Despite a surge in activism targeting sexual harassment and assault, many Americans were surprised to watch the mobilization of over 160 women athletes at the sexual abuse trial of former USA Gymnastics’ team doctor Larry Nassar. But their engagement was no one-off event. As college students and faculty remain at the forefront of advocacy around sex non-discrimination policies like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the public conversation seems conspicuously absent an understanding of women athletes as policy beneficiaries poised to organize around feminist issues and policy debates.
And the political power of these women athletes is not limited to confronting sexual predation – these athletes have the potential to challenge the economic model of college sports, one that now privileges the almost entirely male sport, football.
Our new study, forthcoming at Political Research Quarterly, surveyed over 1,600 current college athletes in the Big Ten Conference. We focused on athlete opinion regarding the sex equity practices of college athletics and their propensity toward political mobilization in response to such inequities. We investigated three issues: 1) perceptions about the actual distribution of resources and opportunities across women’s and men’s teams, 2) opinions about how resources and opportunities should be distributed between men and women in their home athletic departments, and 3) judgements regarding the likelihood of respondents to take action if or when they observe biased treatment.
We found evidence of three significant trends: 1) athletes are aware of extant inequities between women and men in college sports, 2) athletes support more sex equitable treatment between women and men in college athletics, and 3) many athletes are willing to mobilize politically to express their opinions. These findings were most pronounced among women athletes and men who recognized the persistence of sex discrimination in American society (these male athletes might be thought of as “allies”).
Like their contemporaries in professional sports, college athletes appear poised to actively confound the myth that sports are apolitical. Among women athletes and their allies, the stereotypes of comparative disengagement (vis-à-vis other college students) need updating.
We used 24 measures employed by the U.S. federal government to assess sex equity practices of athletic departments under both Title IX and the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) to investigate perceptions and opinions regarding the treatment of athletes by their athletic departments. These include athletic scholarships, participation opportunities, coaching, recruiting, and more (full details regarding all survey questions can be found in the study appendix). For each, respondents were directed to reflect on how their home university, across all sports, actually distributes resources between women and men, as well as how respondents think women and men should be treated on the same metrics. Respondents were asked about their knowledge of Title IX specifically, their opinions on sex discrimination in society more generally, and their likelihood of taking political action to express their opinions about sex equity in sports (through writing letters, talking with coaches or athletic administration, signing a petition, or participating in a protest).
Objectively, as a result of the profit-seeking measures pursued by athletic departments, sex-based imbalances in resource allocation and athletic opportunity persist in contemporary college athletics (this, according to the annual EADA reports to the U.S. Department of Education which are detailed in the study appendix for the Big Ten schools).
Title IX does not require strict equality in spending, and it therefore does not foreclose investment by athletic departments in their financial and economic interests. Our study found that women athletes and their allies are conscious of these unequal distributions and would prefer to see equal treatment, where neither sex is more or less advantaged than the other. Further statistical analyses suggest that student-athletes’ beliefs about how resources should be distributed are largely in agreement with policy guidelines—even in favor of greater redistribution of resources toward women athletes. They express significant likelihood to take political action to express their opinions on equity issues and are also likely to accurately understand the purpose and focus of Title IX itself.
These results suggest that many women athletes and their allies possess critical knowledge of public policy and are poised to respond to the status quo.
Their awareness presents an emerging challenge to the economic model of college sports which dominates at the NCAA Division I level. Title IX’s equity imperative, with its equal opportunities and scholarship requirements as well as its protections from abjectly imbalanced treatment, means that women athletes and their allies have robust, federal-level backing in U.S. civil rights policy with which to challenge the economic model for college sports if or when they so choose.
Contrary to many media framings, the long history of advocacy and mobilization to demand enforcement of Title IX remains an essential element in the lives of athletes—women athletes, in particular.
Simultaneously, the high-profile, masculine sports like college football are increasingly under scrutiny: those who acknowledge the violence and bodily trauma at the core of the sport recognize that the health impacts of football may make the sport itself untenable. As medical doctors and brain scientists problematize the consequences of our cultural obsession with the spectacle of football, the economic model for college athletics comes, increasingly, under critique. Although it is impossible to overstate the centrality of football to the contemporary order of college athletics, there is growing ambivalence toward the spending patterns that fuel it.
Women athletes and their allies now outnumber the empowered minority who determine the financial order of the status quo. Our research suggests that Title IX, in its ongoing implementation and through its federally-protected rights, has already planted the seeds for activism which could engender a different future for college sports.
Recently-confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted back in 2016 that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey was a “totalitarian Islamist dictatorship”. Things have gone further south in recent months, mainly due to stark policy differences between the two governments on the Kurds in Northern Syria, along the Turkish border. Specifically, the U.S. continues to arm the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Northern Syria despite Turkey’s protests. Moreover, relations have been aggravated by the United States’ refusal to extradite the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of plotting the failed coup in July 2016. And relations hit a new low in fall 2017, when the arrest of two local U.S. Consulate employees in Istanbul caused a dueling visa ban between the two countries that lasted for two months.
U.S.-Turkish relations have many points of tension, but developments in the border region of Antakya may provide some common ground. These developments show a radically different side of Turkey not often represented in the U.S. media. At the grassroots, women activists from the ethno-religious Arab Alawite minority group are pushing for a more inclusive, secularist, egalitarian nation.
Meta-narratives help get the gist of bilateral relationship, but often tell a partial story. Shifting the focus to the local and the personal humanizes even global relationships. Analysis of seemingly peripheral politics in Turkey demonstrates that Turkey is far from a homogenous Muslim country, but is instead a complex, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation and the site of solid feminist activism.
While there is a multitude of anti-hegemonic movements across Turkey, I want to hold a lens over Antakya, a border region home to the majority Arab Alawite population in the country. The Arab Alawites, once numerically dominant in the Antakya region, are now an ethno-religious minority group within the Turkish/Sunni-dominated state structure. Growing Islamist social and political forces have increased the politicization of Antakya’s largely secular Alawite community and Alawite women’s leadership has been a key driver of this process.
As a leftist and socialist stronghold, Antakya has historically offered a platform for women’s politicization.
Arab Alawites aligned themselves largely with leftist, socialist, and communist movements starting in the 1970s, because of their identification with these movements’ class-based struggles. The more secular Alawite culture also encouraged women’s increased economic, social and political agency. Today, Alawite women continue to work with the left, and are also determined to fight sexism within leftist organizations. Along with their allies from different ethnic and religious factions, they have started women’s branches and feminist initiatives within leftist organizations. One of these is the Socialist Re-foundation Party (SYKP), co-headed by a female and a male leader, and where female speakers get seven-minute floor time and male speakers get five minutes, as part of their “positive discrimination” policy. While this might not automatically account for real power, it is an important step in the right direction.
Arab Alawism does not require women to cover their heads and many Alawites view this as a mark of progress. In the face of growing Sunni conservatism in Turkey, Alawite women use dress as a form of resistance in the public sphere. Teaching their kids Arabic and speaking Arabic in public spaces is also an act of resistance, in light of the periodic bans on Arabic since the founding of the Turkish Republic and the punishing of Arab students for speaking Arabic in the classroom.
Nationalism, across the globe, has often utilized women as symbols of the nation, but rarely has recognized their political agency.
Arab Alawite women’s social and political mobilization contests this nationalist vision, by centering on feminist understandings of socialism in the Middle East. This has meant developing coping mechanisms and resistance tactics, which aim to open up spaces for women’s empowerment. Domestic violence, second-class citizenship, cultural preservation, and war are all high on the political priority list of Alawite women. For example, the annual Evvel Temmuz Festival – an Alawite cultural tradition celebrated since 2000 – holds a women’s panel every year, bringing attention to different issues women face. In July 2014, they focused on domestic violence. Similarly, in March 2016 the Women’s Labor Collective in Antakya, hosted the panel “War – Violence – Women”. Panelists consisted of lawyers and human rights/feminist activists, who spoke on the need to build relationships with female Syrian refugees – bringing attention to the different plight faced by women and girls than that experienced by men and boys.
Public engagement through events like these are important to the growth and the diffusion of feminist ideology and action.
Women who participate, while principally Alawite, come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. They are exposed to feminist thought and learn in greater depth about how specific social and political phenomena impact women and girls. They connect with other women and realize they are not alone. They learn how to make demands on their community and the state.
For Arab Alawite women, the meaning of ‘liberation’ is multifaceted. First and foremost, it means collective liberation as women of Turkey. This entails the closing of the gender gap in all spheres of life, ending domestic violence, retaking control over their bodies, and having the freedom of expression that is not regulated by religion or patriarchy. Secondly, liberation includes a more integrative practice of Islam, one that recognizes Alawism, and other Islamic sects, as an interpretation of Islam, without calling it ‘deviant’.
The feminist movement in Antakya demonstrates that the U.S. should not view Turkey as a homogenous Muslim country that is becoming less reliable as an ally. The geopolitical heterogeneity within Turkey should not go unnoticed. The level of grassroots women’s organizing that informs national political discourse is remarkable. Instead of turning a blind eye to these actors, the U.S. should find ways to work with them, invite them to the table, and support their efforts through different avenues.
As the Trump Administration rolls back Obama era protections against housing discrimination and proposes cuts in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by 18.3 percent as well as elimination of community development block grant programs entirely, Congress pushes back with historically high HUD funding levels in its latest budget deal.
Against this backdrop, the Gender Policy Report talked with Heading Home Hennepin‘s Lisa Thornquist and Humphrey School Faculty member Maria Hanratty about the face of homelessness and how federal housing and safety net policy intersects with their work at the local level to end homelessness.
Lisa Thornquist (Lisa): We actually have about the same number of adult men and women who are homeless. The men tend to be without their children. They tend to be parents, but they are not with their children when they enter a shelter. The women tend to have their children with them. And so you’ll find the women in the family shelter and the men in the single shelter. The woman actually–I think for women, the disadvantage is much more about the economy because they are trying to hold a job, pay for childcare, find an apartment that is large enough to manage themselves and their kids, and finding a hard time making that happen. And they have a harder time doubling up with other people because they are bringing along their children. I think with men, they have an easier time if they don’t have children with them, to stay doubled up on someone’s couch. To live with a sister or a cousin or somehow get by. And so the ones that end up in shelter are typically just having a harder time in life. So when you find the concentration of chemical use and mental illness, you’ll see that among the men in shelter because they have kind of made everyone around them mad and they don’t have friends and family to stay with anymore. Whereas women don’t often have the same disabling conditions, they just have a hard time finding a place to double up with their children. And so they end up coming to shelter, I think sooner than men do. When we’ve looked at the Wilder statistics, almost half of women in shelter have an eviction on their record. Only about 22 percent of men have an eviction on their record. I think it’s become women have tried much harder to get into the housing market and have had some difficulties there. Whereas men, I think, are less likely to even have been in the housing market.
Maria Hanratty (Maria): With intersectionality around the housing market, we have done some research over the recession looking at families that were most affected by the recession in terms of entering shelter. This research found that even controlling for family demographics, earnings, neighborhood, if you were a low-income black family you were twice as likely to enter shelter as if you were non-black. And over the recession we looked at which groups had the largest increases in the probability of entering shelter and again that was much more highly correlated with your race. So, what we’re saying is when a bad housing shock or income shock hits community this population is the one that is going to be hurt the most. The other thing we found is where people live is correlated with who becomes homeless and enters shelter. So, if you took a map of where all the foreclosures were in Minneapolis over the recession and overlaid it with the prior addresses of people who live in or entered shelter over the recession, you would find they are coming from about the same neighborhoods. So, what that suggests to me is this deterioration in housing stock had a large effect on the African American community because it dried up the available housing and also made them compete for a smaller and smaller share of available rental units.
Lisa: I think that evictions really are one of the stepping stones–one of the precursors to homelessness and we haven’t quite done the research to connect the two and figure out what the path is between eviction and homelessness. Certainly not everyone who is evicted ends up in a shelter and not everyone in a shelter has been evicted. But there probably is a relationship there. And, we’re hoping that Maria’s students can help us uncover that relationship over this next semester. But, it’s really clear that if the housing market is what’s driving people to homelessness, then eviction is the first step in that housing market failing for people. There was–after the book Evicted came out, the city of Minneapolis did a pretty in depth study of evictions in the city of Minneapolis and they found that, just doing the math, about half of North Minneapolis residents are likely evicted within a three year period. We certainly know from our research prior to that most of the people entering our family shelter are coming from North Minneapolis. That’s where the foreclosures happened. That’s where we have a lot of apartments that are very low income, not in great shape, but affordable to some extent. But not affordable enough for all of these families that need to live there. For a family that may be getting by and working, and then something happens in the family–a break-up of the couple–suddenly the mom is finding herself having to apply for welfare. Well, the welfare benefit that is in no way going to cover that rent and she could very well be evicted within a month or two. And in fact, most of our programs aren’t really able to help her in that situation until she gets evicted and she goes to shelter. And so it’s certainly logical that it’s a precursor to shelter entry, we just need to document the path that people go through to get there.
I spent last summer, quite a bit of time last summer, sitting at housing court just to watch the proceedings and to get a sense of who was going through and how they’re going to through the system. In fact, we did an intercept system of about 67 households that had gone through the system. The majority were families. The majority were people of color, disproportionately African American and Native American. And, I would see them struggle with the whole process where they were behind now $1,500–$2,000–in rent and that was impossible for them to come up with. And so I just feel like they are in a very difficult situation. They looked like deer in a headlight. They came into court and the judge would be talking about the plaintiff and the defendant. I think they had no idea they were defendant. In fact, I think they didn’t even quite think of themselves as tenants, they thought of themselves as renters. And all this language of the court didn’t make a lot of sense to them. They were told to work it out with their landlord, which, they’ve got no negotiating power. They’ve got no money. What they’re basically working out is either, for him, I’m going to move out by next Friday. Or I agree by next Friday, I’m going to find someone to give me the $1,500 that I’m behind. And in half of those cases, where they negotiated a price, they weren’t able to come up with the money and they still got evicted. I feel like when families are going through that, they’re wrestling with, ‘I had to take time off work to be at court. I had to do something with kids for daycare. I’ve got so many bills to pay. And now I’m facing–not only I’m behind in rent, but I have to pay the filing fee that my landlord put forth to get me in court?’ And they are so far behind in court that it’s impossible to dig themselves out of that.
You can walk into the court and know who are the defendants and who are the landlords and even–I think very highly of the lawyers that are there to help, and the mediators that are there to help, but they are overwhelmingly white. And the people they are trying to help are overwhelmingly not white. And I can see that there would be trust issues. I really think highly of their work, but I can also understand why people don’t necessarily want to talk to anybody in that case. People are often embarrassed that they got behind on their rent. And that happens to everyone, but I think low income people of color have fewer resources to borrow money from, are less trusting of the system, and end up just, in the end, being the ones to lose their apartments.
Our test in North Minneapolis right now, just got started a few weeks ago, so it’s very early in the process. But, it’s based at North Point and all the staff at North Point that are working with these families are people of color. And I think that is the first trust area that we’re getting through. People come to North Point because they trust the staff there and they trust the services there. Many are coming for the food shelf and that’s the first place where we talk to people and find out whether they’re having housing issues. So, I think that will help us break through that trust issue to start with. We intend, this summer, to interview many of the families who have gone through our pilot so far to find out what services they took advantage of, and one of the things we’re really going to test is ‘you got a case manager, you got some case assistance, did you use the mediators and legal aid and why or why not?’ And, I hope we can probe for some of those trust issues around that.
I think federal policy drives so much of what we are experiencing right now with homelessness and has for the last 30 years, for an entire generation. Really during the 1980’s, HUD and the federal government withdrew from the housing market. And when they did that they really undercut so many subsidized housing units that was really helping the poorest people in our community. At the same time that that happened they also had de-institutionalization of people living in congregative settings that put more pressure on the housing market and put people out into the housing market that didn’t have a very good ability to earn an income. Federal benefits for welfare have been stuck since 1986. A family on welfare, now TANF, makes the same amount of money that they did 30 years ago and 30 years ago it barely paid rent and now it doesn’t even pay for half of rent. At the same time, benefits for people who are disabled and unable to work have really stagnated. Right now if you jump through all the hoops and get on SSI, which is sort of the golden benefit for people with disabilities you only get $750 per month to pay for rent. In Minneapolis when you look at just an efficiency apartment the average price is $927. You can’t even afford to live in an efficiency. TANF not going up in 30 years, a family of three on TANF gets $532 in Hennepin County to live on and yet the rent for a two bedroom apartment is almost $1700. So between disability benefits, welfare benefits, the housing market, you can’t win either way. You are losing on the housing side and you are losing on the income side. At the same time there is a lot of research out there that shows that wages have really stagnated since the 1970’s. If you take out inflation, they haven’t really gone up. And yet, the housing market has probably doubled in price. So it isn’t just the disabled or the people on welfare, virtually everybody is struggling who doesn’t have a high income job.
I think that many solutions to homelessness and eviction, they are local. I think each community is different in terms of the market and the culture and how people trust government or don’t. I think what we need to do, and what we have been doing at the local level is figuring out how to leverage federal resources and federal advice to work for us. And, so for instance, our pilot in North Minneapolis is funded in part by TANF block grant money that comes from the feds to the state, but the state gives the county some flexibility in how they decide to spend the TANF grant money. We’re attempting to spend some of it in this more flexible way. So, I think there are resources at the federal level, that we can–if we’re thinking more creatively, and we have the ability to be creative with the resources, I think we can tailor it our community.
Maria: Federal, the other options for federal flexibility–which I don’t know whether Lisa’s office has looked at–they allow waivers under the Medicaid program to use housing as part of a treatment for people with high needs. And so, there are some states that have adopted that waiver recently and I think that’s a great option to get more resources into the community to address housing needs. What’s really exciting now is that city council has changed composition recently and they’re much more excited about the idea of taking on the issue of how do we change regulations in the housing market to make it slightly more fair to renters.
Lisa: The city council last year actually allowed for intentional living communities to occur in Minneapolis. I believe that there is an ordinance that say no more than three unrelated people in a housing unit. So they’ve now allowed larger groups to live together, which is one way that you can actually help reduce the cost of living, especially do you want to have ten single people live in a five bedroom apartment, that would actually make it really affordable. So, I believe they already did the intentional living community last year, but they’re also looking at changing the ordinance to just get rid of the only three unrelated people in a household without having to deem yourself an intentional living community. Just to respond to the fact that people are doubled up. Let’s just admit it up and let people be on the lease and rent legally, rather than having people kind of sneak in the back door as a way to make housing affordable.
Maria: I think the national trends are really interesting if you look at what is happening with homelessness across the country. There have been relatively broad scale declines but I think as you alluded to most of those were in smaller communities and if you look at metropolitan areas there have actually been increases recently that seem to coincide with increases in rental costs. So, I think what we’re seeing is that homelessness, not surprisingly, is related to what is going on in the housing market. I think we can learn an awful lot by looking at trends. One thing we can learn is that housing markets matter. You can see that for the recent trends that show there have been increases in homelessness in metro areas as rental prices have increased but you can also see it locally where we see particularly in this community over the recession as unemployment rates have gone up and incomes have gone down there has been increased homelessness and since then it has gone down. Finally I think there is some interesting national research and local actually that shows that policy does matter. So, where we’ve seen the largest declines in homelessness have been in the veteran population and some declines in the chronically homeless population and those are the groups that we have invested the most in housing and supportive services to reduce homelessness.
Equal Pay Day – April 10, 2018 – is the approximate date in the New Year to which the average US woman must work to make what the average US man earned at the end of 2017. Of course, for African American, American Indian and Latina women this day comes around much later in the year. As we mark this day each year, it drives home the persistence of the gender pay gap and the failure of our current laws to address it. What policy changes are necessary to achieve the intuitive and popular goal of “equal pay for equal work?”
President Obama’s first act as President was to sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. While the act importantly extended the statute of limitations under current federal Equal Pay law, it did not address other limitations of the “equal pay” legal framework, including: (1) lack of employer level accountability and/or transparency; (2) narrow definitions of “equal work;” (3) a singular focus on gender inequities to the exclusion of other pay inequity generators such as race; (4) the role of other employment decisions that indirectly affect pay differentials; and (5) weak enforcement.
I focus on the first limitation –employer accountability – because this is where we are today witnessing rollbacks by the Trump administration, but also some important advances by states.
During the Obama Administration, Republicans blocked Democrats in Congress committed to paycheck fairness when they attempted to improve equal pay laws. Consequently, President Obama used executive actions to make equal pay a priority. Arguably his most important executive action on the pay gap was to require large corporations to report pay data by race, ethnicity, and gender to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This kind of data reporting would require employers to compile and analyze pay data periodically and, once reported, these data could be used by the EEOC to target audits and other potential enforcement actions.
While President Trump surrogate Ivanka Trump called for “equal pay” last year at this time (and earlier on the campaign trail), she backed efforts last August by the administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to block these same EEOC equal pay data collection regulations. OMB placed an immediate and indefinite stay on the equal pay data collection, without any guidance on timeline or process.
The federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits sex-based wage discrimination. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also prohibits wage discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and sex. Under these laws, and state-based versions of them, employers are required to pay employees equally for performing equal work except where pay differences can be explained by permissible factors. While important and effective under some circumstances, this legal framework is complaint-based. It requires individual workers to step forward and face huge hurdles when they do so. “Much of the risk and responsibility lies with the woman.” She must find out she is being paid less and document it, which can be difficult or impossible due to pay secrecy. Then she must find the resources to file a complaint or lawsuit, and handle the almost inevitable retaliation from her employer that follows. And if she goes the EEOC route, only one in three times will she prevail due to narrow legal interpretations. These constraints and others have limited the effectiveness of state and federal equal pay laws.
Scholars of work and workplace organizations point out that inequality at work doesn’t “emerge from the ether, nor from amorphous occupations or industries.” It is developed within the routines, policies and practices that organizations use to recruit, evaluate, hire and retain employees. These same scholars have documented that organizational structures and practices once established are resistant to change, yet “[i]n some cases organizations may be compelled to conform to demands or alter existing practices as a result of coercive pressure from powerful actors within their environment.” For example, Sociologist Kevin Stainback and co-authors found that the rate of integration for women into male dominated workplaces between 1966 and 2002 coincided with the aggressiveness of federal EEO regulatory agencies, suggesting, “some forms of legal and regulatory pressure provide a stronger incentive to modify behavior and organizational routines than others.” Another body of research conducted by scholars, such as Emilio Castilla, finds that the combination of greater transparency and accountability at the employer level are associated with decreased pay gaps.
Public policies are helping us to increase employer accountability and transparency and move from an individual complaint-based framework to one where responsibility to find and address pay inequities lies with the employer. Significant progress has been made in other countries recently to flip the burden, with Iceland and the U.K. building on the history of EU (particularly Nordic) countries to require companies to analyze and report their data.
The Obama era EEOC pay data collection rolled back by the Trump administration would move the US in the same direction. While this federal action remains on hold, US states have and are moving ahead, if in more limited ways, to increase accountability and transparency at the employer level.
More than a dozen states introduced or adopted equal pay measures in recent years. While perhaps unsurprising in democratically controlled states like New York, California and most recently (possibly) New Jersey, but we’ve also seen bi-partisan support for measures like these in Massachusetts and Maryland where Republican Governors signed equal pay bills into law.
The growing collection of state reforms has lawyers encouraging employers to “take steps” to limit risk in an evolving legal landscape. Law 360 quotes one: “Employers have two choices. They can react on a state-by-state basis — and I wouldn’t even say react — and be forced to scramble … or they can choose to get proactive and strategic in their approach.” In this vein, many lawyers are also encouraging pay audits: “The spread of pay equity laws should also have employers considering pay audits, which can expose the unexplainable gaps that many of the new laws target.” State laws are creating a new regulatory context within which employers operate nationally, driving a change in “standard” employment practice. This is just what organizational and pay gap scholarship suggests is necessary to achieve change.
Maybe next year, Equal Pay Day will come in March instead of April.
In his 2018 State of the Union Address, President Trump announced major changes to U.S. immigration and refugee policy. Key among his proposals is tightening family reunification policies, which will directly influence gender inequity. Not only does our own history provide trenchant examples, but other countries’ policies and their implications can inform such changes. On this score, Germany, though its refugee policy is far more generous, is particularly helpful in considering the gender implications of immigration reform- a “what not to do,” as it were.
In the current global refugee crisis, more than a million refuge seekers have arrived in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy has brought them from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and many more are waiting to be granted asylum. German law recognizes gender persecution as basis for refugee status, yet statistics from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, reveal that women constitute just a third of the pool of potential refugees and asylees.
There are several key reasons behind the gender disproportion in German refugees. First, even when women flee the same political and religious persecution as men, they often fail to meet the German government’s standard of proof. Research on such refugees has shown that women face more difficulty obtaining German asylum status because their applications are considered less credible when based on religious, political, and gender-based persecution or violence including clitoridectomy (“female circumcision”), rape, sexual assault/harassment, and forced marriage.
The German Asylum Procedure Act recognizes such sexual and psychological or emotional violence as grounds for asylum, yet women may be unwilling to recount the details of their traumatic pasts, especially to male immigration officers.
So, when female interviewers and interpreters are absent, female asylum-seekers are largely unwilling to tell their stories and their applications are rejected. The U.S., too, recognizes gender-specific claims, and is seeing historically low admittance rates for women refugees under the Trump administration. It is widely thought that this is due to the difficulty women face in proving gendered claims. (see also).
A second reason for the gender disparity in German admittances is its 2016 family reunification policy, the Act on Processes in Family Matters and in Matters of Voluntary Jurisdiction. Under this law, both husbands and wives must be present on German soil by the time this protected status is granted . This means that wives who arrive after their husband’s receipt of legal refugee status face tougher conditions and the possibility of denial, even though men frequently “blaze the trail”- by testing new territories before putting their families through often dangerous travels. German policy, that is, defeats the logic of family reunion.
Now there is a backlog of about 230,000 people, mostly women, who have been “locked out” at German borders. Lacking the protection of both the head of family and heads of state, women and children are increasingly vulnerable among refugee populations. This is, of course, true at U.S. borders, as well. President Trump’s 2017 Executive Order reduced the refugee admission ceiling to 45,000, with the potential that “trailing” wives and children will be left out as trail-blazing husbands and fathers are resettled.
Trailing wives whose husbands have already been granted asylum have experienced protracted stays in German reception centers, again because of the burden of proof. In this case, however, the women must provide documentation to show a marriage with the spouse now in Germany existed in their home country.
Should marriage documents be lost or in the case of customary marriages (which generate no official records), women are in the difficult situation of demonstrating their relationships to gain refugee status under family reunification. In the meantime, they are forced to wait in reception.
As the reception centers become overcrowded, they see poor sanitary conditions, insufficient food supplies, sexual assault, and health care concerns relating to the breakout and spread of disease. Most women refugees are unaware of their rights in the event of sexual harassment or violence, and they rarely report these incidents. International law and individual countries’ policies, including the 1951 Geneva Convention, are meant to protect such women, but they continue to face rape by male asylum seekers and male asylum officials. Even when offenders are reported, they are rarely prosecuted.
The (un)intended consequences of Germany’s family reunification policy suggest that tightened restrictions (for example, President Trump’s intended reduction of “chain migration”- the sponsorship of family members by immigrants and refugees to the U.S.- by 40%) can compromise gender balance and amplify bias.
Instead, the U.S. should treat family reunion for those displaced by violence and persecution with both utmost urgency and lowered rigidity if it is to smooth refugees’ transition and safety.
The U.S.’s new resettlement program’s restriction to spouses and children (excluding parents, grandparents, and siblings) for family reunification through stringent, bureaucratic vetting mechanisms defeats the value of family unity. (see also). It also privileges families who apply for resettlement together over those who seek asylum through sponsorship at different times.
Closer attention must also be paid to asylum procedures in order to safeguard women who have already experienced oppression and trauma from undergoing more of each as they seek safe haven (see also).
The refugee resettlement program will better cater to the needs of women refugees and asylum seekers by engaging female personnel in the admission and relocation processes (so as to allow women to discuss the circumstances of their migration with other women) and by implementing procedures such as sex-segregated housing (which would help mitigate vulnerable conditions for females).
In so doing, the success rates of women applicants could be improved and their protracted stay in reception centers could be reduced, if not avoided altogether.
If we are to ensure gender equity and respect family values, a favorable review of existing policies must recognize the temporal reality of family relocation and protect women refugees’ dignity in gender-specific claims of asylum.
As women, especially women of color, run for office in record numbers, the Gender Policy Report interviewed Dianne Pinderhughes, Political Science Professor and co-author of Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America. In the wake of President Trump’s election, the #MeToo movement and other developments resulting in a surge of women candidates, Dr. Pinderhughes discusses the institutional and historical factors that have contributed to representation for women of color from different communities.
“Well, we’re a long way from parity. Our results show, and this is only for the Congress and for state legislative office, that–it’s important to know who’s above parity. So white men, in both of these categories are like 2.5, 2.1, they are overrepresented in other words. That’s what we mean by parity. White women are not over parity. They are maybe 75 percent of where they should be. Or actually even less. Black men are closer, but they’re maybe 74, 75 percent at the Congressional and state legislative level. Whereas, the women–black women–are maybe at 30 or 40 percent of where they should be. Latinos, the males, are maybe 70 percent, but women are less than that–30-40 percent. Asian American are even lower. So we’ve got a long way to go. It’s great to see more numbers, but in terms of the proportional representation relative to their place in the population, we’re a long way away.
I think that you’ve got a couple of factors. I think that the campaign for political participation has gone on for much longer in the African American community. But, it’s more than that. It’s also the civil society structures that exist: the church, social organizations, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, all of which provide a foundation for participation in life, in public life. Some of them are private, the HBCUs, some of them are private, some of them are public. But they became, in the Civil Rights Movement, a foundation for political actions, where people left their classrooms and began to sit in on lunch counters and organization participation, voter registration, campaigns. The Latino community, there now are Hispanics services in institutions of higher education but they’re relatively new. The HBCUs are–many of them trace their origins back to the late 19th century and are also linked to churches. So you have kind of a double whammy of church and an educational institution and that people have a tremendous loyalty to. And so, what I’m saying about these institutions, is that they provide a civil society, a civics participation basis.
The other groups are new to the educational aspect, but it’s also–then I’ll change the focus to the ways in which society socialize the African American population–slavery, segregation, discrimination. Several hundred years of slavery, small portions of the population not being enslaved, but still being subject to being in jeopardy all the time. Post-slavery, post-Civil War, shortly after–by 1896–de jure segregation comes into recognition by the Supreme Court. And so you go from 1896 through basically 1954–1965–put it in that time frame. And you’ve got all of that time for framing African American communities as being–to be segregated, to be corralled. But it meant that people had to create new generations of institutions: the NAACP, the Urban League. These all come into existence in the early periods of that–the early years of segregation. And a lot of the social organizations get created in that period of time as well. So it creates a kind of political participation foundation. It creates a sense of self as being excluded, but people transform that into a basis for understanding what they had to do in order to be independent.
The Latino population, people were either in the Southwest already with some numbers of people coming in from time to time, but not being a formal segregation in the same way. Yes, it did have some impact but it didn’t have this kind of national institutionalized sense of self. And it’s more recently, I would think in the 1960s and 70s that you start to see the brown power emphasis among Latinos or Chicanos. The ways in which the names changed they self-defined. And then also you have multiple groups speaking the same language but being from different national origins–Puerto Ricans from the U.S. but an island, Mexican Americans, Cubans. You know, so that group has begun to be assimilated with each other than was the case. The African American population was assimilated, essentially, for all of those centuries in slavery. Asian Americans, national populations arriving–different languages, not necessarily seeing themselves as part of the same group. America presents that you’re to be seen as one group approach to people. So I think that it’s the differences in experiences.
I haven’t mentioned Native Americans. Obviously, present with interested and contradictory ways in which they participate and relate to the national U.S., with the legal status as sovereign nations, but yet also they became citizens in the 1920s–1925–and so there’s a contradiction of yes, they get to vote, except they’re permitted to vote. Yes, they’re sovereign nations in relation to the U.S., but they’re also participants. And so, they tend not to–because of the tribal status–they tend to enter in terms of the state legislative representation, not so much at the national level. And the local level is tribal organization and self-governance. So, you’ve got very different structures of histories in the U.S., arrival, how the communities are structured, and that produces, I would argue, very different patterns. In terms of African American women, for example, they’ve been in churches for hundreds of years. They’ve been in social and other kinds of civic organizations. And the other groups are either not present, in the case of the Asian American population, a very small proportion of people are Chinese, but not the Japanese, not the Filipino, not the Vietnamese, the Cambodian, etc. So it creates a really different set of structures and patterns of participation.”