:

“I thought it was O.K. to be single,” Rice said. “I thought it was O.K. to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.”

When Senator Boxer was interviewed, she said her comments were being deliberately misrepresented. “What I was trying to do in this exchange was to find common ground with Condi Rice,” she said. “My whole point was to focus on the military families who pay the price.” SBoxer added: “I’m saying, she’s like me, we do not have families who are in the military. What they are doing is a really tortured way to attack a United States senator who voted against the war.”
The White House had a vested interest in turning attention away from the real story at the hearings: that they showed almost unanimous opposition against the President’s plan to send 21,500 more American soldiers to Iraq. But conservative bloggers and pundits seem to have taken up the issue purely for sport. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show: “Here you have a rich white chick with a huge, big mouth, trying to lynch this, an African-American woman, right before Martin Luther King Day, hitting below the ovaries here,”
Then Kausfiles, a political blog on Slate, brought Laura Bush into the story. Citing an interview that President and Laura Bush gave to ABC News in December, ostensibly about Mary Cheney’s pregnancy, Kausfiles argued that Laura Bush was anti-feminist for having this to say:

“Dr. Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate [for President], is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she’s an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job.”

Kausfiles compared these and Senator Boxer’s comments as two examples of a “powerful subconscious urge of married mothers to condescend to single women” but later found that although Laura Bush suggests that both single women and single men would find it difficult to be President, Bush’s comments were “snarkiest” for implying that Rice has no “supportive friends.”
But Kausfiles doesn’t let Senator Boxer off the hook. He calls Boxer’s questions about “who pays the price” irrelevant because, with American’s volunteer military, even if Boxer and Rice had children of fighting age they most likely still wouldn’t be in the armed services, and suggests that Boxer hoped to “advertise her motherhood in line with the reigning mommy-rhetoric of the Pelosi Era, in which ‘the gavel’ is in ‘the hands of America’s children.’”
It seems that the attacks against Pelosi for being Speaker of the House at the same time that she is a mother and grandmother have officially begun. More generally what this media storm has shown is how people who aren’t normally feminists (ahem, Rush Limbaugh) suddenly take up the mantel if it will help them score points against their opponents.
What I can’t help but wonder is if Rice’s reaction was purely a political calculation, or if she was genuinely offended that her status as a single childless woman had become a focus of attention. In her interview with the Times, Rice said that she’d “been through things like this before,” ostensibly referring to the skepticism on the Hill. But I would not be surprised if throughout her career she has struggled to be accepted as a single woman, one who is perfectly content to not have kids, nor would I be surprised if Senator Boxer’s words felt like the last straw. I confess that when I first heard about the quarrel I instinctively sympathized with Rice, on the grounds that no woman’s family status should be a subject of critique. Isn’t that one of feminism’s goals? Then I read what Boxer had actually said and my sympathy vanished like smoke. I mean come on Condi, what is the big deal?
– Katharine Wells, IWPR member