Women's News from the Web

Ministers criticised for plans to create 500 new UK prison places for women

Women's News from the Web - Fri, 01/22/2021 - 14:01

Investment in steering women away from crime ‘dwarfed’ by cost of new places, says penal reform charity

Ministers have been criticised for plans to create 500 new prison places for women as part of proposals designed to reduce the numbers in the criminal justice system.

The Ministry of Justice said almost £2m in funding would go to 38 organisations which work on steering women away from crime, such as Shropshire-based Willowdene, and Cheshire Without Abuse.

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Judge's remarks made mother 'fearful' for herself and her child, hearing told

Women's News from the Web - Fri, 01/22/2021 - 00:36

Barrister urges landmark appeal hearing for courts in England and Wales to set aside decision that father should be allowed contact with child

A family court judge has come under fire for “wholly inappropriate” comments made to a young mother during a private hearing on child contact arrangements.

Judge Richard Scarratt made the mother “fearful” and put pressure on her to accept that the child have contact with her father, a barrister representing the mother has claimed.

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Disability in Media: Reel-Time Misperceptions

Women's eNews - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 08:06

It was a full year ago that I applied for a background actor role for a major network television show. The casting call specifically stated that they were looking for people who used mobility aids such as a wheelchair, cane, walker, etc. As a life-long wheelchair user, I applied and got the job. I showed up on the day of the shoot, filmed one scene which lasted about an hour, and then awaited instructions for the next scene. We were then told to go outside to take the bus to the next set. I had no idea the next set was in a different location, but I assumed since they were casting for disabled people and knew I was in a wheelchair, they would provide accessible transportation. Unfortunately, I was wrong. A production assistant soon approached me with what he said was ‘good news and bad news.’ “The bad news is that the transportation to the next set is not accessible,” he said, “The good news is that you’re wrapped early for the day!” I was astonished and angry. They knew I was in a wheelchair, yet rather than providing alternative accessible transportation, they decided to send me home, thereby denying me the opportunity for more experience on the set, screen time, and consideration for my accessibility needs. I wish I could say my experience is a unique one, but performers with disabilities often face many levels of discrimination and ostracization. 

Although disabled people constitute 26% of the U.S. population, disabled characters represent only 5% of television characters. Additionally, 95% of them are portrayed by nondisabled actors. A University of Southern California study on representation in film and television found that of the top 100 films of 2018, over half (58) did not include a disabled character in any role, and 83 films did not include a female character with a disability. Further, of all films that included a disabled character over the past four years, 72.5% were male, 63.1% were white, and only two were LGB (lesbian, gay, or bisexual), further demonstrating a significant lack of diversity.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by The Ruderman Family Foundation, disabled actors with nonvisible disabilities were more likely to get auditions and roles than visibly disabled performers. When questioned about their experiences in the entertainment industry, 75 of 177 disabled respondents said they had a negative experience. One anonymous respondent said, “The largest challenge I’ve had is folks’ preconceptions. When they find out I’m low vision they worry that I can’t do the job as well as others. I was told by many directors that I respect never to tell other directors about my disability because I won’t get called in.”

“Cripping up” is a term the disability community often uses to describe nondisabled actors playing disabled characters. Some well-known examples of cripping up include Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Daniel-Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Notably, all of these actors won Oscars for their portrayal of disabled characters. This is not surprising since nominated non-disabled actors playing disabled characters are nearly 50% more likely to win. 

Little thought is given, however, to how cripping up affects the disabilities community. Even when there are disabled characters on-screen, they are often negatively portrayed. Films such as Me Before You or Million Dollar Baby portray main characters who become disabled as feeling that life is not worth living, sometimes even expressing the desire to end their lives. Will, the wealthy main character in Me Before You, becomes a quadriplegic in an accident, falls in love with his caretaker, and has plenty of opportunities and money to do whatever he wants in life, but ultimately decides to commit suicide because he does not wish to live due to his disability. Similarly, Million Dollar Baby is the story of Maggie, a female champion boxer who, after becoming a quadriplegic, begs her trainer, Frankie, to help her end her life. After Maggie attempts suicide on her own but fails, Frankie fulfills Maggie’s wish by injecting her with a fatal dose of adrenaline.

Films such as these have been boycotted by disability activists for their harmful messages. In the recent remake of the movie The Witches, actor Anne Hathaway, who plays a witch, uses an old trope of becoming visibly evil by making her hands split, which resembles the disability ectrodactyly, a limb difference characterized by missing fingers or toes that creates a claw-like appearance. Disabled people, especially those with limb differences, protested the film by posting pictures with the hashtag #NotAWitch to signify that disability is not synonymous with evil. Hathaway responded on Instagram with an apology, but the film still remains a reminder of how the media can misrepresent disability. Additionally, Sia’s new movie Music, which she wrote and directed, has caused controversy since the film centers around an autistic character but is played by the non-autistic actor and dancer, Maddie Ziegler. Sia was met with criticism by autistic people for working with the group Autism Speaks, a highly problematic organization, for not casting one of the many autistic actors in the role. Sia, in turn, lashed out at autistic actors on Twitter in several angry tweets, one of which was a reply to someone who questioned her decision not to cast an autistic person in the main role, to which Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

It also seems clear that poor on-screen representation of disabled people is reflective of the lack of off-screen representation. Disabled people often experience difficulty attaining employment in all fields, and working behind the scenes of the entertainment industry is no exception. “Nothing about us without us”, a phrase that originated from South African disability rights advocates in the 1980s, is now being used as a hashtag by disabled people demanding the entertainment industry consult and hire them, especially if films include disabled characters. 

Fortunately, some disabled people have recently broken through the entertainment industry, such as Ali Stroker, an actor and singer who was the first wheelchair user to perform on Broadway in the show, Spring Awakening. She was also the first person in a wheelchair to win a Tony award for her performance in the play Oklahoma!, and the first woman in a wheelchair to star in a Lifetime Christmas movie. Additionally, Kiera Allen was the first person in a wheelchair to star in a thriller film (Run) in over 70 years; RJ Mitte, who plays Walter White Jr. in the series Breaking Bad, has cerebral palsy in real life, and Millicent Simmonds, who starred in the 2018 film A Quiet Place, is actually deaf.

Yet diversity still has a long way to go, since all of these actors are Caucasian, Representation of intersectionality within the disability community regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. has yet to be addressed. As Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a non-profit media organization for people with disabilities, notes: “Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. With just 1.6 percent of speaking characters having disabilities in film, compared to 25 percent of American adults having a disability, we will continue to work with entertainment leaders to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. Disability impacts every gender, race, age and sexual orientation. We want the film industry to understand that accurate, authentic and diverse portrayals of disability benefit everyone.”

About the Author: Cheyenne Leonard is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

Fauci: US to repeal anti-abortion rule on aid and join Covax vaccine scheme

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 01:49

US medical adviser’s speech to WHO signals major turnaround on global health policy by Biden administration

The Biden administration will repeal anti-abortion restrictions on American aid and join the international vaccine-sharing scheme Covax, Anthony Fauci has announced in remarks signalling a major turnaround in US global health policy.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced the changes in a speech to the World Health Organization on Thursday morning after being chosen to head the US delegation to the global health group in one of the first acts of Joe Biden’s presidency.

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Unilever to tackle advertising stereotypes in diversity drive

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 14:01

FTSE 100 company pledges to work with more businesses run by women and minorities

Unilever has said it will tackle advertising stereotypes and work with more businesses run by women and other under-represented groups as part of a wider inclusivity drive.

The FTSE 100 company, which is behind household names such as Dove soap, Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream and Marmite, said it planned to use the might of its brands, coupled with its advertising spending power as one of the world’s biggest to make a difference.

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On Inauguration Day: A Look Back, and a Step Forward

Women's eNews - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 14:07

It was twilight; a chill January morning.  I was wedged into a charter bus packed with strangers — no masks — barreling along the highway on the seven-hour pilgrimage to D.C. to protest the outcome of a presidential election I could not – and will never — accept.

Call me a fanatic:  I don’t care a whit.  I could have joined a local protest, saving me from equipping my backpack and abandoning my husband and four kids for the 24-hour round-trip, but the Capitol’s pull – like Mecca –was too powerful to resist.  If I were to lay down my flesh in sacrifice so the greater Powers could hear my anguish, I figured, I’d be damned if I was going to do it at a satellite altar and not the central hub.

At dawn the morning of January 21, 2017, my cohort unloaded at RFK Stadium, two miles from the Capitol, on the brink of what would go down in history as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history: The Women’s March on Washington.

Now, reflecting on the January 6th election protest in D.C. that left six dead, 120 arrested and our Capitol bolted shut; the meaning of the march I attended four years ago becomes clearer.

I went to D.C. to express my hurt that a man who spoke so degradingly about women had assumed the most powerful position in the world.  Hearing Trump repeatedly judge women by their appearance conjured up the humiliation of a high school girl who’s worth equaled a number from 1-10 held high over a lunch table of guffawing boys.

“Look at that face!” Trump jeered about Carly Fiorina. “Sadly, she’s no longer a 10,” he gibed at Heidi Klum. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” he tweeted above side-by-side photos of Heidi Cruz in an unphotogenic moment and Melania in an airbrushed one.  

And I worried that handing the poster child for toxic masculinity the authority to impact the lives of the sexual assault victims I advocate for would be unbearably triggering for them. And it was traumatic: calls to crisis centers skyrocketed after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced.  By Trump’s inauguration, a colleague of mine who survived childhood trauma had already moved to Canada.

Approaching the Capitol, I likely shared much in spirit with some of the anguished protestors as they approached it last week: heartbreak, disbelief, fear, betrayal, suspicion of nefarious forces.  

A sort of jack-hammering of the soul.

Something grips you on the brink of bold action.  Adrenalin trounces jetlag.  The gut whispers, but it’s hard to decipher what it says.  Purpose has yet to coalesce.  There is a thrum, a quest for agency:  to march, holler, move the physical frame through space; a powerful urge to act.

Navigating a strange city in a mob is daunting, vulnerable. (Is it the Silver, Blue or Orange Line that runs from 19th St. to Capitol South?)  One probes adjacent spaces like a blind insect would through hyper-sensitive antennae; glomming onto faces and voices that seem to know the ropes; decoding cues from anyone who projects authority – especially anyone in uniform.

I wonder how my skittish cohort would have reacted if a trusted, powerful figure descended from the heavens in Marine One, and stoked our urge to act with a clear directive to race to a building, barge our way in, and do harm to the traitors inside who had betrayed us.  I wonder if I would have been carried  along by the momentum of the crowd.

But that is where the protest of January 2017 and the riot of January 2021 parted ways.  Although the 470,000 participants at The Women’s March dwarfed the 3,000 to 20,000 participants at the siege of the Capitol, the blanket of peace and calm that antecedent day was palpable.  There were no arrests.  

Mourners at a funeral have no appetite for wilding.

We were so sardine-packed along the route from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument that moving one’s physical frame forward was all but impossible.  So we stood, wedged, as updates from a distant stage traveled the grapevine: “Gloria Steinem is speaking now!”  “Scarlet Johannson is at the mic!”

At one point, my eyes lifted to the only open space, the field of view just above us, decorated with what looked like streams of colorful, Tibetan prayer flags.  They were hand-crafted posters, like speech bubbles, enabling their holders to express their pain and hopes, receive validation,  strength and support from the community.  

One poster featured an Angela Davis quote, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.  I am changing the things I cannot accept.”  Another floral collage soothed, “Take Your Broken Hearts and Make Art.”  A prescient one quipped, “You’re fired 2021!”

It was while standing with my neck craned that the purpose of my pilgrimage coalesced.  

I realized that I hadn’t spent a sleepless night on a bus to show up and complete a defined, bold action. 

We were there to be there; among those towering Neoclassical white columns, to feel the strength and comfort of a sacred place we trusted would welcome us and care about what we felt and had to say.  We were there — as were our fellow citizens gathering that same day at Capitol buildings throughout the nation and the world — to be soothed and strengthened by each other.  We needed time to process and collect ourselves so we could figure out how to act — but that would come later.

We certainly weren’t there to rip the places to shreds; to set things back.

The past four years, and past weeks, have brought new meaning to that day, including a realization that moving forward can sometimes require staying completely still; and that meaningful momentum initiates from within.

More than anything, they have summoned a deep gratitude for our nation’s heart of democracy along the Potomac — and its satellite Capitol buildings in every State — where we can go and bare our hearts.

 And a fervent prayer that we can keep them all open.

About the author:  Julie Vogel is a freelance writer and sexual assault prevention advocate.  Her upcoming novel, Pinned, set during the pandemic, tells the story of a star high school wrestler who newly discovers remorse and compassion after his rape of a childhood friend. 

UK government accused of discriminating against maternity leave-takers

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 07:27

Charity brings judicial review and says payment calculations breach Human Rights Act

The government could be forced to award rebates to tens of thousands of self-employed women if a case accusing it of discriminating against those who have taken maternity leave is successful.

About 75,000 women who took maternity leave between 2016 and 2019 lost out on earnings because payments from the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) – introduced alongside the furlough scheme last year – are worked out based on average profits.

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Statue of fossil hunter Mary Anning to be erected after campaign

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 02:17

Crowdfunder led by schoolgirl raises £70,000 for sculpture of pioneering palaeontologist in Lyme Regis, Dorset

A statue to Mary Anning, a fossil hunter and palaeontologist once “lost to history” but now considered a significant female force in science, is finally to be erected after a crowdfunding campaign by a teenage girl.

Evie Swire, 13, was nine years old when she first heard of Anning, who was born into a humble family in 1799 near Evie’s Lyme Regis home in Dorset. The schoolgirl was outraged to discover there was no statue.

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What is Ivanka Trump's legacy? Enabling her father's odious actions | Arwa Mahdawi

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 21:00

The president’s daughter did encourage her father to push through a bill on paid parental leave, but her successes are outweighed by the administration’s damaging policies

Ivanka Trump has wound up her time in the White House in the most fitting way possible: with a scandal about a $3,000-a-month toilet. Members of the Secret Service, it was recently reported, were banned from using any of the bathrooms in Jared Kushner and Ivanka’s Washington DC mansion and, instead, had to rent an apartment to relieve themselves in (although Jared and Ivanka have denied this). Talk about flushing taxpayers’ money down the drain.

One imagines Ivanka did not plan to spend her final days in DC dealing with the fallout from a violent insurrection and battling embarrassing leaks about her loos. When she appointed herself special adviser to the president, Ivanka was a handbag and shoe saleswoman bursting with ambition. She was going to empower women everywhere! Little girls around the world would read about Saint Ivanka for decades to come. She would be a role mogul: her branded bags would fly off the shelves.

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The Guardian view on women and Covid: failed by bosses and ministers | Editorial

Women's News from the Web - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 08:41

Working parents, and particularly mothers, are in an impossible bind. As minister for women, Liz Truss must take a stand

The closure of schools, as well as a looming crisis in the early years sector, has placed working parents in an impossible situation. How to educate or care for children, while simultaneously doing their jobs, is the dilemma that millions of adults now face (there are 8 million families with dependent children in the UK). This is not to minimise the challenges for non-working parents. Without the routine provided by school, and reliant on remote learning that they may struggle to access, families of all types are having a hard time. For some of those on low incomes, or in poor housing, the situation is desperate.

But the specific pressures being placed on the working parents, particularly of young children, require attention. Confronted with research by the TUC showing that 71% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed have been refused, ministers must act. Women are struggling to juggle work and “home school”, and losing sleep and becoming stressed as a result. The difficulties facing nurseries mean things will very likely get worse, especially for new mothers, before they get better.

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Why are increasing numbers of women choosing to be single?

Women's News from the Web - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 00:00

The word ‘spinster’ is still freighted with pity and misogyny, yet the number of women living this way is growing. Emma John says it’s time to reconsider what it means to be ‘never-married’

I remember the moment my sister told me she was having a baby. I was spending the evening with a group of friends and, halfway through, Kate said she needed a word. We ducked into a bedroom, where she looked at me so solemnly that I ransacked my brain for anything I could possibly have done wrong in the past half-hour.

The seriousness of her announcement made me giggle out loud. I had a flashback to the pair of us as kids, when a secret meeting like this meant we’d broken something in the house and were working out how to present the news to our parents. Plus, the thought of my little sister being a mum was innately funny. Not that Kate wasn’t ready for the role – she was in her mid-30s and keen to get on with it. I just couldn’t see myself as anyone’s aunt.

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The pandemic made the childcare crisis an urgent talking point – will the US finally change things? | Arwa Mahdawi

Women's News from the Web - Sat, 01/16/2021 - 04:00

Will we shrug our shoulders while the American workforce hemorrhages women and millions of people fall into poverty?

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The true horror of Ireland's machine of misogyny must never be forgotten | Elaine Feeney

Women's News from the Web - Fri, 01/15/2021 - 02:10

The landmark mother and baby home report underlines why we need to grapple with our country’s dark past

On a grey day in 2014, I met a friend at the gate of St Jarlath’s College, Tuam, where I was teaching boys of secondary-school age. We chatted under the shadow of Tuam’s cathedral, located beside a large Victorian villa known locally as the Palace, home of the archbishop. Tuam is a town in north Galway, birthplace of Tom Murphy, the Saw Doctors and the infamous Tuam mother and baby home.

A local historian called Catherine Corless had just turned an open secret into something quantifiable: that the remains of 796 children had been buried in a septic tank at the site of the Bon Secours home, active in the town between 1925 and 1961. Corless, at her own cost, obtained death certificates for each child. Her investigation led to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, which published its report on Wednesday.

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Black women in the UK four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 23:30

Disparity with white women shows need for action, doctors say, despite slight improvement in mortality rate

Black women are still four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth in the UK, and women from Asian ethnic backgrounds face twice the risk, according to a new report.

The data shows a slight narrowing of the divide – last year’s report found black women were five times more likely to die – but experts say that is statistically insignificant and not a sign of progress.

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Cheating on the Country: A Matter of Presidential Integrity

Women's eNews - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 11:56

“So what if he cheated on his wife with an intern?” I asked my dad in 1998, carefully skirting the word “blowjob” that had entered our culture’s lexicon as acceptable everyday language, as “pussy” later would in Donald Trump’s America.

“It’s not like he’ll cheat on the country.”

I said it with the smug certainty and perceived sophistication of a teenager who’d voted in her first election and as such has superior knowledge of politics over her forty-something year old dad, who knew nothing. Because he was old.

He was a staunch Republican and I thought his response (“It shows his moral character and lack of integrity”) was partisan sour grapes. He hated Bill Clinton, as conservatives in that era did. He’d later hate Hillary too.

Let’s just say I disagreed. Loudly. 

He was a John McCain guy, and I liked Obama. When the 2008 election was called, I rang him up, ready to gloat. 

“He’s a class act, baby,” he said, throwing me for a loop. Obama was a Democrat. My dad’s guy lost a hard-fought, grueling election that exposed the raw nerves of racism. Wasn’t he supposed to disparage him? Wasn’t he mad that he lost?

The Obama Presidency played out, twice, although my dad was only alive for the few short months of his first term. I’ve wondered, often, what he would think of Donald Trump. Of course, we’re New Yorkers, so he knew Trump. I think he might have liked his brash, say-it-like-it-is speaking style, the unorthodox approach to debates and campaigns. A veteran from the Vietnam era, I have to feel he would have rolled his eyes at the bone spurs. Working class kids like my dad had no such “out” of the draft. I suspect he’d have lost some respect there.

When the Trump supporters of this generation overtook the Capitol, trampling each other, assaulting police, smearing feces on the walls and parading firearms and Stars and Stripes outfits and flags that replaced “America” with “Trump” in a misguided understanding of what the word “patriotism” means, I thought of the old man again. Now I’m forty-something, with a politically-minded kid who will vote in the next election. 

And finally, I think I learned something he tried to teach me more than twenty years ago. 

It’s about moral character. It’s about integrity. Without either, if you take away accountability, the country is no longer safe. This is why the “grab ‘em by the pussy” brag mattered, the cheating on his postpartum wife with a porn star mattered, the stealing from a children’s cancer charity mattered, not paying workers for their work mattered, lying mattered, insults mattered, cruelty mattered. It wasn’t separate from the inciting of riots and the five dead bodies in DC; it’s not unrelated to his inability to accept what was clearly and inarguably a free and fair election that he lost. It’s not a far jump from seeing deaths from Covid as a personal attack on his presidency, instead of the biggest challenge and responsibility of his life. 

It’s about moral character. It’s a lack of integrity. 

Going forward, I will use that as my barometer to elect political leaders from all parties.

I get it now, Pop.

Jaime Franchi

About the author: Jaime Franchi is the former Executive Editor for the Long Island Press, and was recognized as a 2017 recipient for Writer of the Year by the New York Press Association. Jaime’s work has been published in the New York Times, Salon, and The Huffington Post, and is a contributing author to two award-winning anthologies, including “These Winter Months, The Late Orphan Project” and “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.” 

Bad Bridgets: podcast reveals Irish emigrants' tales of poverty and prison

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 21:00

Loneliness and poverty made female arrivals to US turn to sex work, crime and alcohol, say historians

The millions of Irish girls and women who emigrated to North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries tend to be remembered, if at all, as domestic servants, cooks, wives and mothers.

A reputation for diligence and rectitude cast them as the unsung heroes of a diaspora that went on to conquer US business and politics.

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US supreme court reinstates restrictions on abortion pill

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:28

Justices lift order that had suspended rule requiring in-person visits during Covid crisis

The US supreme court has reinstated a requirement that women visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions, lifting an order by a lower court allowing the drug to be posted or delivered during the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices granted a request by the Trump administration to lift a federal judge’s July order that had suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rule requiring in-person visits.

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PlayStation 5 launch gets more coverage 'than 10 humanitarian crises combined'

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 04:40

Charity says the media is failing countries by underreporting humanitarian emergencies, with women suffering most

The launch of PlayStation 5 received 26 times more news attention than 10 humanitarian crises combined in 2020, according to a Care International report published today.

The humanitarian crises, which included violence in Guatemala, hunger in Madagascar and natural disasters in Papua New Guinea, were largely swept aside by news of Covid-19, global Black Lives Matter protests and more clickbait-friendly events such as the Eurovision song contest and Kanye West’s bid for the US presidency; the latter two each received 10 times more online news attention than the humanitarian crises in question, the report found.

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I am in my 60s and dating men in their 40s. The sex is great – so why do I feel guilty?

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 01/11/2021 - 22:00

I have always preferred younger partners, but now that I am getting older I think other people are getting judgmental

I am a divorced woman in her 60s who has recently dated a couple of men in their 40s. I have always looked young and my ex-husband is much younger than me. I have never thought much about it, but now that I am getting older I think other people are becoming judgmental. The sex is great and they are not boys, so why do I feel guilty?

It is not easy to shrug off societal judgment. I suspect the people who judge you negatively would barely notice a man in his 60s with a 40-year-old woman. Is there an obvious derogatory word for an older man who dates young women? No. Ageism, hypocrisy and double standards regarding “acceptable” partnerships abound in our society. In most cases, age differences between partners are no one else’s business. Your best course is to ignore judgmental looks or comments – including congratulatory words that constitute veiled criticism. People who are sexually confident can attract adult partners of any age – and they have a right to feel comfortable about that.

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Who is Worth Saving? Medical Inequities in Disabled Communities

Women's eNews - Mon, 01/11/2021 - 06:32

In the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, child neurologist, cancer and stroke survivor, Diana Cejas, shared to Twitter in August 2020: “I worry that my doctors won’t believe me. Every time. Every appointment. Every doctor. Even the ones with whom I have a good relationship. Why? Because once, when I was sick and needed them the most, my doctors did not believe me.” Cejas, a woman of color, found a lump on her neck that turned out to be a malignant tumor. When she asked her doctors about it, “They continually reassured me that nothing was wrong or that I was worrying about something when I shouldn’t be,” she recalled. A number of Twitter users responded to Cejas’s story with similar claims of confrontations with medical providers who were dismissive of their symptoms from what turned out to be debilitating illnesses.

The medical field has a history of discriminatory biases that view, for example, disabilities as a health issue that needs to be resolved, and assume Black people are considered more resistant to pain, which has contributed to the inequitable care and treatment that these communities receive. 

The issue of medical bias, and the consequential culture of distrust towards healthcare providers, is now more urgent since it has been found that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are three times more likely to die if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 compared to others, according to The New York Times. Although those surveyed were enrolled in private Medicare plans, the database did not include patients on Medicaid, the government plan for low-income earning people that covers one in 35 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). For a vast majority of those with IDD who receive Medicaid and live in congregate settings, the Covid-19 case-fatality rate is much higher, according to a recent California study reported in Disability Scoop.

States must turn to their state-wide Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) guidelines when determining which groups of people with critical needs will be considered high-priority in the Covid-19 vaccine allocation. Crisis standards of care, as defined by the CDC, is a report that focuses on current concepts and guidance that can assist state and local public health officials, healthcare facilities, and professionals in the development of systematic and comprehensive policies and protocols for crisis standards of care in disasters where resources are scarce. Some states’ CSC guidelines, however, have contained discriminatory language and policy against disabled people and the elderly, such as the states of Washington and Alabama. The CSC guidelines for the state of Alabama, for example, originally stated that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.” Another section reads: “Persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support.” The policy has since been revised and resolved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as of April 2020, due to such discriminatory language originally contained within.

Barkoff has worked with state leadership and the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to remove such discriminatory language and policy from CSC guidelines since the rise of Covid-19 cases in March.  “Sometimes, it’s really an intentional discrimination in terms of excluding people who have certain types of disabilities, or certain limitations, from even getting in line to get treatment, like ventilators, or other things,” Barkoff continued,“Whereas sometimes, the way that plans are set up, it in practice deprioritizes people with disabilities, and particularly disabled people of color.” According to The New York Times, the fatality statistics reported for people with IDD in congregate settings are even higher than those reported for Black Americans. 

Current CSC guidelines may further deprioritize disabled people by allocating ventilators and vaccines to those whom medical providers predict will have a longer lifespan following treatment. Unfortunately, people with IDD are often wrongly assumed to have a lower quality of life due to their disability. Sam Crane, a legal director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, has suggested that doctors look at whether the degree to which the individual will benefit from the treatment, instead of the length of time they will live beyond treatment. She also suggested these measures be considered on an individual basis. Currently, doctors use a mortality prediction score, called a Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA), to ration medical care and resources. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Los Angeles County’s public hospitals have prepared “triage officers,” consisting of critical care and emergency room doctors, to decide which patients can benefit from continued treatment. “One of the considerations in the SOFA score is what is called the Glasgow Coma Scale,” said Crane. “And the Glasgow Coma scale included questions like: Can this person speak? Can this person voluntarily use their limbs? That might be a relevant consideration if you’re dealing with someone who normally can speak and move their limbs, but they’re so ill that right now they can’t. But if you have someone who was paralyzed before they became ill, or someone who had developed mental disability before they became ill and couldn’t ever speak, or had difficulty speaking, then that person being unable to speak isn’t reflective of critical illness in the same way.” 

Looking ahead to the vaccine rollout, many people of color with IDD, particularly Black people, are now skeptical about receiving Covid-19 vaccinations during its early rollouts due to historical medical bias and mistreatment. Kausha King, the mother of a young adult son with autism, expressed fears for his safety if he were to be given the vaccine in its early stages. “For me, we’re talking about systems that have said, ‘You’re always last,’” said King. “My child, he’s always last when it comes to something. If they say he’s up first, that concerns me. That concerns me because why is he up first all of the sudden? What’s wrong with that?” 

Cejas, who has recently been vaccinated, is publicly informing her social media followers about the treatment process in an effort to provide transparent information to Covid-19’s most vulnerable communities. “I’m sure that there’s a population of people within this vaccine-hesitant community who are looking at it from the ‘anti-vaxxer’ lens,” said Cejas. “But I don’t think that’s the case most of the time. I think it’s that people are coming in and they’re remembering these stories. They’re remembering this history. They’re remembering how the medical community has treated them in the past, and they’re like, ‘What is to say that you’re going to keep me safe now?’”

In October, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities created a set of vaccine allocation principles for the disabled community, to advocate for non-discriminatory value assessments in vaccine allocation prioritization. This also includes simple language access to vaccine information, and the prioritization of residents and staff in all long term care settings. The committee addresses health disparities impacting disabled people across age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and primary language parameters. To further hold medical institutions accountable, critical health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who have received the first phase of Covid-19 vaccines are also informing their communities about the vaccination process on Twitter with the hashtag, #IGotTheShot, thereby ensuring pertinent information and care are accessible to the most vulnerable. 

Natalie Crystal Doggett

About the Author: Natalie Crystal Doggett is a fellow with The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Program, an inaugural fellowship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.

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