YWCA Blog

The YWCA Knoxville advocates for women from all walks of life and follows cultural trends and legislation that impact our clients and community. You can keep up with some of the issues we care about by subscribing to our blog.

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Pink & Purple: Creating a New Movement and Conversation

Sunny Slaughter is a federally certified Instructor and Consultant for the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where she reviews and approves training material and certifies law enforcement officers and others as Adjunct Instructors. She is also a subject matter expert for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and makes regular appearances on CNN’s HLN/After Dark.

“If you champion the cause of ending violence against women in any form or fashion then you might know a few stats. Maybe you have even volunteered at an event, shelter or made a donation. Some people recognize the purple ribbon, and even a few happen to know that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Notice I said a few.

Recently on several of my social media outlets, I had to remind some and inform a lot more that October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but National Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well. As the daughter, family member and friend of many who either directly or indirectly have been affected by breast cancer, I proudly support the cause and can flaunt the pink as well. But in the same breath and stride—as a once victim, now survivor and a staunch advocate who has shared my own story, wiped tears, held hands, prepared victims and survivors for trial, sat in the courtroom with the families of murdered victims and ultimately became a federally certified law enforcement instructor on DV—I strut the purple and the passion 365.

For me and so many others this is not just about a race for the cure for both issues. This is about the conversation of breast cancer and domestic violence awareness in the month of October becoming a full conversation that impacts, encourages and educates while eradicating the SILENCE that leaves women vulnerable to both domestic violence and diseases like breast cancer. Victims of domestic violence most often don’t get the medical treatment they need and deserve, leaving them vulnerable to diseases like breast cancer. These are not two separate conversations but one, and it all begins with SILENCE! When you don’t check your body this vicious disease can and will spread, giving you little hope if not caught in time. When you don’t evaluate negative relationships for what they are and put into place safety measures, then the violence escalates, giving you little hope if you don’t seek help. They both can make or break a victim.

Either way SILENCE can be deadly! Unite the conversation and create a new movement! Let’s do what we can to save lives not just in October but every day of the year, because disease and crime don’t take a day off, and neither should we! “

*This blog was re-posted with permission from YWCA Central Alabama. To see the original blog post, click here.

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Are we there yet?

Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brewer

The changing political and social status of women in the US could be likened to a very long car ride. We began the journey at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton made the first public pronouncement for women’s suffrage, declaring “that all men and women are created equal.” Supporters faced frequent impediments because they challenged the traditional 19th-century belief that a woman’s proper role was limited to the home and family. Despite these obstacles, women manifested their grievances into a highly organized social movement that spanned for a generation and ultimately won women the vote.

After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women continued to organize and collectively challenge aspects of US law and society that they perceived to be unjust or oppressive. Their efforts resulted in victories such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion; the formation of the National Organization for Women; Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex for educational programs  receiving federal funding; and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which extended a right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Women have made huge inroads in strengthening their political status and autonomy, but the journey, far from complete, hit several bumps in the road in the last year. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have strengthened protections of both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Despite the passage of these bills, women continue to earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that pay discrepancies for the same work are not related to gender; give women more time to sue their employers for pay inequity; prevent companies from retaliating against women who share salary information; and train women on how to negotiate a fair salary. The bill promoted the financial security of women and families, especially in households where women are the primary, or only, breadwinners.

Congress may also vote to limit or withdraw assistance to victims of domestic violence. The Senate recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, adding protections for minority victims. The Act was reauthorized amid little controversy in 2000 and 2005 with bipartisan support in both chambers; however, the House of Representatives recently passed a considerably diluted version that would partially dismantle and downgrade resources for the Office on Violence Against Women, impose costly paperwork on agencies, roll back existing provisions that protect minorities, and remove the requirement that victims be notified of housing rights before eviction. Congress must now reconcile the two competing versions. If the House’s bill prevails, it will be a giant step backward for women’s rights.

In addition to these legislative setbacks, women have struggled simply to be heard on issues regarding their own health. Lisa Brown, the state representative for Bloomfield, Michigan, was barred from the state house of representatives after she uttered the word “vagina” during a debate over an anti-abortion bill. Jim Stamas, the floor majority leader, claimed that her usage violated house decorum, and she was silenced for the rest of the debate. During a Congressional hearing in Washington, DC, women were prevented from taking part in panel discussions concerning reproductive health. The panel at the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms concerning the contraceptive coverage rule was entirely composed of men. Senator Patty Murray said that seeing the all-male panel “was like stepping into a time machine and going back fifty years.”

This image reflects a more fundamental problem: the lack of female representation in politics. Although women constitute 51% of the US population, they make up only 17% of Congress, making the US 91st in women’s elected representation worldwide. The political atmosphere continues to thwart women’s political ambition. A report from American University’s Women & Politics Institute found that the gender gap in political ambition is virtually the same now as it was a decade ago because women are more likely to perceive the political environment as hostile towards women and to believe that they are less qualified to run for office than their male counterparts.

Women must collectively overcome their fear and trepidation in order to achieve political equity. In the past, fearless leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and later Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem stepped forward to improve the status of women despite personal costs. Women need such bold leaders now more than ever to protect progress and make new inroads. Voting is the easiest way to make a difference by supporting politicians who advocate for our rights. We must organize and participate in the political process. Even though the journey is far from over and there are times when we have made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, we are well on our way. As Senator Barbara Mikulski exclaimed on the floor of the Senate, “Put on your lipstick! Square your shoulders! Suit up, and let’s fight for this new American revolution where women are paid equal pay for equal work and let’s end wage discrimination in this century once and for all.” It’s about time….

Alexandra Brewer is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a research assistant at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and holds a Master’s degree in comparative politics from American University. Her research focuses on collective action, social change, and public policy. 

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Title IX: Where are we after 40 years?

June 23, 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education activities. Title IX revolutionized athletic programs for girls and women, and with the recent retirement of legendary University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt, it seems fitting for the YWCA Knoxville to recognize this significant anniversary in women’s sports, equal rights, and US history.

To ensure equal opportunity, Title IX requires institutions to pass a three-prong test that covers participation, athletic and financial assistance, and treatment. Critics say Title IX punishes men’s athletics by requiring quotas and forcing institutions to cut men’s teams, but the National Women’s Law Center does a good job of debunking these myths, even pointing out that men’s opportunities have increased.

According to the NCAA, there were 151,918 men and 15,182 women in college sports in 1966-1967, a few years before the passage of Title IX, and 252,946 men and 191,131 women in 2010-2011. That’s a 67% increase in male athletes and a 117% increase in female athletes. Yes, women’s college enrollment increased substantially over the years, but athletic opportunities would not have corresponded if not for Title IX.

For nine consecutive years, athletic opportunities for both men and women and the number of college athletes themselves have increased. In 2010-2011, more women’s teams than men’s teams were dropped, although more women’s teams were also added, making the net gain nearly even—112 men’s and 113 women’s teams.

A National Coalition for Women and Girls report commemorating Title IX’s 40th anniversary indicates that hurdles still exist for female athletes, especially women and girls of color, and the law must be better enforced. We still have work to do, but a 25% difference in the number of male versus female college athletes is a major improvement over the 90% difference four decades prior.

ESPN calls Pat Summitt the face of the Title IX generation. Most of us are familiar with the story by now: Summitt’s salary was $8,900 in 1974; she washed the team’s uniforms and drove the team van. Over the years, both Summitt’s hard work and Title IX allowed the Lady Vols to flourish and legitimized women’s basketball. As with many social changes, success required a combination of strong leadership and legislative change.

The importance of Title IX is not simply how many girls are playing sports, however; it’s what they get out of those opportunities. Studies highlighted by the New York Times reveal that girls’ participation in sports leads to increases in women’s education and employment rates and decreases in women’s obesity rates. Girls who play sports are less likely to experience teen pregnancy and depression and more likely to experience academic success, high self-esteem, and positive body image.

And we can’t let boys have all the fun while we watch from the sidelines.

–Written by Sara Baker, Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

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VAWA: Where the Senate’s right and the House is dead wrong

Introduced by then Senator Joe Biden in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act is a tremendous piece of legislation that strengthens penalties, requires states to enforce protection orders from other jurisdictions, makes it more difficult for abusers to threaten immigrant victims with deportation, promotes coordinated community response, and funds programs that save lives.

VAWA funds directly support the work of YWCA victim advocates. But it’s not just about funding. VAWA transformed the way communities approach domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. At the YWCA, we see firsthand the benefits of this legislation every single day.

Preventing violence against women has long been a nonpartisan issue, but recently VAWA’s reauthorization has become controversial. After much debate, the Senate recently passed S. 1925, which adds provisions for underserved communities. The House is set to vote on HR 4970, a version of VAWA that strips these protections, which are fundamental to women’s autonomy, family harmony, and community safety.

Immigrant needs: All victims face barriers to safety, but for immigrants, the task is nearly insurmountable. Without advocates to guide and support them, they cannot overcome barriers of language, culture, isolation, and lack of income, childcare, transportation, and knowledge of their rights. Abusers use all of this against them, telling victims they will be deported and lose their children. Legal protections and funding for culturally specific programming help to counteract these problems. While some may not support undocumented immigrants receiving services, all victims of crime are entitled to services in this country. Violence in the community is violence in the community no matter the circumstances. Children in violent family situations frequently grow up to be perpetrators and victims, and the children of immigrants are often US citizens.

Immigrant provisions: VAWA has always included protections for immigrants, such as U visas, which give victims who cooperate with law enforcement temporary legal status. S. 1925 recaptures unused U visas (due to a backlog in 2006-2011) and makes them available for the new VAWA term. HR 4970 undercuts the visa program, discouraging victims from working with law enforcement and allowing batterers to perpetuate abuse by threatening deportation. It also strips confidentiality protections for immigrant victims. All victims deserve confidentiality; otherwise, they will be deterred from reporting.

LGBT needs: LGBT individuals experience approximately the same rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking as everyone else, yet they rarely receive effective services because protocols are typically designed for heterosexual couples and providers tend to lack cultural competency. LGBT victims are sometimes arrested because of assumptions about which party is the aggressor. Often, they are denied services. In one study, 25% of LGBT victims were denied shelter due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT provisions: S. 1925 prohibits law enforcement and service providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and allows federal funding to go toward programs helping LGBT victims. HR 4970 strips those provisions, allowing discrimination to go unchecked and leaving barriers to prevention and intervention intact. It’s a matter of equal access.

Tribal needs: Native American women face the highest rates of violence in the country. Non-Natives comprise 40% of reservation populations and commit 80% of violent crimes against Native people, yet they are not subject to Tribal prosecution. While the rest of us can go through our local jurisdictions, the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over felony crimes against Native Americans, which means that victims must travel hundreds of miles to access federal, or sometimes state, courts prioritizing homicide and terrorism. Consequently, federal and state governments rarely prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Without an effective response, non-Natives can more or less attack women in Indian Country with impunity.

Tribal provisions: S. 1925 gives tribes limited jurisdiction on crimes of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by non-Native offenders. This holds offenders accountable and increases safety on reservations. HR 4970 contains no Tribal provisions, leaving Native women subject to continued assault and allowing rapists and abusers to go unpunished, leaving us all vulnerable.

VAWA’s legacy cannot be underestimated. Since its initial passage in 1994, domestic-violence reporting has increased by 51% for women and 37% for men and the number of DV-related homicides has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. By 2000, VAWA had saved taxpayers $14.8 billion. Like all cultural problems, the dynamics of gender-based violence fluctuate, and VAWA must respond to those changes if it is to remain effective.

We encourage you to contact your Congressperson today and share your thoughts on this vital issue.

–Written by Sara Baker, YWCA Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

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On beauty: changing how we think of ourselves and others

“To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.”
–W.B. YeatsMore than money or fancy learning, a woman’s beauty is her capital, and however attractive a woman is, that’s a good indicator of how far she’ll go in life: how well she’ll marry, how beloved her children will be, how close to the glass ceiling she’ll come. Many women have thought some version of this story, but is this really a fair representation of our fair sex? It’s true that some women will have it easy for having grown up into the proportions that are in vogue right now, but so-called beautiful women can have a hard time being taken seriously for their smarts and general competence. Whether a woman is plain or a “knockout,” there are consequences. So what are we going to do about it?Many women know what it’s like to worry about being upstaged. Say you’re out with your husband, and a younger, thinner woman walks into the room, immediately causing you to feel inferior. Or remember the polished, well-dressed girls from the wealthier families in high school and how exclusive they were, ruling the microcosm of school at the expense of the frumpy girls still hanging onto their baby fat? Harsh judgments about a woman’s physical appearance are frequently woman-to-woman. We’re raised to be very body-conscious, contemplating the proportions of our creamy-skinned and blue-eyed Barbies, and, as we get older, this insecurity translates into cattiness: “Did you see her skirt?” “Do you think I’m prettier than she is?”

Ladies, let’s make a change. It’s too easy to be at a pool party and thank your lucky stars that there’s a more “matronly” figure there than yours. Like men with their strength, we’re stuck in this stereotype of comparison, but the people we’re really hurting with this are ourselves, even if we don’t know it. We’re enforcing the notion that how attractive we are is directly related to how worthy we are of attention, confidence, friendship and love. It may sound silly in writing, but it’s going on all the time.

Regardless of physical features, it’s important to remember the experience of the subjectivity of beauty. Ever known somebody that was physically perfect, but as you got to know them, you realized things about their values that disgusted you, like maybe they drop a few racial slurs and try to get you to join in on their joke? Still impressed by their physicality? Or the sweaty and haggard mom with baby spit-up on her shoulder that helps you find the olives in the grocery store—doesn’t her generosity render her beatific in hindsight? It’s an old cliché that true beauty is on the inside—and maybe this kind of beauty doesn’t help women get ahead in life—but if each of us makes the individual choice to stop comparing ourselves to other women so much and to stop comparing all of us to some abstract ideal, we might all feel better about ourselves and get on better with the women around us in turn.

–Larissa Weaver, YWCA Grant-Writing Intern

Originally from Germany, Larissa Weaver has studied German literature and creative writing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her areas of interest include equality of education access, prison reform, Queer Theory, knitting, and comparative literature. She lives in Knoxville with her domestic partner Ben, their two dogs—Keiko & Scribbs—and Keaton, the cat.

eliminating racism. empowering women. ywca knoxville.