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FEATURE | winter 2008

Visions for Change

In this spirit, the editors of Ms. magazine have asked our readers and feminist leaders, experts and activists to share their visions of what must be done to move forward at this extraordinary time. What follows is a sampling of what’s on their minds and in their hearts.

Please add your Visions for Change here! | Visions of the Day | Readers' Visions


CEMENT EQUAL RIGHTS. Establishing a Cabinet level Office on Women would be a good start, followed by appointment of judges who will ensure and protect women’s rights. President Obama can reignite the call to pass the ERA, and thus include women in the U.S. Constitution, and he should urge the Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) without weakening amendments (see page 12).
—KIM GANDY, PRESIDENT, NOW

SOW EDUCATION, REAP REWARDS.To solve the most challenging problems facing our world, President Obama should actively promote global gender equality. For every additional year of education a woman receives beyond the fourth grade, her average family size drops by 20 percent, her children’s mortality rates drop by 10 percent and her risk of HIV/AIDS infection drops by over 50 percent.
—KAVITA RAMDAS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, GLOBAL FUND FOR WOMEN

New MoonGIVE GIRLS WHAT THEY WANT. As girls ages 8 through 15, we’re so excited that Malia and Sasha will be in the White House! What we need from the president is better health care for girls and more opportunities for college—not just getting in, but paying for it. We need to end the war in Iraq, because so many women and girls are dying there. As we grow up, we need choices about our own bodies and we need equal pay. Most of all, we need a president who listens to all girls and respects us. P.S. We’re sending Malia and Sasha a four-year membership to New Moon Girls.
—MEMBERS OF NEWMOONGIRLS.COM

SUPPORT GAY RIGHTS. Feminists must stand in solidarity with the queer community and make sure we can attain marriage equality for same-sex couples. The passage of Proposition 8 in California showed me that this country still has a long way to go.
—MARGARET CHO, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN

CUT OFF ABSTINENCE-ONLY FUNDS. President Obama can eliminate the nearly $200 million a year going toward failed abstinence only- until-marriage programs from the budget he submits to Congress in February, and return to funding evidence-based programs that will foster a generation of sexually healthy and happy adults.
—SHELBY KNOX, SEX-EDUCATION ACTIVIST, SUBJECT OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILM THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX

DON’T PLAY POLITICAL FOOTBALL WITH WOMEN. You only had to see “women’s health” reduced to air quotes by John McCain in the presidential debate to understand just how bad it’s gotten. But we’re hopeful, because Barack Obama is a woman’s man. Raised by a single, independent mother, married to a woman every bit his equal and father of two smart young daughters, it’s obvious President Obama gets us. He unapologetically believes in our rights. We’re ready to get down to what women need: affordable, quality health care and the unalienable right to make our own decisions about childbearing.
—CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD FEDERATION OF AMERICA

CLOSE FAKE CLINICS. How about we shut down all the anti-choice centers posing as pregnancy clinics and turn them into Dunkin’ Donuts?
—KATHY NAJIMY, ACTOR

ENSURE WOMEN CAN EARN. The road to social parity for women of all cultures, including Afghanistan, is the same: universal education for girls, access to health care and family planning for women, and, above all, the means to earn money. Earnings give a woman a voice in the family, the society and her own destiny. Nothing else will elevate a woman as quickly in any culture, including our own.
—MAVIS LENO, CHAIR, FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION’S CAMPAIGN TO HELP AFGHAN WOMEN AND GIRLS

ELEVATE WOMEN SCIENTISTS. President Obama can encourage young women to enter careers in science and technology by appointing distinguished women to influential positions in such federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Young women need to believe that they have a place in science, and success breeds success.
—SHIRLEY M. TILGHMAN, PRESIDENT, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

REMEMBER THE THREE R’S. Feminists understand that equality for women and girls will be sustained when government makes progressive education a national agenda. As we study and learn together we create community. Making literacy and democratic education available to everyone is the necessary foundation for responsible citizenship. Without education, diverse populations cannot communicate across boundaries.
—BELL HOOKS, AUTHOR AND DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR IN RESIDENCE, BEREA COLLEGE

DON’T FORGET THE POOR. The most urgent problem facing women and girls here and around the globe is poverty and its dire consequences: poor health, dying young, illiteracy, violence, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, dependency, bleak futures. Women continue to be unsafe in their homes, their workplaces, refugee camps and in war-torn spots around the world. Their families, not just middle-class families, need the president’s ear.
—BEVERLY GUY-SHEFTALL, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, WOMEN’S RESEARCH & RESOURCE CENTER, SPELMAN COLLEGE

LIGHTEN EARTH’S LOAD. Nothing is more important than that human beings begin to limit, drastically and immediately, their presence on the Earth. We must make obsolete the habit of projecting huge increases in the number of people expected to be born, and acting as if these projections are inevitable and natural. They are neither. It is women who are responsible for giving birth, and it is simply not in any woman’s self-interest to have more children than she herself can provide for. It is definitely not in the best interest of the planet. Population decisions must, ultimately, be placed in the hands of women. If men expect to live very much longer on this Earth, they will have to accept this reality. We need leadership that is not stuck in religious, societal or moral doublespeak. As we enter what may be a new period of enlightened awareness of our peril and a heightened sense of what is possible, it is my hope that we will demand from our leaders the same passion that we possess: to lighten our Mother’s load, hear her cries of distress, and discipline ourselves away from a vanity that makes us think Earth is all about us.
—ALICE WALKER, ESSAYIST, POET, NOVELIST AND ACTIVIST; AUTHOR OF WE ARE THE ONES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR

COUNT MATERNAL DEATH AS VIOLENCE. We should expand the definition of violence against women to include maternal mortality and lack of access to family planning and safe abortion. Surely no woman can plan her life if she is going to die in childbirth or from unsafe abortion. Surely this is violence at personhood just as are beatings, rape or honor killings.
—JANE ROBERTS, COFOUNDER, 34 MILLION FRIENDS OF THE U.N. POPULATION FUND

SUPPORT TRUE GREEN SOLUTIONS. Green roofing, urban forestry and healthy wetlands throughout our cities, suburbs and countryside could reduce the burden on traditional infrastructure, provide great local jobs and clean the air and water we all depend on for healthy lives.
MAJORA CARTER, FOUNDER, SUSTAINABLE SOUTH BRONX; ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT

BEAR WITH US. How about we work to preserve a small patch of healthy grass for my kids’ kids to Slip n’ Slide on—and maybe a little cube of ice so polar bears have somewhere to sit?
—KATHY NAJIMY, ACTOR

MAKE DREAMS COME TRUE. The historic election of a black president takes the dual mission of the YWCA—eliminating racism and empowering women— out of the dream state and into a world of possibility.
—LORRAINE COLE, CEO, YWCA USA

MAKE ENOUGH BE ENOUGH. The late Alice Trillin coined the principle of “enoughism,” a threshold of wealth and consumption above which no one needs more—to which I would add a threshold below which no one can thrive. We should work to make this principle common sense. Even if the thresholds are modest, enoughism could transform the lives of women and children worldwide and reorient policy fields ranging from the environment to human rights to economics.
—WENDY BROWN, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY

LET WOMEN REPAIR INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT. We must hold the U.N. to its own rule that women be brought front and center in peace negotiations and post-conflict rebuilding. Women’s fully empowered presence in resolving conflicts would forever alter these processes—and perhaps post-conflict would no longer just be another synonym for pre-war.
—ABIGAIL DISNEY, PRODUCER OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILM PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL

HALT THE RAIDS. First, Obama should place a moratorium on immigration raids, which are having a terrible impact on Latinas. If they’re not arrested along with their husbands, these women end up under house arrest, relying on local charities to feed themselves and their children. Second, a woman’s right to choose is not up for debate. Punto.
—DAISY HERNÁNDEZ, EDITOR, COLORLINES MAGAZINE

PROSECUTE WAR CRIMINALS. Now is the time for the U.S. to join the International Criminal Court, the world’s first-ever permanent war crimes tribunal. Transnational feminist activists have successfully ensured that systematic wartime rape and sexual slavery are crimes prosecutable by the ICC. One hundred and eight countries have ratified the treaty that established the court; opposed are Iraq, Libya, Israel, China, Yemen, Qatar and, yes, the United States. Barack Obama needs to sign the treaty, then send it to the Senate for ratification.
—CYNTHIA ENLOE, RESEARCH PROFESSOR, CLARK UNIVERSITY

ROOT OUT MILITARY RAPE. As commander in chief, President Obama can direct the military never to tolerate or hide the sexual persecution of its women again, and to lift the ban against women in combat, which denies them the respect they have earned. Today, even as women soldiers are fighting and dying in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, their treatment by their comrades is a national scandal. They are sent into combat without official recognition, one-third are sexually assaulted and almost all are harassed. Here is Obama’s chance to take on military misogyny at its roots.
—HELEN BENEDICT, AUTHOR OF THE FORTHCOMING THE LONELY SOLDIER: THE PRIVATE WAR OF WOMEN SERVING IN IRAQ (BEACON PRESS, APRIL)

POLICE THE TRAFFICKERS. An estimated 27 million people, mostly women and girls, are victims of human trafficking. Ending this crime requires a concerted international effort to prosecute traffickers fully at home and abroad. By repairing and strengthening our country’s relationships with our international neighbors, Barack Obama can empower the global response that is required to combat the modern-day slave trade.
—KAMALA HARRIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SAN FRANCISCO

LET THE SURVIVORS LEAD. The violence-against women movement has to, once again, become a movement and not just a network of social-service providers. Violence will only end when survivors are seen as potential organizers on their own behalf, rather than simply clients of social workers, lawyers, judges or medical personnel.
—ANDREA SMITH, PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN CULTURE AND WOMEN’S STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN; COFOUNDER, INCITE! WOMEN OF COLOR AGAINST VIOLENCE

GO LOCAL. Let’s transform the U.S. from a global bully into a source of support for grassroots women’s movements around the world. Support local women’s movements without co-opting them. Remove ideological strings on U.S. aid and give communities the power to dictate their own needs. Simply listen to women. We’re talking.
—JILL FILIPOVIC, BLOGGER, FEMINISTE

INVEST IN CARETAKING. Training more health-care workers, teachers and social workers will allow us to truly invest in our future and create jobs for women. And passing the Employee Free Choice Act—which would allow workers to join a union with a single signature—will ultimately lift the incomes of all workers.
—DOLORES HUERTA, COFOUNDER, UNITED FARM WORKERS; PRESIDENT, DOLORES HUERTA FOUNDATION

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have received so many breathless letters myself and now it’s role reversal time. You have reawakened a disillusioned and passive electorate and begun healing racial wounds that have crippled us for centuries. I believe, like you do, that America today is not as intolerant and bitterly divided as we are encouraged to be by the mainstream media and the military industrial complex that dictates its messaging. It is my sincere hope that our national discourse will rise to your example and employ more humility and maturity in the political arena. I look forward to working with you. ¡Viva democracia!
—ANI DIFRANCO, SINGER-SONGWRITER\

BROADEN HEALTH CARE. Create health care systems that are culturally competent, linguistically accessible and geographically centered in underserved communities. It is imperative for our nation’s leaders to make the health of women of color a priority.
—ELEANOR HINTON HOYTT, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BLACK WOMEN’S HEALTH IMPERATIVE

RE-ROUTE U.S. MONEY. It’ll be a long hard slog for our new president to correct all the ways American policies deepen the marginalization and poverty of women in developing countries. From the boatloads of cash we send to patriarchal, undemocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia to the trade policies that allow U.S. corporations to exploit the labor of some of the most impoverished women in the world—it’ll take more than the brush of a presidential pen. In the meantime, can we at least not spread sexist dogma with our aid dollars? Billions in U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS prevention require recipients to preach abstinence and condemn prostitution. It doesn’t work, it’s dangerous and it should end, straight away.
—SONIA SHAH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST; AUTHOR OF THE BODY HUNTERS: TESTING NEW DRUGS ON THE WORLD’S POOREST PATIENTS AND CRUDE: THE STORY OF OIL

The Editors of FeministingWATER THE GRASSROOTS. The Obama administration alone can’t do all the things we want it to—it requires a vibrant and effective counterpart in the social change sector. As an organizer, Obama understands the kind of support they need to make real and lasting change.
—THE EDITORS OF FEMINISTING.COM

 

 


Visions of the Day

OPEN THE CAGES. The prison problem’s not just at Guantánamo. One in 100 U.S. adults lives in a cage: the world's highest rate. Mass incarceration is an anti-racist feminist issue. It diminishes life-chances for millions of working-class women. They struggle through quadruple days—at jobs, fighting for justice, nurturing imprisoned parents' children, and guiding women and men who, on release, encounter neo-segregation rules devised by Republicans and Democrats. Societies know how to reduce harm through decriminalization. Obama can end the domestic war by abolishing catch-all federal incarceration and detention, dropping reentry barriers, and giving states and counties incentives to do the same.
—RUTH WILSON GILMORE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA; AUTHOR, GOLDEN GULAG: PRISONS, SURPLUS, CRISIS, AND OPPOSITION IN GLOBALIZING CALIFORNIA

CATCH UP—THEN MOVE AHEAD. I'd like to see not just a reversal of all the damage Bush has done—a repeal of the global gag rule, refunding the UNFPA, a repeal of the Partial Birth Abortion Act, and an end to abstinence-only funding—but also a step forward. It's hard for Democrats to remember this, but we can move forward. How about comprehensive sex education and woman-friendly universal health care to start with?
—AMANDA MARCOTTE, BLOGGER, PANDAGON

GET WOMEN OUT OF THE MARGINS. What do we really want to see? The end of women’s issues. Don’t get us wrong—not the ignoring of women’s issues. Not a downplaying of all that feminists have achieved. What we want is leadership that considers all these issues as simply human issues. This change will need to come from leadership—both women and men—who were raised on feminism, for whom feminism is a natural assumption. And it will come from feminists who believe in inclusiveness—in reaching across the gender aisle, so to speak.
—KATIE GOODMAN AND SOREN KISIEL, CO-WRITERS AND DIRECTORS, BROAD COMEDY

EMPOWER THE INVISIBLE ONES. Every week, I lead writing workshops with young women of color who are either incarcerated or on probation in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have been arrested for stealing, for street prostitution, for gang involvement or because they have nowhere else to go. Their problems stem from poverty, but also from being invisible. If you don't see yourself in the public sphere, how can you participate? The mainstream media refuses to acknowledge their stories, instead focusing on the easy gloss of Gossip Girl and Super Sweet 16. If we want to empower this generation of young women—those who have been silenced and marginalized—we must provide the tools and the distribution for them to tell their stories.
—NEELANJANA BANERJEE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, YO! YOUTH OUTLOOK MULTIMEDIA

STOP THE BOMBARDMENT. When I tour in my band, the teenage girls that I see are so, so hungry for strong women to look up to. The ones who are turned on by the idea of female empowerment are completely confused as they encounter the roaring paradox of a commercial culture that screams BE YOURSELF while pummeling them with fad diets, thongs, waxing and vapid celebrity-worship. Girls are becoming sexualized so early, without being given any honest education about how to wield their power. I am hoping that the next few years usher in what we all need so badly—an era of self-realization, self-acceptance and responsibility. This planet is crumbling. There's no more time to dick around.
—AMANDA PALMER, DRESDEN DOLLS

REPEAL, PROVIDE, SUPPORT. Repeal the Hyde Amendment denying Medicaid coverage of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. Provide subsidized daycare to working moms so women and children can enjoy the same benefits as their counterparts in other industrialized countries. Support equal rights—penalize employers who pay women less than men for doing the same job.
COCO FUSCO, ARTIST

STOP SELLING OUT THE POOR. If we really are entering a new phase of politics, we have to stop selling out poor people to appease opponents of women’s human rights. Political expedience has sacrificed us for too long, and we will not stand silently by while conventional wisdom (neither conventional nor wise) tells us that we should only reach for common ground and forget that women who need birth control, sex education, and other reproductive health services also need abortion rights.
—LORETTA J. ROSS, NATIONAL COORDINATOR, SISTERSONG WOMEN OF COLOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH COLLECTIVE

GET UP, STAND UP. Bush said that dissent was dangerous to national security, and we stayed home and blogged our anger. But finally, we got off our collective booties and elected President Obama and now we can say, without fear, that we want equality in marriage, in wages and via full unequivocal dominion over our bodies. Why do we fear losing our so-called “inalienable rights” every four years? You may say we’re dreamers, but we’re not the only ones. We hope one day you’ll join us—but if not, we’ll drag you along.
—FRANCES CALLIER AND ANGELA V. SHELTON (THE RADIO HOSTS KNOWN AS FRANGELA)

80 CENTS IS NO DOLLAR. For too long, business as usual in America has meant underpaying women. It is time for the U.S. to catch up with other countries and sign the Fair Pay Act, requiring employers to pay jobs dominated by women fairly, compared with men's jobs of equivalent value. It's past time to close the gender wage gap.
HEIDI HARTMANN, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR WOMEN'S POLICY RESEARCH


Readers' Visions

My vision for encouraging women's equality in the world involves the necessary first step of bringing into our collective consciousness the many ways that our (women's) subordinate roles support the current economic dynamics in the world. We can certainly add our important voices to the current world evaluation of economic distress. The world needs to stop seeing the common roles women play in the family and society as the norm. We can create new, collaborative ways of working in society.
—AMY HOSTETTER, MA

Value care more than we value competition.
–CELIA WINKLER, MT

[We need] protection for gays and lesbians and their family—marriage rights protect us, our partners, our children.
—KAREN WARREN, CA

A world community galvanized by diversity will come very close to my vision of transformational change.
MARGA DIETER, MA

We need a national health plan, affordable housing and jobs that pay enough to live with dignity.
—JUDITH FREEMAN, NY

Let us envision a world in which women and children are safe, in which men choose diplomacy over militarism as the first way to resolve conflicts; a world in which equality reigns and every group is granted the same civil rights; a world where communication, compassion, vision and enterprise are inextricably linked and individuals and corporations work together to achieve humanitarian ends.
—FRANCESCA JACOBS, NJ

We look forward to working with President Obama on his promise to create policies that value families at work. These include guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days, expanding access to family leave, making leave affordable and ending family responsibility discrimination. We also hope to see a family-friendly White House—not just space for kids, but everyone having time to spend with their loved ones. This agenda is critical to ensure equality for women in the workplace and in the home.
ELLEN BRAVO, WI

[My vision] is to make the world colorblind—we need to teach young women that we're all the same regardless of our skin color. We fight the same battles and together can help heal the wounds of the world.
—LAEY HUDSON, CT

[We need to] invest in comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention. Numerous studies and evidence show that abstinence-only rhetoric is a complete failure and is helping increase HIV/AIDS prevalence in our communities, with girls and women as vulnerable as ever. The President needs to revoke the abstinence- only provisions of PEPFAR.
—BETHSHEBA ORERO, CA

Train boys to be men that don't need to oppress women.
DIANE PEI WU, CA

TV shows like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Charmed are empowering women to leave traditional religion and join female-centered belief systems such as Wicca, Paganism, and the New Age movement. I would love to see more movies and programs about females who are in control of their lives through the use of spirituality and witchcraft. Promoting earth-centered religions such as paganism is also an excellent way to get people to focus on environmental concerns.
—HEATHER LANDRY, TN

We need VOCA (the Victims of Crime Act) and VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) fully refunded. The Bush administration cut funding for these acts, which forced domestic violence and sexual assault programs to close or reduce staff. Now women in abusive relationships have fewer resources.
—DORIE BUDDE, TX

To be a true democracy, we need to pass a law mandating a 50/50 Congress by 2016. Only then will our nation be fully human.
—GENEVIEVE MARCUS, CA

The elimination of gender-based wage discrimination is of critical importance to the families of working women who comprise half of America’s working people. Even in good times, the wage gap—77 cents earned by women for each dollar earned by men—persists across all years of experience and all levels of education. Data from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research shows that families suffer as a result: During the first 20 years of a typical woman’s working life, the gap already has cost her and her family $440,000. Women get no price break when they pay for gas, groceries, or the light bill; why should employers get a price break when they pay women?
—MARIA ROBERTS, FL

Let's start with passage of the Equal Rights Amendment! What better legacy than to bring the dream of equality into reality for women and girls. We've broken one barrier with this election--now let's bring down the ugly and demeaning sexism that pervades our society.
—MARILYN DEL DUCA, NJ

It's time that women who work just as hard as men for their degrees in college receive the same pay as a man with the same qualifications. If we don't enforce equal pay, it will always remain unequal pay.
—WENDY STEINBERG, MN

It is absolutely necessary that women's history become integrated into all history taught in public and private schools. Without a sense of historical identity, it is as difficult for women to move forward to full participation in the world community as it has been (and continues to be) for so-called “minority groups.” A thorough grounding in our history will enable women to achieve full emancipation.
—KAY ANDERSON, CA

Let's get the pay equity issue solved. So many countries are ahead of the U.S. in this area. The new president could begin by mandating equal pay for work of equal value in all government agencies and all private businesses that want government contracts.
—JUDY PEHRSON, PA

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