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National | fall 2006

National Short Takes
News from around the country: California, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

The U.S. has fallen severely short of the standards for women’s rights in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, according to a report filed by a group of several NGOs (including Human Rights Advocates International and NOW). Among the instances of persistent sex discrimination cited in the report are the U.S.’s failure to effectively address gender-based violence and the “pervasive” gender wage gap. “If the government would comply with the U.N. standards it would make a huge difference…It would eliminate many of the problems women face today in the United States,” says NOW president Kim Gandy. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. nurses could lose union representation under an expected ruling from the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB would reclassify “charge nurses”—who supervise other nurses but can’t hire or fire them—as management, making them ineligible for union membership. The expected changes would thus remove them from union protection for their pay and benefits, and diminish their ability to advocate for patients’ rights. Nurses in major cities throughout the U.S. held rallies this summer against the likely ruling. Women skateboarders were paid more to shred (perform skating tricks) at this year’s X Games, following a victory by Action Sports Alliance (ASA), a women’s extreme-sports advocacy group. Due to pressure from ASA, ESPN increased prize money for women skateboarders from $9,000 to $30,000 this year and next year will televise women’s skateboarding events in the annual X Games for the first time. Cara-Beth Burnside, who has won the X Games Women’s Skateboard Vert contest three times, heads ASA. “It’s great just to feel like you’re really a part of the thing, not just a little demo show,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

CALIFORNIA
The third time’s the charm for state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber—after two vetoes in two years, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a Lieber-penned minimum-wage increase this summer. “It’s definitely a women’s issue—it always has been,” Lieber told Ms. Women, along with minorities, make up a large part of the state’s minimum-wage earners, many of them identifying as heads of households. According to a 2006 report by the Women’s Foundation of California, women in cities across the state identified inadequate wages as a problem, especially single women with children. The new state minimum of $8 an hour—which will go into effect in two increments between January 1, 2007, and January 1, 2008—still seems inadequate for a single-parent household, but at least it shows some progress, as the federal minimum is stuck at $5.15 (see page 59).

LOUISIANA
Michelle Selden won’t have to practice changing diapers any time soon. Her school board canceled its planned mandatory sex-segregated education program after the 13- year-old middle school student—a certified scuba diver, firefighter cadet and kung fu purple belt—filed suit. The program was inspired by the book Why Gender Matters, which advocates giving boys practice with “pursuing and killing prey” and girls the chance to hone their child-rearing skills. “We are relieved school officials have realized they cannot ignore the law and sex-segregate classes based on broad gender stereotypes about psychological differences between boys and girls,” said ACLU of Louisiana’s executive director, Joe Cook, in an official press release.

MICHIGAN
A federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that Michigan high schools are in violation of Title IX. Michigan is the only state in the country where girls must play in nontraditional seasons—basketball in the fall and volleyball in the winter—often reducing their exposure to recruiters and chances to earn scholarships. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), the defendant in the case, claims that college coaches have more time to scout in the off-season. “The overwhelming evidence is that this harms girls,” responds Neena Chaudhry of the National Women’s Law Center. As Appellate Judge Ronald Lee Gilman noted, “MHSAA could, after all, rearrange the schedules and require some of the male sports to play in disadvantageous seasons.”

MISSOURI
Professional women wrestlers won a victory in September when the Missouri Office of Athletics announced that it would no longer require them to submit to doctor-administered pregnancy tests within a week of each match. In March, 19-year-old wrestler Julie Utley went to the ACLU of Eastern Missouri complaining that the rule violated her civil rights by treating her differently from male wrestlers. “There [was] no exemption [in the law] for people who know they’re not pregnant because they haven’t had procreative sex, or they’re on birth control, or they’re sterile,” said Tony Rothert of the ACLU. Under the new policy, women wrestlers will still have to verify that they are aware of their pregnancy status, but they can determine this on their own without a doctor’s confirmation.

NEW YORK
Citing a passage from the New Testament—“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man”— Pastor Timothy LaBouf at First Baptist Church in Watertown dismissed 81-year-old Sunday school teacher Mary Lambert because she is female. Outraged community members have suggested that Lambert’s questioning of LaBouf’s actions—including his removal of crosses, paintings and books from the church—is the real reason behind her ouster. Although teaching offers from other area churches have flooded in, Lambert still opes that a change of leadership at First Baptist might allow her to return to the church where she’s been a member for 60 years and a teacher for 54. Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky’s 15-year gender-discrimination dispute with Columbia University will soon be argued before the State of New York Supreme Court. A UNESCO professor of mathematics and economics, Chichilnisky initially sued the university in 1991 for being paid less than similarly qualified male professors, and a federal court awarded her $500,000 in damages. The university nearly doubled her salary from $57,000 to $107,000, but not without retaliation: She claims that in 2000 her office was dismantled without notification. A second suit, filed in 2000, addresses the alleged retaliation and diversion of $2.2 million in promised research funding (Columbia countersued in 2003). Despite the attention Chichilnisky’s suits have brought, women professors at Columbia still earn nearly $4,000 less than male professors’ $158,000 annual salary, according to the American Association of University Professors.

OHIO
When the pregnancy rate at a district high school reached 13 percent—64 out of 490 female students—the Canton school district realized the ineffectiveness of its abstinence-only health education program. A new health curriculum task force has revised the program’s basic text for the first time since 1988, augmenting advice to stay abstinent with information about use of birth control to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Says task force member Rev. David Morgan, “The task force felt very strongly that we need to move beyond a place where when someone brought up questions about sexual activity, our answer was ‘Just Say No.’”

PENNSYLVANIA
In July, on a boat at the junction of three rivers near Pittsburgh, eight U.S. women were ordained as priests in a ceremony organized by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The women priests risk excommunication for defying church doctrine, and one, author Bridget Mary Meehan, had five of her books dropped by her Catholic publisher. “We want the church transformed into a community of equals—I believe any sacrifice I have made is worth it,” says Meehan, who celebrated her first mass in August.

SOURCES: Equality Now, New China News Agency, the Beijing News, The New York Times, Associated Press, Amnesty International, The Peninsula (Qatar), Reuters, the Toronto Star, Women’s E-News, Financial Times, Ms. Feminist Wire.