Poverty Push in Campaign; Teen Drop-Out Rate Rises



The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity initiative has been launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore and the Eos Foundation in Boston to move the issue of poverty to the forefront of the presidential race and to ensure that the next administration continues to focus on it in 2009 and beyond.

Women comprise 56 percent of those living below the poverty line in the United States, a trend which intensifies for older women and women of color. Women also head over half of poor households, according to census data.

“At this important time, reducing poverty should be moved from the back burner of policy discussions,” said Douglas Nelson of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The spotlight initiative has launched a nonpartisan Web site to compare the candidates' positions and statements on poverty issues. A poll found that 54 percent of voters don't think that “political candidates have spent an adequate amount of time discussing hunger and poverty issues.”

“The new polling confirms that it's not just advocacy organizations and foundations that are focusing on these issues, but individual voters as well,” said Andrea Silbert of the Eos Foundation. “Voters are clearly frustrated with government progress and want practical, innovative, bipartisan solutions that involve governments, nonprofits and the private sector.”

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs on Nov. 5 will open its first treatment center exclusively designed to assist female veterans affected by sexual trauma, Newhouse News Service reported. VA research shows that 20 percent of female soldiers experience sexual harassment, assault or rape during their service. The VA operates 15 sexual trauma programs but the new residential facility in Bernards Township, N.J., is the first to serve only women.
  • Paula Goldman of the International Museum of Women in San Francisco was awarded the Anita Borg Award for Social Impact for using technology to benefit women on Oct. 17. Goldman is director of the museum's “Imagining Ourselves” project, which includes a Web site to collect the creative output of women worldwide and has a goal of increasing the number of women in leadership positions.
  • Joy Fenner became the first woman to be elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Associated Press reported Oct. 30, defeating her male opponent by 60 votes. The convention has 2.3 million members and has not supported the statements of some prominent Southern Baptists who have declared that women should be subservient.
  • Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected black female head of state in Africa, will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George Bush, Voice of America reported Nov. 30.
  • Kavita Gupta, a female doctoral student from India at the University of Utah, has developed a “molecular condom.” The condom is really a microbicide gel that kills HIV and is designed to allow women more control in preventing AIDS because their partners do not need to be involved in its application. The university is partnering with a contraceptive marketer to sell the products in India, where AIDS in increasingly being seen as a feminized disease. AIDS is spreading most rapidly in India among young women, according to the World Health Organization, and 2.5 million people there carry the virus.
  • Fourteen women in Ramadi, Iraq, completed a five-day training course and received their first pay check for joining the local police force, the Associated Press reported Oct. 27. In Kabul, Afghanistan, female police officers have also graduated from the police academy as the government wants 10 percent of its force to be women. A United Nations conference in Kabul connected Afghan female police with Western counterparts to share experiences and work strategies.

For more information:

Spotlight on Poverty:

Imaging Ourselves, International Museum of Women:

National Women's Law Center, “When Girls Don't Graduate We All Fail”:

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Women are dropping out of high school at nearly the same rate as men and are suffering worse socioeconomic consequences than their male peers, an Oct. 30 report from the Washington-based National Women's Law Center found. One in four female teens will not graduate high school within four years. In 2004, 37 percent of Hispanic, 40 percent of black, and 50 percent of American Indian or Alaskan Native female students did not graduate within four years.

“The high school dropout crisis has received significant recent attention but almost exclusively as a problem for boys. It is generally overlooked that girls are also failing to graduate at alarmingly high rates,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, National Women's Law Center co-president.

Female high school dropouts earn 63 cents for every $1 earned by male high school dropouts. The nationwide wage gap is highest among high school dropouts.

The law center's recommendations include supporting pregnant and parenting students, ensuring that girls have equal access to after-school activities and combating sexual harassment and discrimination.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Gendercide has risen to “apocalyptical” levels, delegates at a reproductive rights conference in India concluded this week, the Inter Press Service reported Oct. 29. The social consequences of a skewed sex ratio in Asian cultures that prefer sons could be dire, advocates warned, including a lack of wives for men in the future that could fuel unrest and political instability or increase sex crimes and trafficking in women. In 2005, the sex ratio was 107.5 males per 100 females in India; in China it was 106.8; in Pakistan, 106; in Bangladesh, 104.9.
  • Pope Benedict XVI told pharmacists on Oct. 30 that they should object to dispensing drugs for “immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia.” Meanwhile, the 50-member board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepared to issue an election guide to rate candidates on the Catholic church's political stances; they have noted in past years that supporting abortion rights is “intrinsically evil,” the Washington Post reported Oct. 30.
  • Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has convened his Governor's Task Force on the Impact of Abortion on Women to evaluate abortion's impact on women, the AP reported Oct. 28. The task force is composed of members drawn from anti-abortion organizations, who all “believe that we should minimize the impact of abortion on society,” Blunt said.
  • Radio shock jock Don Imus is returning to the airwaves Dec. 3 as host of a morning program on New York station WABC-AM. Imus was forced out of his syndicated show in April after slurring African American female athletes at Rutgers University.
  • Professional baseball has lost its only female umpire. Ria Cortesio was released from her minor league contract on Oct. 30. There are about 300 professional umpires between the major league and the minors and six women total have officiated games. In April, Cortesio became the first woman to umpire in the majors since 1989 when she officiated at an Arizona Diamondbacks-Chicago Cubs game.

In Memoriam:

Mal Johnson, a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, died Oct. 28. “She was an exceptional trailblazer, whose tenacity and talent made the NABJ and the world better,” the groups' vice president of broadcast, Kathy Times, said.

Johnson was the first woman to work for Cox Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., and covered five presidencies over 27 years as their White House correspondent. Throughout her career, she helped advance the presence of both women and people of color in journalism and was well-known for her courage in advocacy and her fighting spirit.

Her long-time friend, Paul Brock, recalled Johnson's final words to Maynard Institute columnist Richard Prince: “If anyone cries or starts to feel sorry for me, I'll come back and kick their ass.”

Sarah Seltzer is the editorial intern at Women's eNews, Dominique Soguel is Arabic editor and Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief.

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