Saturday, September 5, 2009

Women's eNEWS: Cheers and Jeers of the Week

ABC News named Diane Sawyer to succeed Charles Gibson as anchor of "World News Tonight" on September 2. Also in today's Cheers and Jeers column, election monitors and women's activists in Afghanistan said many women were prevented from participating in the August 20 presidential election.

Story follows announcements.

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Here's today's update:


Sawyer Lands Top Spot; Afghan Women Stayed Home

By Latrice Davis
WeNews correspondent

Cheers and Jeers



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ABC News named Diane Sawyer to succeed Charles Gibson as anchor of "World News Tonight" on September 2. When Sawyer takes on this new role in January, two of the three major network's evening news broadcasts will be anchored by women--a first in television history. (Sawyer also made history as the first female correspondent for "60 Minutes" in 1984.)

"Diane Sawyer is the right person to succeed Charlie and build on what he has accomplished," said ABC News President David Westin in a press statement. "She has an outstanding and varied career in television journalism."

Sawyer's promotion follows the July 28 release of the Radio-Television News Directors Association's annual survey, which found more females working in the industry. Women now hold more than 41 percent of TV news jobs and 29 percent of TV news director positions--both record highs.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • On the heels of Women's eNews August 31 cover story about insurance coverage of prenatal care, Kathleen Sebelius and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) held a roundtable discussion with executives from the Maine Women's Lobby and American Association of Retired Persons on September 3. The session was called to address the impact that health care reform will have on women and seniors. Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius told the audience that because women live longer than men and are less likely to have pensions, they are more likely to be hit harder by medical costs when they're older. "The goal is in the new marketplace, in a health insurance exchange, to hold down costs, to have some competition and to provide choice," she said. "Those are all free-market principles." Sebelius' visit to Maine was also regarded as a way to secure support for President Obama's plan from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who is viewed as the only Republican willing to consider making the public option a part of health care reform.
  • The Feminist Majority Foundation held a press conference on August 28 in support of LeRoy Carhart, the Nebraska doctor who has followed in George Tiller's footsteps in publicly acknowledging that he performs late-term abortions. (After facing death threats for many years, Tiller was gunned down on May 31 in Kansas.) "The constant vilifying of reproductive health providers as murderers is not only inflammatory, but is also contrary to established medical practices that save women's lives," said Eleanor Smeal, the organization's president. "Worse yet, it emboldens potential assassins." But the vandalism attacks and death threats don't phase Carhart, who told Newsweek in its August 31 issue that "the only thing I can do…is just train as many doctors as I can to go out on their own and provide abortions and get enough people providing them. Abortion is not a four-letter word." Carhart was a plaintiff in two cases challenging Nebraska's abortion laws; the cases resulted in two very different Supreme Court rulings on so-called partial-birth abortion.
  • A record 54 women won seats in Japan's general election on August 30. The Democratic Party of Japan scored a historic victory against the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party by fielding a high-profile group of female candidates to take on elderly ruling party members. "It's very significant that I won in a constituency that was symbolic for the coalition government," singer-turned-lawmaker Ai Aoki told Agence France-Presse. A total of 229 women competed for seats in the 480-member chamber, which also set a new record.
  • Martha Coakley became the first candidate to announce a bid for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat on September 3. The Massachusetts attorney general has been quietly putting together her probable Senate campaign over the past year, while other possible candidates have been waiting to see what Joseph P. Kennedy II, the late senator's nephew, does before entering the race. "I've always sort of run my life, and run my career, and not worry too much about what other people are doing," Coakley told the Boston Globe. In a separate interview with the Boston Herald, she said she can campaign for higher office without neglecting her current duties. "I have been and will remain involved in the major decisions."


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Election monitors and women's activists in Afghanistan said a combination of fear, tradition, apathy and poor planning conspired to deprive many women from participating in the August 20 presidential election. Across Afghanistan some of the segregated female polling rooms were nearly empty. Many educated women who had voted or worked at polling stations in previous elections chose not to take the risk in this election.

"Things are reverting and it's because of a mix of insecurity, economy and culture," Afghan resident Soraya Sobrang told the Washington Post on August 30. "When security was better, women could participate in public life and the new constitution gave them political rights. But then the attacks started, and … all their new rights came under threat and nothing really changed in their lives."

Some activists said the election-day chill signified a wider setback for Afghan women, with an increase in domestic violence and the Taliban continuing to shut down hundreds of girls' schools.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • The military coup in Honduras has eroded democratic institutions and hard-fought gains in women's rights, members of Feminist Transgressional Watch said in an August 28 Women's Media Center article. The group of journalists, human rights legal experts and activists visited the country in mid-August to assess reported human rights violations and observe strategies to resist the coup, which occurred on June 28. Since then, there have been 51 cases of femicide--the systematic killing of women--as well as a growing number of attacks such as verbal abuse and gang rape. Human rights lawyer Alda Facio described the situation as an undeclared war against women, but female residents and activists continue to hold peaceful marches opposing Roberto Michelleti's regime.
  • The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on August 27 that a state law banning discrimination against pregnant women does not protect new mothers who take unauthorized breaks to use a breast pump. In a 5-to-1 ruling, justices said outerwear manufacturer Totes/Isotoner was within its rights to fire LaNisa Allen for sneaking off to pump her breasts an hour before her scheduled break. The court did not rule on whether the pregnancy law covers new mothers who are lactating, saying that Allen missed her chance to put that question to the test by not seeking an accommodation. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch that "if a woman chooses to breastfeed, we as a society should do whatever we can do to accommodate her, regardless of what the law may say."
  • A nun's stance on women's ordination has led to her receiving an ultimatum from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk told Sister of Charity Louise Akers in an August 10 meeting to publicly disassociate herself from the issue if she wants to continue making any presentations or teaching for credit at any archdiocesan-related institutions. "For four decades, I have devoted my ministry to advocating on behalf of the marginalized through religious congregations, justice organizations, ecumenical and interfaith groups," Akers told the National Catholic Reporter on August 31. "Women's ordination is a justice issue. Its basis is the value, dignity, and equality of women. I believe this to my very core. To publicly state otherwise would be a lie and a violation of my conscience."
  • The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report on September 2 that found efforts to address poverty in Canada--especially the "shockingly high" rates suffered by many women--seem to have been sidelined by the recession. The report urged federal and provincial governments to rework their initiatives for coping with the recession to pay particular attention to women struggling to raise children on their own. "Child poverty seems to win political points, but Canadian governments are ignoring the very real and private struggle of women on their own who are living in poverty," Monica Townson, a research associate at the think tank, told Canwest News Service. The report cited raising the minimum wage, increasing welfare payments, boosting the supplement for single seniors and seeking more funding for child care spaces as solutions.


  • Women's rights groups and labor unions voiced their displeasure over the Italian parliament ratifying a new law that ended discrimination in the retirement age between men and women. Until recently, female employees could retire at 60--five years earlier than their male counterparts--a double standard based on the consideration that women also take care of the home and family. This law only applies to 3.5 million female government employees, but officials vowed to extend this policy to the private sector. Union leader Renata Polverini told the Christian Science Monitor on September 1 that instead of changing the pension system, "the government should have improved services helping female workers, such as daycare for children and the elderly." But economic expert Tonia Mastrobuoni felt this change was overdue, saying she found it "odd that unions and women's groups are defending the old system, based on the assumption the woman's primary duty is to take care of the house, even if she works outside."
  • A study conducted by a University of New Mexico professor indicated that female managers are more than three times as likely as their male counterparts to underestimate how their bosses would rate their job performance. "Women have imposed their own glass ceiling and the question is why," Scott Taylor, an assistant professor of organizational studies, told the Associated Press on August 30. The ratings measured nine elements of emotional and social competence essential to leadership: communication ability, initiative, self-awareness, self-control, empathy, bond-building, teamwork, conflict management and trustworthiness. The men who were studied slightly overestimated how their bosses would rate them, while the female respondents underestimated their ratings on average by about 11 percent. Taylor said his research may explain the wage disparity between men and women.
  • The Iranian parliament approved 18 out of 21 of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proposed Cabinet ministers on September 3, including the country's first female minister in 30 years. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was named health minister, and the gynecologist described her selection to the Guardian as "an important step for women"--even though she has drawn controversy for advocating gender segregation in the nation's hospitals. Ahmadinejad's other two female nominees, Sousan Keshvaraz and Fatemeh Ajorlou, fell short of the number of votes needed to lead the education and welfare and social security agencies.

Latrice Davis is a freelance journalist based in New York.

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