More Research Needed to Help Prevent Street Harassment

Woman walking down streetBy Holly Kearl

This April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Primary prevention for sexual violence involves education and the creation of safe environments, including on the streets of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. One important issue that seldom receives attention from researchers or the media is the street harassment that happens to women walking down sidewalks, taking public transportation, and in other public places. Guest blogger Holly Kearl, author and Program Manager with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), outlines the impact of street harassment on women, and calls for additional measures to effectively address and prevent this type of activity.

When it comes to creating policies that address the sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers, termed street harassment, the phrase that comes to mind is catch-22. Let me explain.

Four years ago, I wrote my master’s thesis at George Washington University on street harassment. I examined how women were using websites to address and deal with street harassment in lieu of legal regulations or useful policies. While conducting a literature review, I was shocked to learn that few street harassment studies exist, few academic articles had been written on the topic, and almost no books had been published.

These discoveries led me to write my own book about street harassment, published last year by Praeger. As part of the book research, I informally surveyed more than 900 people from 23 countries and 45 U.S. states. Ninety-nine percent of the women had experienced street harassment, and not just whistling or honking. More than 80 percent had been the target of sexually explicit comments and vulgar gestures, 75 percent had been followed, over half had been groped, more than one-third had faced public masturbation, and one-fourth had been assaulted by a male stranger.

In the United States, there have only been two non-campus-based studies about street harassment, both of which showed it was the experience of 100 percent of the women and the types of harassment women experienced were similar to my findings. Both studies were conducted in the 1990s, one in Indianapolis and the other in the California Bay Area.

The statistics from my study, even though they are informal, were shocking. What shocked me even more was realizing how many women had changed their lives because of actual or feared street harassment. Most of my survey respondents reported “on guard” behaviors while in public on at least a monthly basis, including constantly assessing their surroundings, avoiding making eye contact, and pretending to talk on a cell phone.

The next most common type of behavior was that which restricted their access to public spaces, such as taking alternate routes because of harassers, avoiding being in public alone, and paying for a gym membership rather than exercising outside.

Most alarming, a percentage of women had made significant life decisions because of harassment. Around 20 percent had moved to a new neighborhood because of harassers in the area and almost 10 percent had changed jobs because of harassers along the commute.

When I discovered these results, it became clear to me that street harassment has a negative economic impact on women and it impedes women’s equality.

The economic impact is even clearer when you read women’s stories on sites like my blog Stop Street Harassment and the 25 Hollaback websites. On these sites, women share how they pay for taxis instead of taking public transportation after dark, drive three blocks instead of walking, skip evening networking events, and avoid or drop out of night classes.

After four years of learning, writing, and speaking about this issue, I know there will never be gender equality until street harassment ends. I also understand that policymakers are hard-pressed to make significant changes without data that illustrates a problem and without research suggesting policies that could improve the problem.

This is where we reach the catch-22.

To truly address street harassment, we need citywide, statewide, and/or nationwide studies to give us concrete data about its prevalence, the impact it has on women’s lives, and why it happens (and thus what we can do to prevent it). Then policies can follow.

These important studies require funding to be conducted well (I did my informal survey online, with a shoestring budget). Funders often hesitate to put money behind an initiative that has not been proven to be a problem. Street harassment hasn’t been proven to be a problem because there are so few studies. There are so few studies because there is no funding…and back and forth and back and forth.

This is unacceptable. In the United States, we take pride in our country being the land of the free, but that’s not true for women. Girls routinely face harassment on their way to school and when they are out with friends, and women routinely face harassment on their way to work or while running errands – particularly if they walk or take public transportation. They should not be penalized because of this catch-22.

It’s time to break the cycle. It’s time for a smart funder to realize that the stories, informal data, and studies from the 1990s support the need  for new, comprehensive studies that can inform new policies—and help make our streets safe and free for girls and women, as well as for boys and men.

 

Holly Kearl is the American Association of University Women Program Manager and the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women (Praeger Publishers, 2010). Holly has written articles about street harassment for publications including the Guardian, Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Ms. Magazine Blog.

The Impact of Rep. Ryan’s Proposed Budget on Women and Families

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget slashes programs that benefit women and families and neglects important investments in future generations.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

It’s in the Numbers

There has been an onslaught of criticism in the media about how Representative Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t add up in terms of the numbers on unemployment, job creation, and the deficit. But little attention has been focused on the major impact the Chair of the Budget Committee’s “Path to Prosperity” would have on many women and their families—now and in the future.

How would women and families be affected? The premise for Ryan’s plan is a Congressional Budget Office deficit projection based on current levels of taxation and government spending. But Ryan does not propose any tax increases—maintaining President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and for corporations indefinitely, and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. As Jay Bookman notes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ryan offers no concrete plans to address Social Security’s solvency issue, only passing the buck. What he does propose are a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and drastic spending cuts that would place the burden of cuts on lower income Americans, and especially women and families.

According to calculations from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities two-thirds of his cuts are for programs that serve low-income Americans, including the much abhorred, and likely unsustainable, cuts to Medicare which would leave many retired Americans paying more than half of their income to cover the costs of private health care.

Needlessly Punishing Those Who Need Aid Most

Ryan’s proposed spending cuts to Medicare senselessly punish the millions of retired Americans who lost assets in the Great Recession and are struggling to maintain even a modest standard of living. IWPR’s report, Social Security Vital to Women and People of Color, Women Increasingly Reliant, paints the picture of a retired generation that lost assets in the past decade and are increasingly dependent on Social Security. Adding private health care costs would create an additional strain and would go against the sentiment of most voters.

Women have historically relied on Social Security more than men due to pay disparities in their working lifetime and a related shortfall of private pensions held by women. The report shows that, between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent (from 3.8 million to 5.7 million) to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009.

According to a February NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, many Americans do not support cuts to Medicare and most oppose turning it into a voucher program. And IWPR’s survey research has shown that most Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, do not support cuts to Social Security either and favor candidates who support the program. Six out of seven are not opposed to paying higher taxes in order to provide security and stability to retired Americans.

Dismissing Investments in Women and Families

The increased burdens on Americans, particularly women and families, do not stop there under Ryan’s plan. As the National Women’s Law Center notes in their statement on the proposal, a repeal of the ACA would again make being a woman a pre-existing condition that could allow insurance companies to charge women more. Another stress piled on women and families: covering the costs of health care for young people who are graduating from college with limited job prospects (ACA allows dependents to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26).

The health of children is also at stake with these cuts. The ACA includes important provisions for hourly and typically low-income workers to pump breast milk at work—an important step for getting closer to the Department of Health and Human Services’ goals for rates of breastfeeding.

Another important reason that this plan will be a blow to families and their economic prosperity is that it doesn’t allow much—if any—room for investment in jobs or in the future.

Back in February, Ryan’s comments on President Obama’s budget demonstrated his lack of interest in investing in young people and families.  “It sounds like the similar budgets that he has been giving us the last couple of years,” Ryan said. “It looks like to me that it is going to be very small on spending discipline and a lot of new spending [sic] so-called investments.”

President Obama’s plan does call for major cuts to programs that could advance the United States in the knowledge-based economy and competitive global marketplace: high-speed rail, education, and science research.

But what Ryan fails to recognize is that investments in education will help future generations to achieve economic independence for themselves and to support families. For example, cutting Pell grants as proposed would mean that fewer students could go to college, fewer will obtain high-paying jobs, and more will be left to rely on the very services that Ryan proposed to cut.

Already, many student parents (a group that makes up nearly a quarter of all the country’s postsecondary students), lack access to childcare facilities. Faced with the pressures of caring for their families while going to school, some are forced to drop out before achieving certificates or degrees.

Providing supports to all students, including student parents, is imperative for the country to meet the challenges of the knowledge-based economy. Currently, the U.S. has slipped to 12th out of 36 developed nations in rates of postsecondary graduation.

Ryan’s plan leaves families and future generations without access to resources for advancement. This is not the road that we want to go down.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Visualizing the Gender Wage Gap

by Jennifer Clark

On April 12, we will “celebrate” Equal Pay Day, held on a Tuesday every year to symbolize how far into a second work week women must work to earn the same amount men earn in a single work week. Research shows that the wage gap is real and has had adverse effects on women’s lifetime earnings and family economic security. Since pictures sometimes speak louder than words, here are a few charts that visualize the extent of the wage gap and what (un)equal pay means for women workers and their families.

(click to enlarge)

The Gender Earnings Ratio, 1955-2010 (IWPR), shows the wage gap as it has narrowed over time. In 1955, women earned about 64 percent of what men earned. Women now earn 77 percent of what men earn.  Although narrowing, this chart shows that it has taken American women 55 years to close the wage gap a mere 13 percent.

(click to enlarge)

Projection for Pay Equity in 2056 (IWPR), prepared by IWPR for NBC Nightly News, shows that if current trends continue, women will achieve equal pay in 2056, 45 years from now. The original chart used for the projection provides more complete background on how IWPR arrived at this date.

(click to view chart on the BLS website)

Women’s earnings and employment by industry, 2009 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)shows women’s earnings broken down by occupation.  This chart underscores the fact that, even in industries where women are well-represented in the workforce, a gender wage gap still exists. For example, more women are employed in “education & health services” than in any other category included in the chart, yet women in this industry still only earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

To view interactive maps relating to pay equity by state, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has a Gender Wage Gap map and the Center for American Progress has a map on the percentage of female breadwinners.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and Immigration

http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/organizations-working-with-latina-immigrants-resources-and-strategies-for-changeby Mallory Mpare

The U.S. has often been dubbed the “nation of immigrants” and this is no less true today.  However, the face of immigration has drastically changed while policies and practices have failed to adapt. There is a long history of immigrant men seeking opportunity in—well—the land of opportunity by working to provide for families, often left behind in their countries of origin.

No longer is this the singular scenario.

Immigrant women have increasingly sought to reunite their families while also seeking new employment and educational opportunities in the U.S. for themselves. Instead of being met with uplifting and economically empowering opportunities, these women experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, on the job violence, employment discrimination, and sexual exploitation.

At an IWPR release event on March 25 at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the report, Organizations Working With Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, noted that “comprehensive immigration reform is part of winning the future.” The report notes that, currently, nonprofit organizations and congregations play an integral role in advancing the rights and well being of immigrant families.

In the report, IWPR explored how nonprofits and congregations work with immigrant women, especially low-income Latinas, to better enable them to safely navigate through life in a new, and sometimes hostile, environment. The report notes that although these organizations serve as a vital resource to immigrant women, they face obstacles such as negative public dialogue, restrictive policies and an ever dwindling funding stream which hinder their ability to meet the full needs of immigrant women.

While increasing immigrant women’s access to resources is important, if immigrant women must seek out these resources in a hostile environment, their access will surely remain limited. Of the 280 groups in the study, 120 are involved in some type of advocacy, and seek change a social and political structure which—they feel—deny the rights of immigrant women. Immigrant rights— like women’s rights and human rights—are about preserving personal agency, and allowing space and resources for people to make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families.

In her presentation at the Wilson Center, Cynthia Hess, Study Director and co-author of the report outlined the wide range of services that nonprofit organizations offer to immigrant women such as English classes, child care, health services, and access to affordable transportation. She noted that, in many cases, religious groups have stepped in to provide services when the government has not, and that a climate of fear—for both documented and undocumented immigrants—may prevent Latina immigrants from seeking services. Fear of being pulled over by the authorities can even lead immigrants to avoid driving.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that IWPR’s report was released on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. Many of the victims of that tragedy were working immigrant women and girls. In the days leading up to the Triangle factory tragedy, women organized around their concerns , protesting and forming unions to protect their interests.  However, one well-known factory, The Triangle, refused to recognize these unions and would face tragic consequences as a result.

IWPR’s report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants, also shows that there are consequences for ignoring the needs of immigrant women and the challenges they face in trying to earn a living in their adopted country.

Other speakers and panelists at the March 25 launch event included Sonya Michel, Director of the United States Studies program at the Wilson Center; Patricia Foxen, Associate Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA (professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community); Jen Smyers, Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service; Cecilia Menjívar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University; Lydia Guzman, President of Somos America; and, Mary Odem, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and History at Emory University. Speaking on behalf of IWPR were Heidi Hartmann, President, and co-authors of the report and Study Directors, Jane Henrici and Cynthia Hess.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

One on One with Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the U.S. DOL Women’s Bureau

Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. DOL

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

IWPR was honored to have Sara Manzano-Díaz as keynote speaker at a launch event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for our latest report on immigration, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change. We also had the opportunity to interview Ms. Manzano-Díaz, the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), for this blog on her work championing for the rights of working women and for families.

Ms. Manzano-Díaz’s resume includes judicial, state, and federal titles: Deputy Secretary of State for Regulatory Programs at the Pennsylvania Department of State (appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell), Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights and Litigation at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant Attorney General in New York, and a Judicial Assistant and Pro Se Attorney in the New York State Judiciary. She also served as co-chair of The Forum of Executive Women’s Mentoring Committee, which mentors young professional women as they begin their careers, and participated in Madrinas, a program that provides mentors for at-risk Latina girls to encourage them to finish high school and attend college. Ms. Manzano-Díaz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and Communications from Boston University and a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law.

IWPR:  Please tell me about your background: What led you to pursue a degree in law?  What inspired you to pursue work in the civil service—specifically for women and families?

Sara Manzano-Díaz:  Since the age of five I envisioned myself becoming a lawyer. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I became the family translator at a very young age. As a result, a love for advocacy grew from that experience. I became an advocate for my own family, which fueled a passion to advocate for all working families and women. Now, I represent 72 million working women as Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

IWPR:  What influence do you think the Women’s Bureau has on policy?  How does it help to empower women?

SMD:  When the law was passed in 1920 creating the office, the Women’s Bureau was given authority to formulate standards and policies that promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve safety and working conditions, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment. One of the agency’s early achievements was the inclusion of women under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which, for the first time, set minimum wages and maximum working hours.  As the advocate for women within the Labor Department, the agency was also instrumental in the development of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

In the 21st Century, our vision and the policy direction of the program still remains one of empowering all working women to achieve economic security. That translates into preparing them for high paying jobs, ensuring fair compensation, promoting workplace flexibility as well as helping homeless women veterans reintegrate into the workforce. Empowerment of women makes the world work and strengthens the American economy.

IWPR:  What are your goals for the Women’s Bureau?

SMD:  During my tenure, I want to see the Women’s Bureau continue to make a real difference in the lives of women of all races and to help families who have suffered in this economy. Our four priorities include: equal pay, workplace flexibility, higher paying jobs for women and assisting women veterans experiencing homeless. Lucrative jobs exist for women in the skilled trades, green sector and other non-traditional industries. Our goal is to link women to occupations in high-growth and emerging industries that can move them and their families into middle class status. Later this spring, we expect to publish a guide that links women to the green job sector nationwide. Another project will help Latino women, the fastest growing female population in America, achieve financial security through a financial literacy course in Spanish.

IWPR:   The anniversary of Equal Pay Day will be on April 12th this year. How far do you think we have come since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act? What do we have left to accomplish for gender equality?

SMD:  Women continue to make great strides since passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This administration supports the Pay Check Fairness Act and we are working hard every day towards economic security for women. In 1963 women earned $.59 on average for every dollar earned by men, today women earn $.81 on the dollar (based on the 2010 Census). As part of the President’s Equal Pay Taskforce, we are working to ensure that women have the tools to get fair pay in the workplace.

IWPR:  You have had a very accomplished career. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

SMD:  As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating for the voiceless. President Obama and [Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis] share that vision and passion to care for the most vulnerable members of society. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work for two historic individuals and know that the work we do will impact the lives of working class women and families. As Director of the Women’s Bureau, I get to advocate on a national scale and represent women of all ethnicities in the fight for their economic security, from rural women to single moms to homeless women veterans.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.