Washington Update (May 16, 2014)

If you’ve seen my Twitter feed lately, you may have noticed that I’m a bit peeved by the news that Jill Abramson, The New York Times‎’ first female executive editor, was fired after fewer than three years on the job.

Only Abramson and her boss know what really happened, but NPR media reporter David Folkenflik has confirmed what The New Yorker first reported on Wednesday: that Abramson was fired shortly after confronting the paper’s leadership with the significant pay gap she discovered between her and her male predecessors in both the executive and managing editor positions. Reports have also filtered in that Abramson was "hard to work with" and "brusque," as if that somehow justifies her firing. She had the courage to ask to be paid what she was worth – she "leaned in," way in – and was fired for her trouble.

Abramson’s situation is one high profile example of what AAUW research has consistently shown: There is a persistent gender pay gap in just about every field, in male-dominated occupations and so-called "pink collar" jobs, and at the highest levels of leadership. On the plus side, Abramson’s firing has refocused attention on the gender pay gap. It also shows that salary negotiation, while important to helping to close the pay gap, isn’t a simple or complete solution. On the downside, the media outcry over Abramson’s firing makes me wonder about the relative lack of outrage when 44 U.S. senators refused to even debate the Paycheck Fairness Act five weeks ago.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow for both transparency and stronger deterrents to stop gender pay discrimination from happening in the first place. In addition to urging our representatives to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, we need to have a real conversation in our communities and workplaces about double standards for women in leadership, and why our culture has a tendency to harshly judge women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. Such women are called “pushy” — such girls are called “bossy” — and other rebukes that are intended to shame us back into silence.

AAUW was founded to foster and support women in their efforts to break through barriers like ‎the one
that Abramson shattered — and to keep the momentum going so that women and girls can shatter even more stubborn glass ceilings. With your support, we’ll keep fighting for the Paycheck Fairness Act, keep funding graduate research by outstanding female students, keep training the next generation of women leaders on college campuses, keep supporting hardworking women challenging discrimination in the courts, and keep producing the latest in groundbreaking research on women and girls.

‎I can’t imagine a world without our AAUW community speaking truth to power and creating social change.‎ We’ve come too far, and together we have more work to do.

Yours in AAUW,
Lisa M. Maatz
Vice President of Government Relations

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Urge your representative and senators to co-sponsor the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)! This bill is a concrete way we can take action to help reduce the kind of gender-based violence we’re seeing in Nigeria and other countries around the world.

Post the I-VAWA action alert on Facebook with this message:

"We can do more than tweet #BringBackOurGirls. Take action to prevent violence against women worldwide: http://bit.ly/RQF6DD"

This week we marked the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed school segregation. The court’s decision was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

So, where did AAUW fit into all of this, being an organization founded on the principle of equality in education?

Dive into AAUW’s archives to find out – and then share the fascinating story on Twitter!


  • We celebrated Equal Pay Day about five weeks ago, but for some women, Equal Pay Day doesn’t happen until November! Learn more and find resources to take action on AAUW’s blog.
  • FiveThirtyEight released maps this week showing which states provide the most and least access to abortion. The maps examine seven different restrictions, including mandatory counseling, parental consent for minors, and mandatory ultrasounds.


Justice Department Orders Sallie Mae to Pay Restitution
On Tuesday Sallie Mae was ordered to pay $96.6 million in penalties for its “unfair and deceptive” student loan procedures. The educational lending firm, a publicly-traded corporation, was found to have failed to cap interest rates for members of the military, violating a protection law established by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Such practices were discovered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which called attention to the issue in a 2012 report. Service members who were charged the additional interest will receive restitution.

  • This oversight demonstrates why AAUW advocated so much for the creation of a consumer protection agency with jurisdiction over student loans. As more and more students take out loans to complete their education, their rights must be protected.

New Guidance Reminds Charter Schools of Federal Obligations
A guidance letter released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on Wednesday reminds charter schools to follow federal civil rights laws, just as public schools are required to do. In particular, the guidance focuses on admissions policies, services for students with disabilities, flexibility for English-language Learners, and fairer discipline policies. Clarifications are also made regarding legal requirements for single-sex charter schools.

Nebraska, West Virginia Primary Voters Choose Candidates
In Nebraska, GOP voters chose Tea Party-backed former Bush administration official Ben Sasse over the more establishment candidates in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Mike Johanns. Sasse will face Democratic primary winner Dave Domina in November. In West Virginia, primary victories by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Natalie Tennant (D) set up the state’s first Senate showdown between two female candidates, virtually guaranteeing that West Virginia will elect is first female senator in November. Also of note in West Virginia, a 17-year-old high school senior Saira Blair upset an incumbent state delegate in Tuesday’s primary (Blair will be 18 by Election Day). The final primary update for this week comes from North Carolina, where American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken was declared the winner of his primary race a day after his GOP opponent for the U.S. House seat died from injuries suffered during a fall. Aiken will face Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) in November.


Governor Signs AAUW-Supported Women’s Economic Security Act
Mary Petron, AAUW Minnesota VP for Public Policy, shared the good news with AAUW this week: "The passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act in Minnesota was a team effort. Forty-five organizations, including AAUW Minnesota, joined together forming the Women’s Economic Security Coalition. Coordinating their efforts, they influenced representatives and senators to vote for the Women’s Economic Security Act. AAUW Minnesota members proved to be valuable advocates throughout the state.

"Minnesota achieved pay equity in state and local government over 30 years ago, and AAUW Minnesota is particularly pleased that these requirements for pay equity have now been extended to businesses seeking state contracts. In addition, employees are able to voluntarily discuss their compensation without fear of retaliation. Furthermore, women will no longer face discrimination in the workplace for being mothers. The signing of the Women’s Economic Security Act in Minnesota was a good day for Minnesota women and families."


On Wednesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a bill that would fund the expansion of states’ preschool programs. The legislation would expand preschool to low- and moderate income 4-year-olds, and would be funded by additional taxes on tobacco products. The bill was passed along party lines (12-10), and is set to go to the Senate floor this fall, making it a potential hot topic for the midterm elections.


Leave it to Rush Limbaugh to miss the point – on his conservative talk show, Limbaugh called the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign "pathetic" and said it suggests that the United States is "powerless." We know that a hashtag won’t immediately lead to the Nigerian girls’ rescue, but this Twitter campaign has sparked a worldwide conversation about violence against women and the importance of education that certainly didn’t exist before #BringBackOurGirls went viral — and there’s nothing pathetic about finally having that conversation.

  • In addition to tweeting with #BringBackOurGirls, we can help protect women and girls worldwide by urging our representatives to support the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). Take action today!


  • On Tuesday a federal judge struck down Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage and deemed it unconstitutional. Although the judge ordered that same-sex marriages be allowed to occur as soon as Friday, Governor Butch Otter was granted a stay by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pending an appeal of the ruling. Meanwhile, Arkansas began issuing same-sex marriage licenses over the weekend after its ban was overturned by courts.
  • This week, the Missouri House and Senate passed legislation that would require a woman to wait 72 hours from her initial doctor’s visit before she gets an abortion. Abortion-rights protesters held a 72-hour filibuster outside the state house in protest of the legislation, which they say will intrude on women’s personal medical decisions. If Governor Jay Nixon (D) signs the bill, Missouri will be the third state — along with South Dakota and Utah — to have the three-day wait requirement. 
  • Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill ensuring that state test scores are not factored into principal and teacher evaluations for two years. This plan was backed by the Maryland State Education Association.

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