Ariel Dougherty is a teacher, filmmaker, producer and mentor for women directed media/culture of all stripes. SWEET BANANAS (director, 1973) and !WOMEN ART REVOLUTION (Producer, 2010) are among the hundreds of films she has worked on. She writes at the intersections of women-identified media, especially film production, women's human rights, and funding for film. Currently, she is working on a book entitled Feminist Filmmaking Within Communities.
In the fall-out around MIT’s prestigiously respected Media Lab over its acceptance of repeated donations from Jeffrey Epstein, a known sexual predator of underaged girls, a number of sheros shine. Each act of these women highlight a different aspect of the larger cultural problem about misogyny and how deeply masculinist views are entrenched at multiple points in society. I list the women here as the chronology of the story unfolded:
Arwa Mboya, MIT graduate student in Civic Media, a division of the Media Lab
Sheryl Sandberg might be among a handful of the largest donors to women and girls. As such, it is important to understand the nature of her giving and where this money goed. Through a thicket of documents, it is not always easy to tell.
Last November The Chronicle of Philanthropy announced that the Facebook COO was donating another $100 million to charity. This brought Sheryl Sandberg’s contributions at the time to over a quarter of a billion dollars — a total of $286.1 million. When I first started to explore her donations, I got no responses. Even for this article now, I received a very positive and polite response from Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation staff member, Pamela Nonga Ngue: “We will not be able to participate in the story, but we appreciate your consideration and the work you do to highlight women in philanthropy.”
The failure of the feminist movement to tackle changes in public media policy may be one of the most significant shortcomings of my generation. Take these few facts as proof. According to a report from the Global Media Monitoring Project by Margaret Gallagher entitled Who Makes the News?, the percentage of women in newsmaking roles stagnated at 23% from 2005 to 2015. And the output from media that focuses on women? Even more dismal. According to the report, “Across all media, women were the central focus of just 10% of news stories – exactly the same figure as in 2000.” And just a few more statistics to get your hair standing on end: women only directed 8% of the top 250 grossing films in 2018, and women-directed films reach just 2.75% of screens in the U.S.
A new effort has formed to refocus issues of sex trafficking on the buyers of sex, not the victims. Demand Abolition, initiated by philanthropist Swanee Hunt, has the goal of fighting sex trafficking by eliminating the illegal sex industry in the US – and thereby the world. Among the tasks, Demand Abolition funded a research report “Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Sex Demand.” Conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Portland, over 8,000 men were surveyed. The report fills critical gaps in understanding of the illegal sex trade, why men buy sex, and what might be done short term and long term to alleviate this exploitative behavior.
Gender-lens projects coming out of Washington, D.C. these days are rare, but here’s a great one. The National Endowment for the Humanities has just awarded the American Film Institute a $350,000 grant toward a study on gender parity in the history of American film. The funds support a survey of the roles of women in the over 100 years of American movies that are in the database in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films. The collection has amassed over 500,000 listed credits on all these productions.
The database is complete for the years 1893-1993 and is abbreviated for films released after 1993. It covers all Hollywood films and independent works that made theatrical release. My own single entry is here.
An email arrived from Fork Films. Who can open and read the mountainous volume of emails one receives these days? This one, however, I opened.
There was Abigail Disney sitting with Rev. Rob Schenck. He is the center point of her own first directed film, The Armour of Light, released in 2015. In the process of making the film, the arch-conservative preacher wrestled with his position on guns, and came to the conclusion that gun use was contradictory to his position on right to life. He has now formed The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute to combat present social crises. The current special focus of the Institute is on gun violence in the U.S. from a Christian, ethical perspective. Abigail Disney, filmmaker, activist and philanthropist, is a Governor on his Board of Directors.
Abigail Disney, also a mother and wife, and a beacon of ever-evolving feminist consciousness, is prepared for action. Unafraid to tackle difficult issues – she was a major advocate against the Trump tax bill, despite the huge gains she would personally receive. The Disney heiress has metamorphosed into a principled actor on behalf of the issues that concern her: peace and social justice. Evolution is her forte. While she comes from a major U.S. media family, she did not set out to become a media maker herself.
In May 2008, Abigail wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about how she came to produce the documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The story focuses on the women’s movement for peace in Liberia and its impact on ending fifteen years of war in the country. In the post, Abigail questions why the mainstream media has been so absent on the job of covering these critical events involving women’s leadership. She wrote: “How was it possible that these Liberian women had accomplished such an enormous feat without having been noticed and reported on by the news outlets I had come to know and trust?”
Her partner in founding Fork Films, Gini Reticker, and director of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, before an audience at the Brooklyn Museum, described early pre-production research on the film. She screened over 80 hours of news footage that captured only a glimpse of the women who daily led peace protests: “I had journalists say to me: ‘I saw the women on the field. But they were so pitiful looking that I didn’t film them,’” Reticker recounted. In contrast, boys captured and forced into a warring militia, clutching AK47s, are glorified in hours of footage. I have written before about this egregious gender bias within mainstream media.
One of the key leaders among the Christian and Muslim women who banded together for peace in Liberia is Leymeh Gbowee. Her experience anchors the film. Through the many awards Pray the Devil Back to Hell won and speaking opportunities, Gbowee became widely know in peace circles. The film has had a lasting impact which she believes can inspire more women. Gwobe writes: “This documentary is like a landmark or something that tells other women, ‘People did it before we came, we’ve done it, and they can also do it. It is not a fluke. It can happen. People just need to rise up and rise above the politics that so deeply divide us as women.”
Pre-dawn on a brisk October day in 2011 the Disney-Hauser household was bubbling with excitement. A teenage daughter of Leymeh Gbowee was living with Abigail’s family and attending school in the U.S. Leymeh Gbowee, too, was in New York promoting her newly released book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. News from Oslo swarmed across the Atlantic before first light, announcing that Leymeh Gbowee was one of three women to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The film Disney had produced three years earlier, her first venture in movie making, had given an international stage to the women’s peace efforts in Liberia. The power of film had an indelible effect.
During this same Fall, 2011, Disney and Reticker teamed up with WNET to create a five-part series, Women, War and Peace, for PBS. At the time, Donna Williams, Senior Publicist for WNET declared, “This series is rare in that it puts women at the center of an analysis of conflict and peace.” The five videos from 2011 can be viewed online.
Vessel, a film about the stellar work of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts and her Women On Waves program that brings abortion services across the high seas, is another important work that Abigail Disney has helped deliver to the film world. Director Diana Whitten in August 2011 joyously wrote me: “Some exciting news! Abby Disney has joined the Vessel crew as Executive Producer!” Having a dedicated producer is key for successful film completion, and I was thrilled to see Abigail stepping into such a role in advancing other women’s films.
Official funding is listed as 2013 for VESSEL. By 2013, Fork Films had already supported over a dozen films. A more formalized funding program from Fork Films emerged around the time that VESSEL was released in 2014. Another forty films are featured that have been funded through Fork Film since 2013. All totalled, the company states it has “supported nearly 90 documentaries that support peace and social justice.” Among the list are highly acclaimed works including Cameraperson, Strong Island, and Roll Red Roll. Grants range from $10,000 to $50,000. The next grant deadline will be in the Fall of 2018.
Ninety productions in less than a decade is a sizable collection of works by women supported by one entity. When you leave the darkness of the screening room, you can see that Abigail Disney is on the move, again. She is not resting on these laurels. In late May, she was a speaker on a recent panel about Violence Against Women at the Women+Money Summit organized by the Women’s Funding Network.
Earlier this month she was again with Rev. Rob Schenck, this time at Harper Collins in New York for the release of his book, Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love. In promoting the book, they spent an hour via his Facebook page discussing its content, their friendship and work together. He read from the acknowledgments: “Finally, it was Abby Disney who first prompted me to write this book, then nudged me until I had unstoppable momentum. Abby was the angel behind this undertaking.“
They described their first meeting. Disney voiced, “I was looking for someone who was politically different from me in every conceivable way to try to make common cause. I hoped to take the discussion of gun ownership in America back to its roots and talk about it from a moral, ethical and religious standpoint. Who I met instead of a fire-eating dragon was a menschy guy.” The common thread was that they both “crossed over.” Disney’s family was conservative. Schenck’s family of origin was liberal. So, as Disney underscored, “We are both bilingual. That is what this book is about.”
Schenck went on to describe how his work became over-framed by politics and that he lost his spiritual compass. A whole chapter of the book deals with how Evangelicals made a deal with Donald Trump and lost their moral compass. Later, in discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a crisis in the church in Germany in the early 30s, Schenck discussed how Evangelicals had made a deal with Hitler.
Both Disney and Schenck delved into the conundrum of making people mad as hornets in their different worlds. Disney asked, “How do we reach out to them? How do we help them get past their anger…….not only for the people who are angry with us, but the people who we are angry with.”
“Change is hard for all of us….you’ve changed more than I have. I feel guilty about it sometimes.” Disney prefaced as she asked Rev. Schenck a final question. I queried her further on this and she responded: “Yes, for sure, I truly have changed through the meta-partisan work. It’s made me more kind, it’s made me more prone to approach issues with love instead of hostility, and it has widened my networks and spheres of influence. It’s been nothing but good!”
Watch out. Abigail Disney is on the move. Stretching her own mind and moral compass, lifting the minds and experiences of others as a part of her own expanding experiences. Focusing on common cause, she may just be changing more than she knows. And, as I suspected, she assured me she does have “a glimmer” of a new film bubbling up,“But, I can’t talk about it yet.”
ARIEL’S PITCH: Support independent women’s narrative filmmaking with your dollars. A feature, By Now I’ve Lived A Thousand Lives and None of Them Are Mine, is directed by Britni West. Regional filmmaking is vital to cultural diversity. She has $13,000 more to raise by July 20 in Kickstarters’ “all-or-nothing” process. Over on Indiegogo, is Wonderland, a comedy written by and starring Yetide Badaki. Directed by Jessica Sherif, Zodwa, like Alice, stumbles through the looking glass into Hollywood. Will she survive the madness? Only if you assist to raise the remaining $8,400 by July 9th.
“Compton to Cannes. Dreamy!” tweeted Ava DuVernay to her two million followers once she arrived May 8th in Cannes, the globe’s most prestigious film festival. The directors of A Wrinkle in Time, Selma, andThirteenth joined four other women on the jury of the feature competition, forming the majority of the body that selects the Palme d’Or winner, the festival’s most coveted prize. Just days earlier, Michelle Obama was on stage in Los Angeles – a short distance from Compton – at the United State of Women Summit. Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the TV series Blackish, sat across from the beloved former First Lady, leading her in a womanist conversation. The greatest portion of their 40 minute talk centered on a pointed question the actress asked: “Are girls today dreaming differently than we did?”
‘Dreaming’ and ‘Dreamy’ are not exactly equivalents, but they both flourish in a realm that more women are venturing into and in which women are taking charge. Dreams, framing ideas into visual constructs, are core in filmmaking. Many, many women are making films, excellent films, putting their dreams onto film. They just are not reaching key spotlights within the established boys’ clubs.
Until audiences see women’s visions crafted into vast, powerful imagery in film and media, the cacophony of women’s calls for full social, and cultural, parity will go unheeded. Without women and men, girls and boys being able to see the possibilities, hope and dreams from women’s imaginations – as well as women’s rightful place in historical drama – there cannot be equity in the workplace, the political arena, or bodily integrity.
The magic and mundanity of women’s visions are essential, and impact all other things. This awareness – while expressed in one of the very first feminist demands in 1967 at the National Conference for New Politics (Freedom for Women, Giardina) – has simmered on back burners among feminist media activists and advocates for decades. Only now has it finally percolated before the larger, general public, thanks, in large part, to the #MeToo movement. Now the #TimesUp movement is taking things further by joining film stars with women from all industries, calling both for economic justice along with ending sexual harassment.
The Cannes Film Festival has been especially recalcitrant – as 5050X202, a French advocacy collective and Women & Hollywood, the U.S. based publication started by Melissa Silverstein, among many, have repeatedly pointed out. #Cannes2018, however has responded with some positive strides. Festival director, Thierry Fremaux, for many years has claimed that,“films are chosen on merit and that he opposes the idea of pro-women quotas and ‘positive discrimination.'” However, Jessica Chastian, a juror in the 2017 main competition, has had his ear, and may have finally gotten the message through. “She made me understand the importance of the female gaze,” Fremaux said in March. He credits the U.S. actress with opening his eyes to creating equity in the selection process. Cate Blanchett, the Australian actress, a signator of the #TimesUp Letter of Solidarity (as is DuVernay), is president of the Feature Films jury. She oversees this key jury of four women, including DuVernay, and four men. The Un-Certain Regard jury is also comprised of a majority of women.
That over fifty percent of women are involved on the juries does not rectify the persistent problem that women’s work is not more often selected by festival staff and committees to be included in the ten day festival. Only three women-directed films are among the 21 films in this year’s feature competition for the festival’s most prestigious award. Jane Campion still (as #Cannes2018 has now closed) remains the sole woman to win the Palme d’Or in 1993 – that is twenty-five years ago – for The Piano. Agnes Varda, the mother of New Wave Cinema, received an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015.
On Saturday, May 12, 82 women – actresses, producers, directors, make-up artists, scriptwriters and other feminist media advocates – stood in a series of rows before the red carpet steps. In protest, the women represented the 82 women filmmakers who have made it into competition over the 71 year history of Cannes Film Festival. This is a mere 5% of the 1688 male-directed works. After marching en masse up the steps, Cate Blanchett, in English, then Agnes Varda, in French, read from their prepared statement.
“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of the industry says otherwise,” Blanchett and Varda declared. The protest, organized by the French based 5050×20202 [here’s the US 5050×20202], was done just in advance of the screening of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun. This feature, about Kurdish women fighters, was the first of only three women’s films to screen in the Features Competition of twenty-one total films.
The failure of the Cannes Festival to be more equitable is a policy issue. That Fremaux on many occasions emphasizes “merit-based” as the barrier for women reflects the failure to recognize male bias, with a false nod to ‘professionalism’ and a thorough lack of understanding about how the entire structure of filmmaking — from funding to distribution — discriminates against women. LA Times reviewer, Justin Chang, too, disputes Fremaux’s premise, “All sorts of factors and favors come into play when programming a festival, and I’ve long suspected that if the process were strictly merit-based, we would routinely see more female filmmakers in competition.”
Before she could even get into the Cannes competition, Eva Husson, for her feature about the Kurdish women warriors taking on the Islamic State, needed to raise 4 million euros. She had immense difficulty. Twice as much could be raised for a war picture by a male director, she stated in an interview.
Take for instance the MEDIA Programme — a major public fund that supports European films, a division of Creative Europe established by the European Union. 84% of their awards went to male directors, with the men getting 86% of the monetary awards. Lecturer in Film Studies at University of Southampton, Huw Jones, documents this appalling data in an April article for The Conversation. He analyzed 1,473 films funded through a distribution process that promotes films across Europe.
The European Women’s Audiovisual Network – EWA – has been hammering at this problem for a number of years. In August 2015, as a major step, they worked with various stakeholders to create the Sarajevo Declaration. In a recent email to Philanthropy Women, their Project Manager Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson outlined the study they conducted in 2016 about public funding provided to projects led by women directors in Europe. Jones’ analysis is based on this study, she underscored.
“We are continuing to shepherd our recommendations through the EU process,” Johnson-Ferguson reported. Their contribution to the MEDIA Programme can be found here. Overall EWA seeks “an integration of gender equality among the priorities of the next Media Sub-Programme.” They conclude their request: “The imbalanced presence of women in the European audiovisual sector should be urgently addressed at the European Union level through concrete action.”
In the US, little is being done to ensure that women receive a fair share of the public funding for filmmaking. Two structural challenges hinder this. First there is no national, unified organization quite like the EWA leading the charge to both analyze the current public funding picture regarding women films – or other art forms for that matter – and then armed with such data taking the lead to correct the situation. Second, the agency structure in the US – in comparison to Europe where most countries have cultural ministers, even ministers of women’s issues – is a hodge-podge of different agencies with different interests and constituencies. So, it is hard to lasso them collectively into any unified effort. Last, an agency like the National Endowment for the Arts, which in this author’s opinion could best lead the collection of data across federal agencies, is so politically hand-tied to have the smallest of mandates. Its current Congressional Authorization would never allow such a study or correction. How sad. How discriminatory.
Women in the US have a lot of work yet to do to achieve equity in the film business. The most significant steps are policy issues. Maybe all the women this year running for political office is a sign of change that will impact this problem. With more women in office in 2019, perhaps they will enlarge America’s cultural mandate and the funding for cultural activities.
Women are not moving fast enough to significantly change the public funding picture, not in Europe nor in America. The directors of three important sectors of Cannes, however, did sign a pledge to: 1) create a more transparent selection process; 2) keep records of key filmmaker’s and key crew’s gender in submissions; and 3) to work toward parity on the executive board. One small step for womankind. This is not policy, but a promise.
Post Script: We can all play a role on an individual basis to fund women filmmakers. Here is a feature narrative that deserve support, large or small. 39 1/2, now in post-production, is Kara Herold’s first feature. Filled with comic irony and high drama, it splendidly mixes live action with lyric animation. She’s just half way through raising $30,000. Your support can assist in making her dream a reality.
Collectively, state legislatures passed 288 restrictions on women’s reproductive rights between 2010 to 2015. Now, a new film tells the stories of women’s horrific health experiences, and the imprisonments, both actual and threatened, that are a consequence of these laws.
Birthright: A War Story is a new documentary that exposes the radical religious right’s infiltration state legislatures. This movement’s goal is not only to strike down women’s constitutional right to abortion but also to curb women’s access to birth control. Some seek to put the rights of fetuses above those of women.
This is the Real-Life ‘Handmaid’s Tale’
The 1 hour, 40 minute film just completed a highly successful week’s run in New York City before engaged and enthusiastic audiences. This Friday, July 28 it opens in Beverly Hills at theLaemmle Music Hall for another one week run. These two theatrical runs qualify the film for consideration for an Academy Award, a critical step in a documentary’s path to notoriety and success.
Director Civia Tamarkin, a seasoned televisioninvestigative journalist, was motivated to produce BIRTHRIGHT after the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby. “I was shocked not only by the Supreme Court ruling, but by the lack of awareness from young women that their rights were being jeopardized. People were not taking to the streets.”
Unlike most filmmaking, Tamarkin said, “Ironically, it proved easier to raise money than to get people to go on camera.” The director underscored in an interview with Philanthropy Women, “Practitioners were reluctant to come forward. They were worried about repercussions…..especially about repercussions of violence. ”
Lest we forget, the National Abortion Federationkeeps records of this violence. Eleven people have died and 26 attempted murders have occurred due to anti-abortion violence. A federal law, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE or the Access Act), passed in 1994 to address such violence.Rewire recently produced an informative short video about the daily harassment that continues to occur at clinics.
Dr. Ruth Shaber, after a twenty five year career as an obstetrician and gynecologist, in 2014 created the Tara Health Foundation. The mission of Tara Health is to “improve the health and well-being of women and girls through the creative use of philanthropic capital.” Tara Health Foundation takes a holistic approach to its grant making as well as its capital management.
Most intriguing to this author was Shaber’s focus on bringing the principles of evidence-based health medicine into philanthropy. She explained,“Evidence-based health is conceived using science. You have an intervention, and then you look at the impact on a desired outcome. In philanthropy, on both the granting-making and the investment side, decisions are more driven by intuition. It is not a sufficient scientific methodology.”
At a national meeting, Shaber heard Dr. David Grimes of the Center for Disease Control speak of the threats to public health that regressive abortion laws are creating. Shaber, as a doctor turned philanthropist, came home from that meeting in November 2015 and realized: “We needed to remind people that abortion and contraception were protecting women’s health.”
Shaber started networking like crazy, on a mission to make a movie akin to An Inconvenient Truth for women’s health. “I knew nothing about filmmaking or media, but I put my name out there and let people know that I was interested in doing this work.”
Those in film know how exceedingly rare it is for a potential backer to be knocking on the door of a film director, but not long after putting out the word, Dr. Shaber heard of Tamarkin’s project and called her up. By this time, Tamarkin had completed development and shot a few interviews, enough to create a fundraising trailer.
The two women realized their goals were aligned. Instead of a grant, they struck up an equity investment agreement. Dr. Shaber recounted, “I wanted to have more of a business relationship with the film, so we had to strike new ground.”
Shaber and Tamarkin found very few in the foundation world who could advise them. But by discussing strategies, the two were able to conceive up a straight-up investment plan. The key selling point of the strategy for investors would be that they would be able to say that profits from the film would be returned to Tara Health Foundation and be deployed for the reproductive rights of women and girls.
The $675,000 equity investment from Tara Health Foundation enabled Tamarkin and her production team to concentrate solely on conducting the interviews, editing and polishing the completed film. Ruth Shaber became an executive producer of the film, in essence leveraging both financial and human capital to produce the film.
In addition to investing in the production, Tara Health Foundation has also provided a $325,000 grant for community outreach for the film. In this writer’s experience, this promotional work is a most vital component of the process, and is rare in the production of independent advocacy films like Birthright. Picture Motion, with a track record in this arena, has been hired to design the national campaign strategy that will maximize the film’s social impact.
Dr. Shaber is optimistic about the outreach screenings. “Each one will have its own character whether it is individuals or organizations, whether they do them as fundraisers or awareness builders.” So far, one outreach screening has occurred in Colorado, a very successful event organized by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction withnumerous other groups. Birthright’s theatrical distributor, Abramorama, just launched the commercial/art house run of the film, which precedes any community campaign.
Cristina Aguilar, Executive Director ofColorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), one of the participating organizations in the July 10 community screening, talked about the value of the film in terms of women and maternal health, noting that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. “Women of color are experiencing an increase in pregnancy complications. On top of this tragic and unacceptable public health crisis, the bodies and pregnancies of marginalized communities are a target of unjust and discriminatory laws and policies.”
In an interview with Philanthropy Women, Baden noted that laws restricting abortion and other reproductive rights are often pushed through hostile state legislatures without input from the very women who will feel their impact most. “Anti-abortion legislators should – at the very least – listen to stories like those featured in Birthright and be forced to grapple with the consequences of using women’s healthcare to score political points.”
State legislatures are not the only problem. A fundraising appeal from Jodi Jacobson, publisher ofRewire, sent out July 19, reminds readers that Teresa Manning, who now runs the Office of Population Affairs at the CDC, does not support evidence-based health contraception. “[She] relies on junk science and falsehoods to advocate for anti-choice policies,” the Rewire appeal states. $286 million is at Manning’s disposal in federal family planning funds to low-income Americans. Decades of health progress for women are at stake.
When asked about how Birthright fit into the long history of women’s health films likeAfter Tiller andTrapped, director, writer, and executive producer Tamarkan was adamant that “Birthright is an overview. The issue is not abortion. It is about women’s bodily integrity.”
Additional theatrical screenings are in the works. Small Star Art House in York, Pennsylvania, is listed, as isGateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio.Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY is on the roster, too. None yet have dates. Other potential screenings are in the works in Lincoln, Nebraska: Dallas and Austin, Texas, and Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona.
If you want updates on the screenings, keep checking the Birthrightwebsite. If you want a screening in your community, simultaneously contact your local movie theatre and fill out the form on Birthright’s webpage. Make it happen. You’ll be glad you did. Women Make Movies is handling educational distribution for college campus campaigns.
“Fabulously,” was Shaber’s response when asked how the New York opening screenings went. “I think we are really lighting a match under people so they are connecting to an issue that they have not thought about enough.”
(Full disclosure, the author is a co-founder of Women Make Movies, the non-profit, educational feminist film organization.)
A massive defunding for women is now under consideration in the United States Senate. All told, it represents billions of dollars annually that will come straight out of primarily women’s wallets.
You may not usually think of the federal government as a philanthropic institution. Yet from our country’s start, congressional acts have subsidized various segments of the population and for a variety of reasons. Take the 1792 Postal Act. A spirited debate went on in the second session of Congress, over maintaining access to information. That Congress voted to create low postal rates for newspapers and to improve roads by creating postal routes to ensure expansion and development of our fledgling country, rather than solely serve existing communities. Americans still benefit from reduced media postal rates today.
The proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) put forth by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 115th Session is an entirely different matter. It will adversely impact the finances of women – particularly poor women and women of color, and all rural people, especially women. By cutting off funding – just so the wealthy 1% can get tax breaks – American adult women, 126 million strong, will again have to shell out of pocket money for all kinds of basic health care or forego health services, often to the detriment of their own well-being and the well-being of their families. People will die as a result of this bill. The greater proportion of those deaths will be women.
Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated it succinctly, “It is outrageous that a group of men are negotiating to make it harder for women to prevent unintended pregnancy, harder to have a healthy pregnancy and harder to raise a healthy child.”
The Impact on Medicaid
The Better Care Reconciliation Act proposes gigantic cuts in Medicaid, rolling back the expansions that were put in place by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. An estimated $772 Billion will be siphoned off from this program that benefits low income people. This impacts 25 million women in the US, who are 36% of the Medicaid beneficiaries. Their children, under age 18, are another 44% of Medicaid recipients. Over the first 10 years of this proposed bill the deep cuts into medicaid are expected to be 25%, but in the 2nd decade starting after 2027, the cuts go far deeper to 35%.
These Medicaid cuts threaten rural hospitals. Simply, many will close. As a group, 14% of their budgets come through medicaid reimbursements for their services.
Though not named, criteria specifically targets Planned Parenthood for the chopping block, however, at present, only for one year. This vital health service agency provides everything from cancer screenings to birth control. It has historically served one in five women in America. Planned Parenthood would be denied reimbursement, like other health care agencies, for the low income women, who comprise over 50 percent of their patients. In 2015 Planned Parenthood affiliates received $553.7 million in government reimbursements and grants for services. This means some 2.4 million women who regularly use the 600 Planned Parenthood facilities across America will no longer have access to these vital services.
Many conservative lawmakers claim women can as easily be served by other existing clinics.“…[Community health centers] are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all of the controversy surrounding this [abortion] issue,”touted House Speaker Paul Ryan in January. But a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that these other community clinics could not make up for the flood of uninsured patients to their doors.
Further, in an investigation by Rewire, numerous of these clinics are religious in affiliation and fail to offer a full range of reproductive health care. They restrict family planning. So, in fact they are both in contradiction to the services offered at Planned Parenthood clinics and fail to adhere to the tenets of the ACA.
Being Female, A Pre-existing Condition
The Senate’s BCRA bill, like the House’s version, the AHCA, avoids outright omissions of the essential success of the Affordable Health Act. That is the inclusion of all people in health insurance despite so-called pre-existing conditions. Prior to the ACA women universally had to pay higher premiums solely due to their sex as a pre-existing condition.
The BCRA and the AHCA theoretically keep pre-existing conditions. But the laws pass the political buck to states to allow for waivers that effect various types of pre-existing conditions. “Because they [the states] are closer to the public’s health needs,” numerous Congressional supporters of the two bills disingenuously claim, the states can make the decision on how to handle pre-existing conditions.
But combined with all the fiscal cuts, many states will be hard pressed to shoulder the costs related to pre-existing conditions. Instead, the public will get a hodge-podge of programs that will make some states semi-bright beacons of partial health coverage and others wilting lilies where poor citizens are on the hook personally for the high and rising costs of health care that they cannot afford. This dynamic will have larger ramifications on the impact of businesses to attract workers and other developments and programs within certain states. It is a far cry from the 1792 Postal Act. Or Obamacare.
People of color in larger numbers have historically lacked insurance. The ACA started to close that gap, though there is far more to go. The Groundswell Fund and Ms. Foundation for Women are two foundations that for decades have supported women of color health groups addressing these disparities. It is from these groups that new theoretical frameworks and progressive advancements like Reproductive Justice have emerged and that, in turn, have impacted the international health community.
Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO of Ms. Foundation said, “The bill is called The Bettercare Act but it will only result in worse care for women of color. [ It ] siphons resources to pay for yet another tax cut for rich white men. It’s clear women of color are in Conservatives’ anti-woman, pro-billionaire crosshairs with this bill, but women of color won’t stand for it. We are literally fighting for our survival.”
The Impact on Birth Control
Not until 1965 did birth control become legal. State laws prohibiting it were struck down that year in Griswold v. Connecticutt by the Supreme Court.
Post 1965, with oral contraceptives available since 1961, almost three generations of sexually active women have practiced birth control. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, contraceptions make up an estimated 30-44% of out-of-pocket spendingfor their health care by sexually active women. The ACA recognizes the unique health needs of women throughout their lifespan. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) created a set of guidelines for women’s care. This includes contraception. An estimated $1.4 billion in the first year alone of Obamacare was saved by 55 million women because they had access to birth control through copayments in their health insurance.
Despite 71% of the US population being in favor of full coverage of birth control, the current administration is not listening. The BCRA does not directly strike down the birth control provision, but already rumors are afoot that the Tom Price lead Health and Human Services Department is about to do away with a component of the benefit.
The first line of attack on this widely acceptable copay is based on religious and moral grounds. In a leaked rule, the Trump administration may be poised to significantly roll back birth control through the ACA. Building on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, it would allow any employer or university to deny coverage based on their beliefs. Religious and moral grounds of women are obliterated. Also, there seems to be an attempt to bypass the mandated 60-day public comment period.
$200 Billion in Incentives Luring Senators to Pass BCRA
Women are primary caregivers, tending to the upbringing of children and caring for aging parents. The majority of this work is unpaid labor. Women’s reproductive organs warrant greater health care. Combined, these factors mean women interact with health care providers far more frequently than men. Cutting funds for some of the most essential health needs of women as provided in the ACA is a direct slap in the face to 51% of the US population.
McConnell’s pulling of the BCRA just before the Fourth of July recess was momentary. To understand better the horse trading that the Senate Majority Leader has at his disposal to get Senators on board his health care train wreck, long time Hill correspondent, Michael McAuliff, has written an especially informative article. Hint, the reporter calls it “Candy”. While he makes no mention of women per se, McAuliff explains how the Majority Leader has about $200 billion worth of incentives at his disposal. That’s our tax money at play, being used as inducements to decimate our health care systems.
Gloria Feldt, who for thirty years worked with Planned Parenthood, ten years as President and CEO of the Federation, and is now co-founder of Take The Lead Women, summed it up this way: “Families who thought their company plans would cover a new child’s birth may find themselves paying a very high premium just to have coverage–and then be bankrupted by devastating costs if there are complications of pregnancy or birth. [The BCRA creates] high profits for insurance companies. Now that’s about as foolish a piece of legislation as you can get.”Read More
Young feminists have been organizing across the globe for decades, but their work, particularly in the media sector, has been woefully underfunded. I know, since I was one of them. In 1969, when I co-founded Women Make Movies, women’s funds didn’t exist.
Over the decades, thousands of young activists have gathered at events like the International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development, the flagship event of AWID (Association of Women’s Rights in Development), and have talked about the need for more funding for young feminists, particularly in media. As the last decade closed, many young activists lamented that no women’s fund specifically addressed their youthful organizing needs. So they decided to start their own, with AWID and Fondo Centralamericano de Mujeres (Central America Women’s Fund) incubating this spark of an idea.
In 2011 FRIDA was born. With the purpose of providing more resources to young women leaders, FRIDA aims to amplify feminist voices and bring attention to feminist work. FRIDA recognizes bravery, creativity and resilience as essential qualities that guide their efforts. A lively timeline of the young funds’ evolution from budding idea to full scale operations – six years out – provide an insightful history of the fund. (See timeline link at bottom of page).
The actual name – FRIDA – spells out five core values: Flexibility; Resources, Inclusivity, Diversity and Action. (That dispels any myths I held about it being an homage to a special artist!) A quick survey of its website shows a vibrant team of some 72 young women who act as advisors, associates, and board members guiding the fledgling fund.
To date, FRIDA has provided $1.3 million in direct grants to over 150 different groups in over 80 different countries. The sheer scale of such an effort is a remarkable feat. The young fund is also a strong model for participatory grantmaking. In its most recent cycle, 450 groups from across the globe participated in voting on grant proposals that would address priorities in their regions.
My own experience with FRIDA came about when the former founding coordinator, Amina Doherty, attended a workshop on Media as a Feminist Activist Tool that I organized at the 2012 Women’s Funding Network conference in Los Angeles. In her blog, Doherty amplified the voice of one of the workshop participants: J. Bob Alotta, Executive Director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, who said, “If we are committed to different outcomes, we have to invest in them. Period. In order to fight, in order to do more advocacy, we need media and we need to be willing to invest.”
Back then I took a hard look at the first group of FRIDA grant partners, which included such groups as Association of Young Women for the Culture and Development of Haiti and Crested Crane Lighters in Uganda.What impressed me, as I so often find with grassroots activism, is an overt perspective of the incorporation of feminist media as a tool within their work. And if media is not a major focus of the work, it is intuitively incorporated as a means of action. This I saw repeated over and over in the summaries of the groups that FRIDA funded.
Just a month ago FRIDA announced its latest – its fifth – cycle of grants. From an applicant pool of about 1,000, composed in 7 different languages, 106 groups from 73 different countries were selected to receive grants.
“A Space of Affection”
Colectiva Feminista Gordas sin Chaqueta is one of the current grant partners of FRIDA. Based in Colombia. they work with a model called “Artivism” on issues related to gender-based violence. Through various media, documentaries, photos, songs and texts, they seek to “contribute to the cultural transformation of the violence that is exercised on the bodies of women, as well as stereotypes that reproduce inequality in the context of patriarchy.”
Their vision by 2020 is to gain local, national and international recognition “for contributing to transforming stereotypes that reproduce violence in the larger patriarchal system.” As a group, they believe their most significant contribution has been to create a “space of affection” to heal the wounds left by “machismo” (male violence). Lively, creative and determined, the Gordas are working to break down stereotypes that lead to women being abused. They have a Facebook page where readers can follow their work.
A Comic Book of Bad-Ass Women
In Poland, the first teenage NGO is forming, called MamyGlos, which translates loosely as “We’ve Got Voice.” Starting with the most minimum number of three, but with relentless organizing, over 400 girls came to a teen workshop. The girls published coloring books featuring ‘bad-ass women’ and an educational card game. The point of MamyGlos is to help girls stand up for their rights, and feel safe in their communities. These young women are fighting within Poland, where statistics for women’s safety are particularly grim, with one in five women surviving rape. It’s exciting to see young women leaders in Poland stepping up to educate others about the pitfalls of girlhood within the dominant culture.
Also funded by FRIDA is Wlaha Wogoh Okhra, an online Egyptian journal of women’s rights, history and cultural analysis. With a strong belief that film and drama can alter mindsets, they have launched an expanded investigation into Egyptian and Arabic movies. In particular, they explore the portrayal of women and craft a feminist analysis of these movies, allowing for a more nuanced feminist perspective among viewers.
The publication has been a leader in tackling numerous contentious issues. It has reported on women living with HIV, the commodification of women in the media and drama, and how Egyptian feminists suffer stereotyping and tracking within the society.
Wlaha Wogoh Okhra has also tackled Egyptian movie posters in a feminist light. Called the Feminist Cinematic Study, this monthly series explores how women are shown on the posters. The series is highly thought provoking. The group, further, organizes on-line trainings for women journalists and mass communications students on feminist journalism. In addition to their own website and their publication, they’ve accounts at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I am grateful that FRIDA has stepped forward to provide resources for these critical efforts of young activist grassroots groups. Such support is vital in early stages of a group’s growth. Keeping alive these global media efforts by young feminists is vital to changing hearts and minds. They enable the hard organizing work of these young women’s energies and programs to survive. More about the other funded projects in the current cycle can be explored with links to fuller descriptions.
A social media vehicle that bridges the communication gap between AWID’s International Forums is the AwidFeministFutures.tumbler site. There, as well on other parts of AWID webpages, is an empowering Bell Hooks quote: The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.Read More