Action, Not Words: Bridging Divide Between Feminism and Disability Rights

So, I’m back. The website was down for a while as I transitioned to a web server and got everything all spiffy-looking. Do you like it? The pink cosmo in the header is actually from my very own garden. (Yes, I am shamelessly begging for compliments.)

While I was offline, I’ve been thinking about where I want this blog to go and what kind of activism I want to be doing. I am a feminist and will always write about and fight for women’s rights. I am also a woman with multiple disabilities and I have started to shift my energies into fighting for disability rights. However, as time has gone by, it seems downright silly to me that disability rights are not a core element of the feminist movement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 1 in 5 women in the United States are living with disabilities. Surely an issue that affects 20% of U.S. women is a feminist cause, right?

Well, not really. Disability rights and feminism have historically been separate movements and it’s time to change that.

While other feminists with disabilities have tried to end discrimination and harassment of people with disabilities by focusing primarily on ableist language and privilege, I believe we need to think bigger.

I subscribe to the social model of disability:

The social model of disability, on the other hand, sees disability as a socially created problem and not at all an attribute of an individual. On the social model, disability demands a political response, since the problem is created by an unaccommodating physical environment brought about by attitudes and other features of the social environment.

What this means is that although I may have a hearing impairment (among other things), it is not what disables me. My hearing loss in itself is not what keeps me from fully participating in society. Instead, I am disabled and left on the sidelines of society because there are:

  • too many jobs that depend on being able to hear and listen, such as simply being able to return phone calls on a regular basis (I don’t always hear well on the phone, especially if I have to take down information)
  • too many restaurants, stores, theaters, auditoriums, churches, and other public spaces with background noise and bad acoustics that make it difficult to socialize, network and simply be with people
  • too many unintelligible PA systems in stores, airports, subways, airplanes, and public and private buildings of every sort that provide relevant and important information (I freak out a little on planes every time the flight attendants come on over the PA and I can’t understand a word they’re saying. Are they saying something I need to know, something safety-related, or are they just announcing they’ll be coming along with the drinks cart?)
  • too many teachers and professors who don’t talk loud enough, fail to provide written notes/outlines/PowerPoints so I can follow along or simply just talk to the black/white board

Those are just a few of the ways I am disabled by my hearing loss according to the social model of disability. As feminists, I think we need to be doing more to support our sisters with disabilities. Temporarily able-bodied (TAB) feminists need to join the fight to help women with disabilities secure our rights in the following areas:

  • Health care (including reproductive rights)
  • Education
  • Economic rights
  • Sexual assault and domestic violence
  • LGBT issues
  • Immigration
  • Social Security
  • Women in the military and women veterans
  • Employment

This is not an all-inclusive list and I am 100% positive I have forgotten some very important issues. I apologize for that in advance. Also, it goes without saying that all of these issues must be viewed through a multi-racial, multi-ethnic lens. Being disabled is not just about white, middle-class women. It is just about ‘American’ women, either. While I will probably focus more on North American women, disability is an international issue and we need to be mindful of that.

In the coming days, weeks and months, I plan to talk more about all of these things. I hope you’ll join in the conversation.

Stop Stupak-Nelson

Note: The following is a letter to the editor I wrote that appeared in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and Madison Capitol Times (both in Wisconsin). The Stupak-like amendment was introduced in the Senate today by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and will likely be voted on tomorrow (Tuesday, December 8th) so call your senators at (888) 423-5983 now. The U.S. Capitol switchboard is open 24/7 so when you ask for your senators’ offices you may get voice mail. Leave a message!

Without further ado, let’s Stop Stupak!

Dear Editor:

On November 7th, the House of Representatives passed its version of health care reform, which included an anti-abortion amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI). According to the American Association of University Women, the Stupak Amendment will prohibit “women who receive federal subsidies from purchasing a comprehensive insurance plan that includes abortion services. Private plans that offer abortion coverage would be banned from receiving funding.”

The Stupak Amendment goes far beyond the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion. Insurance companies participating in the new insurance exchange who receive even one dollar of revenue from federal subsidies will be banned from offering any policies with abortion coverage. An analysis of the amendment by George Washington University found it “will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women.”

Abortion is a currently a safe, legal medical procedure. One in three American women will have an abortion by age 45. The risk of death is less than 0.6 per 100,000 procedures here in the U.S. In contrast, 68,000 women die each year in countries where abortion is illegal. (Guttmacher Institute) The Stupak Amendment threatens to take women back to the days of unsanitary back-alley and dangerous self-induced abortions with wire hangers. The Stupak Amendment is not about “unborn” fetuses but saving the lives of women who are already here: daughters, sisters, wives, and yes, even mothers.

Stop the Stupak Amendment. Call Senators Feingold and Kohl. Tell them to vote “no” on Stupak.

Image courtesy Stupak Amendment REVOLT (Facebook)

Sen. Feingold Explains "No" Vote on Mikulski Women's Health Amendment, Sort Of

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Sen. Feingold’s puzzling and infuriating “no” vote on the Mikulski Women’s Health Amendment, which will require women’s preventative health services to be full funded by insurance companies. I emailed Sen. Feingold’s office, expressing my anger and disappointment in the senator’s vote. I also made some comments on Twitter, encouraging others to email and call his office.

I was not the only one who noticed Sen. Feingold’s somewhat-peculiar vote.  David Dayen over at the influential Firedoglake.com took note, as did the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Politico. By last night, Sen. Feingold’s office released this statement:

I am disappointed that the Senate health care debate has gotten off on the wrong foot.  The first amendment voted on would add almost a billion dollars to our budget deficits over the next 10 years.  We should make sure health plans cover women’s preventive care and screenings, but we should also find a way to pay for it, rather than adding that cost to the already mountainous public debt.  At a time of record deficits, Americans expect fiscal responsibility from their representatives in Congress.

I also received a reply to my email from Sen. Feingold’s aide early last evening. She assured me that Sen. Feingold is a strong supporter of women’s access to health care and preventative services and that his “no” vote was “was not about the policy of the amendment.”

I believe her. I know that Sen. Feingold is a deeply principled man who has decided to take a stand on fiscal responsibility. He recently introduced a new bill, Control Spending Now Act, the purpose of which is quite simply, “to control Federal spending now”. I also appreciate that Sen. Feingold has been an advocate for women’s health. He sponsored a resolution that the Senate support  “the goals and ideals of National Women’s Health Week”. He is a co-sponsor of Sen. Shaheen’s resolution condemning violence against women’s health (read: abortion) providers. He is a co-sponsor of the Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, which will raise awareness and provide support for young women with breast cancer.  Sen. Feingold also deserves major kudos for being a co-sponsor fo the Paycheck Fairness Act and for recently co-chairing a hearing on rape as a weapon of war with Sen. Boxer in May.

So, yeah, Sen. Feingold usually walks the walk on fighting for women’s rights. He’s definitely a male ally. He really dropped the ball on this one, though. As I told the senator’s aide, it feels like he sold women out to uphold his pledge of fiscal responsibility. One billion dollars is basically chump change in Washington. If he was really concerned about the money, he should’ve worked with Sen. Mikulski to find the money to pay for her amendment. She announced she would be introducing the amendment before Thanksgiving, over a week ago. There was time for negotiation on this one.

After all is said and done, here’s what I think happened: I think Sen. Feingold knew there were sixty votes to pass the amendment. Sen. Snowe was a co-sponsor (way to go, Olympia!) and Sen. Collins probably made her intentions to vote for the amendment known as well. Sen. Feingold probably had political cover to vote against the amendment and went for it.

He still should’ve done the right thing, though.

Sen. Feingold Votes No on Mikulski Amendment to Save Women's Lives

Today was a great day for women’s health. The Mikulski Women’s Health Amendment passed the Senate 61-39. However, in a move that shocked and infuriated me, one of my senators, Russ Feingold, a Democrat, voted against the amendment.

Because Sen. Feingold told my health care story as part of a speech advocating for a strong public option in June, I have the email address of one of his staffers and just sent them an email expressing my outrage over the senator’s vote. You can read it below.

I encourage you to contact Sen. Feingold yourself and tell him his “no” vote against women’s health was not acceptable. Call him at (202) 224-5323 or email his office here.

Here’s my letter:

Ms. xxxxx,

As a woman and one of Sen. Feingold’s constituents, I am extremely angry  he voted against Sen. Mikulski’s amendment for women’s health today. This vote was not about money (the only reason I can think of that Sen. Feingold would vote no), but about saving women’s lives. This was a vote about morality, not money.

Sen. Feingold was elected to serve the people of Wisconsin. That includes the women of Wisconsin, all 2.8 million of us (from 2008 census estimates). Sen. Feingold needs to explain this vote to his female constituents. He needs to explain it to me, my mother, my sister, my aunts, my cousins, my friends and my neighbors.

Senator Feingold needs to explain this vote. He should apologize because it was morally reprehensible and wrong.Sincerely,
Danine Spencer

Veterans Day: No Longer Just A "Man's Holiday"

I’ve got a new post up at Women’s Rights | Change.org : Veterans Day: No Longer Just A “Man’s Holiday”. Here’s an excerpt:

Today is Veterans’ Day in the United States, a day when we pause to recognize those who have served in our nation’s armed services. Veterans’ Day is traditionally a man’s holiday, where we honor the men who have fought and died in our nation’s wars. However, the number of female veterans has doubled over the last twenty years, from 4% in 1988 to 8% this year. This number will only continue to grow as our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan continues.

It is important to pay tribute to all veterans, including female veterans. According to the IAVA, more than 212, 000 female service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, making up 11% of the force over there. More than 600 have been wounded in the combined wars and more than 120 women have died, including Staff Sgt. Amy C. Tirador of Albany, New York, who died November 4 in Kirkush, Iraq.

Keep reading at Womens Rights | Change.org

Photo credit: kevindooley on Flickr

I Am Not a Pre-Existing Condition

denied2In addition to yesterday’s post on the New Office of Women’s Health in House Health Care Bill, I have another National Women’s Day of Action for Health Care Reform postup at the AAUW Dialog blog entitled I Am Not a Pre-Existing Condition. here’s an excerpt:

I have a long list of pre-existing medical conditions, so I have a lot invested in health care and health insurance reform. But even if I didn’t have this crazy, messed-up body with all its injuries, conditions, and surgeries listed in my medical chart, I could still be denied health insurance. At the very least, I would probably have to pay more than a man would.

Why, you ask? The answer is simple. I’m a woman.
Keep reading…

Also, a little National Women’s Day of Action for Health Care Reform link love:

So… have you called or emailed your representative and senators to ask them to vote for health care reform? Do it now!

New Office of Women's Health in House Health Care Bill

Note: This post is part of the National Women’s Day of Action for Health Care Reform. Learn more at A Woman Is Not A Pre-Existing Condition

denied2Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to embrace my masochistic tendencies and try to tackle the (Democratic) House health care bill yesterday. I was searching for information on new regulations that will prohibit insurance companies from using gender ratings to discriminate against women when I came across Sec. 2588 on pg. 1609.

What is Sec. 2588? I’m so glad you asked. Sec. 2588 (under Division C – Public Health and Workforce Development > Title V – Other Provisions > Subtitle E – Miscellaneous)  will establish an Office of Women’s Health (OWH) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Yes, you read that right. There will be an entire division of the federal government devoted to women’s health.

Among other things, OWH will establish short & long-term goals for HHS and other agencies for women’s health: disease prevention, health promotion, service delivery, research, and public and health care professional education. OWH will be headed up by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, which is an appointed position. (Sec. 229, pg. 1609)

The Deputy Assistant Secretary, who I’ll just refer to as the Secretary to make my life a lot simpler, will establish and chair the  HHS Coordinating Committee on Women’s Health. It will be composed of senior-level representatives from each of the federal agencies. Although the bill doesn’t explicitly lay out the functions of the Coordinating Committee, I assume it will be a lot like the White House on Women and Girls, only for health issues.

OWH will coordinate efforts to promote women’s health initiatives in private sector. Additionally, it will set up a National Women’s Health Information Center. This office will serve as a clearinghouse for women’s health information to the public and private sector.

There will also be an Office of Women’s Health established at the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This office will monitor will monitor women’s health initiatives within the CDC and establish short and long-term goals for the CDC relating to women’s health. In other words, this mini-OWH will be in charge of making sure the CDC is researching women’s health – what a concept! (Sec. 310A, pg. 1614)

There will also be an Office of Women’s Health and Gender-Based Research within HHS. This office will keep tabs on the current status of research, identify areas of need for research on women’s health and make short and long term goals for research on women’s health.

There will be an Office of Women’s Health within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Again, what a concept. This office will monitor and report on women’s participation and outcomes in FDA clinical trials. It will establish short and long term goals for “adequate inclusion of women and analysis of data by sex in Administration protocols and policies”. In regular person talk, that means they’ll actually have to make sure to include women in their studies and reports. It will provide information to women and health care providers on differences between men and women in FDA studies and trials. Unfortunately, this mini-OWH at the FDA will not have any new regulatory authority. I’m not sure what the possible ramifications are but this seems bothersome. (Sec. 911)

All in all, I am extremely impressed with this new Office of Women’s Health. It appears that it will coordinate women’s health services across all the federal agencies and work to improve women’s health by conducting research, disseminating data to consumers and institutions, promoting prevention and wellness and more. Of course, this will be a brand-new bureaucracy so it will never work perfectly. Still, what excites me the most is the research OWH and its affiliates will conduct. For so long, medical research has been done on men and the results were assumed to be the same for women. This would be long overdue.

There is one very large BUT here. The provision to create an Office of Women’s Health is only in the Democratic House bill. It is not in the Senate bill or the Republican House bill. The House is tentatively set to vote on this bill as early as Saturday. I’m not sure if Sen. Reid is allowing amendments to the Senate bill anymore but if he is, we need to urge our senators to include a similar provision. That way, it will have a better chance of being in the conference bill.

Read the House bill here. The Office of Women’s Health provision starts on p. 1609, Sec. 2588. Make your life simple and use the search function to find it. Oh, and if you notice I read or summarized the bill incorrectly, please let me know: danine@danine.net. Thanks!