Everything that Counts: Learning from our Nepal partners (Part III)

Movement-building through Eye-to-Eye Partnership

Our site visits to communities benefitting from Tewa and LAHURNIP’s work kept Michael and I busy for most of our Nepal trip. We were honored to host a convening with all of the partners we’ve been supporting since 2015 before leaving the country.

To sit and listen to their stories, from women who gained livelihood skills (Tewa, Empower Generation, and Dalit Mahila Ekata Kendra) and families who learned to make healthier food choices (RHEST), to groups now able to effectively advocate for their rights (LAHURNIP, Women for Human Rights, single women group), was truly awesome. Partners didn’t hesitate to use time together to discuss synergies between their projects and share ways to better support and collaborate with each other in the future.

Sita Adhikari, co-founder and country director of Empower Generation, presents on their work empowering women through clean energy entrepreneurship and distribution.

These partner meetings and site visits allow for honest, heartfelt conversation that lays the foundation for authentic relationships and meaningful support among organizations. This is especially important as UUSC winds down our recovery work in Nepal. There’s so much to be learned from simply listening – we come to better understand what affected communities need for disaster recovery. We also learn what strengths and relationships can and already exist among groups on-the-ground, and whether they can be further cultivated to empower people in their recovery and everyday lives. Knowing these relationships are in place is crucial to ensuring long-term community resilience.

Michael and I returned home with a profound sense of gratitude for incredible partners who recognize their own humanity and help others to do the same, realizing the impact they can have in the world.

Their work brings to mind the Albert Einstein quote, “Everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Whether it’s a leadership training, providing someone with resources when they are in need, or making space for people to gather face-to-face and share stories and strategies, everything our partners in Nepal are doing matters. In fact, the beauty of their full impact won’t likely be fully realized for years to come.

 

Catch up on parts one and two of this series and don’t forget to follow UUSC on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates on newly published blogs.

Everything that Counts: Learning from our Nepal partners

“I can’t explain it in words.” This was a Srijanshil Mahila (Creative Woman) member’s first response when Michael Kourabas, UUSC associate director for program and partner support, and I asked about her experience during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Although two and a half years have passed, it was evident from conversations we had with partners and community members that the effects are still with them today.

Throughout our week-long visit, we were granted many opportunities to listen and learn not only about the earthquakes’ destruction and injustices exposed but also the ways in which individuals, families, and entire communities tapped into their resilience and power to support one another.

Srijanshil Mahila member describes the value of Tewa livelihood trainings at their meeting space in Dharmasthali village.

Recovery and Resilience: The women of Srijanshil Mahila

Srijanshil Mahila is based in the Dharmasthali village of Kathmandu and made up of women from several districts. Although these women were working to help themselves and their communities as soon as the earthquake hit, the group officially came together about a year ago with support from UUSC’s partner, Tewa.

Shelter, waste disposal, and water scarcity are a few of the immediate issues that arose in earthquakes’ aftermath. Aftershocks and rumors of theft made people uneasy about returning to their homes, so families pitched tents and tarps outside or, when this was not an option, stayed together under the open sky. In Dharmasthali, forty women worked together, traveling to a nearby development to retrieve water for others. In an effort to create more sanitary conditions, some of the women also helped dig holes to dispose of human waste. Several women worked together with Tewa to improve this situation.

Like UUSC, Tewa strives to follow the lead of the communities it supports. In this spirit, they listened to and delivered on women’s requests for trainings relating to livelihood skills and sustainable income sources, such as sewing and soap-making, as well as leadership development, and sexual and reproductive health advocacy.

Srijanshil Mahila members were adamant that other women from the community be invited to participate in trainings, and many were able to combine what they gained from skill-building and leadership trainings to start their own businesses. Several women now run a tailoring shop, and another member runs a beauty parlor.

Fabrics and tailored clothing at sewing/tailoring shop

 

32-year-old Gauri Basnet (left) and 29 year-old Kabita Khatri learned sewing through Tewa and now run this tailoring shop

When UUSC assesses impact, we’re curious to learn about any unanticipated benefits resulting from our partner’s work. For example, have community members taken on any unexpected leadership roles? Exploring the unexpected benefits is often how we come to understand the compounding effects of our partnership. It illustrates how our support can expand over time.

“This was so fruitful for me,” explained a preschool teacher about her participation in Tewa’s leadership training. “I used to make the rules myself for my classes, but now we are working together to do this. There is a relationship between me and the staff that was not there before. I’m learning from them.”

“Politics are typically set up where women are expected to take the supporting roles, like treasurer or secretary. Now, we can fight for lead roles.”

With newfound supportive relationships and a greater sense of personal agency, some women have felt empowered to seek leadership enhancement trainings from Tewa, positioning themselves to run for office. One Srijanshil Mahila member remarked, “Politics are typically set up where women are expected to take the supporting roles, like treasurer or secretary. Now, we can fight for lead roles.”

Men feel the positive effects of these changes as well. Although initially some men were critical of the time and energy women devoted to the Tewa trainings and each other, several have begun asking how they can also receive trainings.

Read parts two and three of the series on our trip to Nepal, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates on newly published blogs and news from UUSC.

Celebrating New Partnerships to Advance Economic Justice

UUSC partners with over 80 organizations across the world to protect and advance human rights. In this three-part series, I will highlight a few of our newest partners and the projects we’re supporting across our focus areas: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice and Climate Action, and Rights at Risk.

Our Economic Justice Program strives to protect the rights of low-wage workers in the United States who face discrimination and human rights violations in the workforce, including immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. We partner with worker centers to strengthen protection mechanisms, improve working conditions, and respond to violations. In Central America, through the sale of Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products, we support small farmer co-operatives to build sustainable livelihoods and advance human rights of other cooperative groups, particularly the rights of women, youth, and indigenous people. I’m excited to share with you three of our newest partnerships and projects that we’re currently supporting to advance economic justice.

Greater Minnesota Worker Center: Resist & Persist Campaign

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center
(GMWC) is “a coalition of low wage workers, community and labor activists, academics, and progressive clergy and laity to support low wage workers to build power, improve working conditions, and raise wages for workers and to improve the quality of life in Greater Minnesota.”

UUSC has partnered with GMWC, on their “Resist and Persist” (R&P) Campaign, a new project designed to provide added support to refugee and undocumented immigrant workers in Minnesota.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, GMWC has seen how anti-immigration policies and sentiments have already added to the marginalization of refugee and immigrant populations in Minnesota. One of the primary goals of R&P is to engage local communities in sanctuary practices by educating workers on their rights, creating a support network within the state, and engaging in legislative advocacy that protects the rights of refugees and immigrants. Another goal of the project is to provide low-wage immigrant and refugee workers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to organize for better working conditions.

“GMWC believes that we should not jeopardize the safety and security of people who have fled their homeland and have sought sanctuary in our shores due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on ethnicity, race, religion and other factors.” UUSC has partnered with GMWC to support the R&P Campaign because we share this belief. Learn more about GMWC and their innovative work here.

Fundación entre Mujeres: Strengthening of Strategic Planning Processes and Promotion of Sustainable Systems

Fundación entre Mujeres (FEM) is an organization of women farmers in northern Nicaragua. The organization “promotes ideological, economic, political and organizational empowerment through a holistic approach.”

Most Nicaraguan peasant women face a multitude of problems that deepen existing inequalities in access to and control over land and property and all their rights, including the right to live a life free from violence. These rights are threatened by the advance of monocultivist production (eg tobacco), and a state policy that does not favor the reduction of inequality gaps that peasant women face.

To counter these threats, FEM has a long-term goal to sensitize rural women to sustainable agricultural practices, which will give them control over their lives and the means to support themselves. UUSC has partnered with FEM to “support the development of a strategic organizational plan and the development of an agro-ecological defense network”. This commitment will help FEM continue to promote the processes of integral empowerment of peasant women, for the full exercise of their rights and the realization of their economic rights from a feminist, agroecological, and food sovereignty perspective.

FEM is an organization that has been promoting the rights of Nicaraguan peasant women for more than two decades, supporting education, preventing and caring for survivors of gender-based violence, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices in pursuit of their own autonomy. UUSC is proud to partner with an organization that has supported women for more than two decades. For updates on FEM, like them on Facebook.

Make the Road Pennsylvania: Comites de Defensa

Make the Road Pennsylvania (MRPA) is dedicated to advancing policy reform that will protect the rights of low-income minority workers in Pennsylvanian cities, where there are high concentrations of Latinx and African Americans living in poverty.

Pennsylvania also has one of the highest numbers of hate groups in the country. According to MRPA, “Eastern Penn. is the fastest growing part of the state, and many new residents are immigrants or people of color. The politics, however, have been reliably anti-immigrant at a congressional and state level.”

In light of this, UUSC has partnered with MRPA to establish “Comites de Defensa,” geographically-based committees that are ready to respond to the needs of immigrants in Pennsylvanian communities.

Much like GMWC’s R&P Campaign, Comites de Defensa aims to give support to immigrant families as raids and deportations increase—ostracizing already marginalized communities, spreading fear, and disrupting families.

The committees established through MRPA’s project “will be able to respond to abuses in the workplace, mobilize support for critical meetings and policy decisions affecting their members’ lives, and shift the public narrative towards pro-immigrant and worker messages.” Further, this effort will create a rapid response network in Pennsylvania to protect immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. UUSC is proud to partner with MRPA to promote economic justice for immigrants. Check out their Facebook page to get the latest news about their work.

UUSC Condemns Repeal of Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order

In recent weeks, workplace rules protecting against discrimination targeting LGBTQ communities, as well as wage theft, have been rolled back. Most recently, through the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, these efforts to roll back workplace rights have targeted women’s rights to equal pay and to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. The “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, which applied to companies with federal contracts, required wage transparency to ensure that women were paid equally, and banned forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, which are often used to prevent sexual harassment claims from reaching the courts and entering public record. With characteristic disregard for human rights and what is just, the administration has repealed these protections for women in the workplace just days before Equal Pay Day, which marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. UUSC stands in opposition to retrogressive policies and actions, such as the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, that move us further from a world which is free from oppression and injustice, where human rights are a reality for all.

Learn more about the importance of equal pay for women and men and how you can take action to support women and working families with our partners here.

Equality Requires an Intersectional Approach: Equal Pay Day 2017

Sixty-seven percent. According to a new and soon to be released report by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the median wage black women earn is a mere 67 percent of what white men earn and only 81 percent of what white women earn. This April 4th, which marks Equal Pay Day in the United States, UUSC stands with women, in particular women of color, in calling for policies that honor equal pay for equal work. By coming together to work at the intersection of gender, race, and worker rights, we can continue to make progress to end the wage gap, and there’s no better time to get started than today.
graphic on Black and Hispanic women's incomeEqual Pay Day marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.” The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) data on the gender wage gap breaks the data down further: the median hourly wage for white men in 2016 was $21.29 and for white women was $17.25, while black women earned a median of $13.90, and Hispanic women earned a median of $12.27.

What these numbers show, is not only is there a gendered wage gap but, as the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress (JEC) and multiple others have pointed out: the intersection of race and gender deepens existing inequality that women in the United States face. This is not an accident or an oversight, it is a symptom of structural issues regarding how women are treated and compensated in the workplace.

How the Gender Wage Gap Plays Out

Multiple causes underlie the wage gap, many of which have been explored by economists, activists, and academics. One reason includes challenges that women face because of where they work. The National Women’s Law Center explains, “Women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs that are often dominated by men, and overrepresented in low-paying jobs—women are two-thirds of workers in occupations that typically pay $10.50 or less per hour…like home health aide, child care worker, and maid and housekeeping cleaner.” JEC also notes the dynamic that race plays, “Hispanic and African-American women… are more likely than white women to hold jobs that offer fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time involuntarily” and they are also “less likely to have access to benefits such as paid sick leave, paid family leave and flexible work schedules.”

Workplace policies and low federal wages perpetuate the pay gap. As UUSC’s former partner Restaurant Opportunities Center United found,
66 percent
of women they interviewed in the restaurant industry reported being subjected to sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions from customers.” Overall, 63 percent of women ignored the harassment from guests, in part as a result of the power dynamic between servers and customers, given the restaurant industry’s pervasive use of a tipped minimum wage. Higher wages could thus go a long way towards increasing
pay as well as reducing harassment women face in the restaurant industry.

Relatedly, women also face the “motherhood penalty.” Research has “consistently shown that women with children are paid less than womenwomen earn less than men at every education level graphicwithout children and men with or without children.” A recent Forbes article describes how the penalty goes even further than wage inequity, “new moms are often perceived to have lower competence and commitment, and they face higher professional expectations and a lower chance of hiring and promotion.”

Many efforts have also been made to try and account for how other factors affect wages, such as the area of industry or level of education. However, controlling for these does not explain away the wage gap, and in some cases, the findings are counterintuitive. EPI found that when education is taken into account, the wage gap actually increases as women earn advanced degrees. 

Looking Forward

If we want to eliminate the wage gap in the future and achieve equal pay for equal work, there are clear policy options that can be advanced, such as enacting fair pay protections and raising the minimum wage. Legislation like the Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act would address wage disparities and make it easier to for parties to demonstrate that discrimination has occurred. The Center for American Progress reports that women comprised “approximately two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2012,” despite the fact that “nearly two-thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.” That’s an annual salary of less than $16,000. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would boost wages for about 15 million women.

Finally, paid family leave and access to child care have both been making headlines in recent months, due in part to the discussion of these issues by the Trump administration. However, the policies being discussed are woefully inadequate and we must work toward a national paid family and medical leave standard for women and men, including adoptive parents, same-sex couples, and non-birthing parents.” Additionally, the Tax Policy Center found that under Trump’s child care plan “more than 70 percent of the total tax benefits would go to families with income above $100,000, and more than 25 percent to families with income above $200,000.” Policies like these will do little for the average worker in the United States.

Programs that help people pursue claims of wage discrimination or ensure that they can take leave after welcoming a new child into their family are critical, particularly to women working in minimum wage jobs or jobs with irregular hours. Further, programs that address things at the structural level, like increasing the Federal minimum wage, also work to remove the bias of interpersonal decisions.

Take Action

While the current political context makes closing the wage gap feel like a long shot, there is hope. Across the country, intersectional organizing is taking place, as workers and their allies are coming together to advocate and move movements forward that work for racial justice, gender justice, and worker rights. Any solutions that strive to close the wage gap must look beyond a sole focus on gender justice, and should include a push for racial justice.

On May Day (May 1), UUSC’s partner Food Chain Workers Alliance is helping to organize a general strike demanding respect for worker rights, and gender and racial justice, and to call for a world where the most marginalized working families live with dignity, safety, and power. Another UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance is also participating. We hope you will join them to support women and working families.