A powerful new call-to-action series was launched with the New York Times bestselling "MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country." The second book in the series--"50 Ways to Improve Women's Lives"--by the largest women's organization in the country, is poised to again become an instrument for change and reinvigorate a movement. Parlaying the collective expertise of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO), whose 200 members include Planned Parenthood, NOW, League of Women Voters, Code Pink, AAUW, and the YWCA, "50 Ways to Improve Women's Lives" features 50 personal, inspiring essays and case studies with "Helping Ourselves" or "Call-to-Action" sidebars.
Covering subjects as divers as pay equity, reproductive health, childcare, racism, and women in leadership, the book addresses topics that affect women (and ALL of us!) on a personal and political level--and provides readers with ways to move beyond old arguments and turn inspiration into action.
Read an Excerpt
50 Ways to Improve Women's Lives
The Essential Women's Guide for Achieving Equality, Health, and Success
By National Council of Women's Organizations
Inner Ocean PublishingCopyright © 2005 National Council of Women's Organizations
All rights reserved.
Do It for Your Health
Preserve a Healthy Environment
Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative
If you've ever inhaled the fumes of a passing bus or a nearby factory or been unable to drink water straight from your own sink, you understand how much environmental issues affect your daily life. Yet the impact of pollution on the body lasts beyond a momentary gasp for fresh air or a bad-tasting sip of water. In 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to protect the public from the known risks of air pollution, such as increased rates of asthma and premature death from lung cancer and heart disease. Yet 30 years later, more than half of the American population – approximately 160 million people – are still breathing unhealthy air.
The toll of air pollution on a woman's body is particularly high. Environmental factors have a major impact on women's general and reproductive health; they contribute to cancer, respiratory problems, and autoimmune diseases, to name a few consequences. And for those of us who become pregnant, all the toxins in our bodies are directly transferred to our developing fetuses.
Numerous pollutants in our water and air supplies bombard our bodies every day. Mercury, for example, is a particularly toxic pollutant that causes brain damage and interferes with the development of fetuses, babies, and small children. One child in six born in the United States could be at risk for developmental disorders because of mercury exposure in their mothers' wombs – that adds up to 630,000 children each year.
Power plants, the primary uncontrolled source of mercury pollution, contribute about 48 tons of mercury to our air every year. Once mercury is released into the air, it settles into our lakes, streams, and rivers. To date, federal, state, and local officials have found mercury pollution in 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries, and wetlands – 30 percent of the national total – and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers, and coastlines. After mercury enters our water, it travels up the food chain, contaminating tuna, lobster, halibut, sea bass, trout, and crab, among other marine life. It's estimated that as many as 60,000 babies born each year in the United States suffer from neurological damage caused by their mothers' consumption of mercury-contaminated fish.
In 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the huge threat that mercury poses to women and to the general public health. The EPA ruled that power plants must use the best available technology to remove that hazardous substance from our environment. Under the EPA's 2000 ruling, power plants would have reduced their mercury emissions 90 percent by 2008.
Under new leadership, however, the EPA reversed its position in 2004, proposing new power-plant regulations that would require only a 50 to 70 percent reduction by 2018. The EPA's new proposal essentially ignored the agency's own expert analysis and disregarded the recommendations of the panel of stakeholders that the agency appointed to work on this issue. Instead, the new proposal catered to the powerful energy industry lobby, placing a higher value on the industry's profits than on the health of women, children, and our communities.
Environmentalists and public health advocates worked with outraged public officials, including myself, to get citizens to speak out against the proposed regulations. The public outcry succeeded in delaying the final regulations and in convincing the EPA to commit to doing additional analysis on the issue before making any final decisions, extending the deadline for the final rule to March 15, 2005.
We have a right to clean air and water, to good health for ourselves and our families. Our challenge is to fight for strong regulations, force the EPA to enforce these regulations, and require the energy industry to adhere to meaningful and rapid reductions in mercury pollution. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations – for the health and well-being of us all.
Get Health Care for Everyone
Dixie Horning, Executive Director, UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health
Several years ago, I gathered with a group of friends. My dear friend Yolanda, a 35-year-old Latina, was upset that night, having just lost her mother on the heels of giving birth to her second child. Bereft, she went off to lie down and have some private moments of reflection.
A few minutes later, I went to check on her and was shocked to find her in a cold sweat. She complained of feeling dizzy and having pain in her neck and jaw. Even though she wasn't experiencing chest pain, it seemed like a heart attack: I called 911 and rushed back to our friends, some of whom were doctors and nurses. Everyone denied the possibility that Yolanda could be having a heart attack. "She's too young," they said, as well as, "Hispanic women don't have heart conditions" and, "It must be stress or a panic attack." But I couldn't let go of my fears. When the EMTs arrived, they too said it wasn't possible for her to be having a heart attack. After she arrived at the hospital and went through several inconclusive tests, the doctors performed an EKG. Later that night, Yolanda had a quadruple bypass. She almost died, due to an incorrect assumption that a woman of her age and ethnic background couldn't have heart disease. As this story illustrates, the medical community still knows little about the health of women, particularly women of color, largely because the vast majority of health studies and medication trials have been done on white men alone. Put another way, if more health studies and medication trials included diverse groups of women, then doctors, nurses, and consumers would know a lot more about women's health.
Perhaps even more distressing is the fact that if Yolanda hadn't so recently given birth, she would not have had medical coverage that night. Without insurance, she might have received less aggressive care or no care at all.
Uninsured or underinsured women are at higher risk for disease, chronic illness, unintended pregnancy, and other negative conditions, and women with insurance typically have better health outcomes than uninsured women. However, over 15 percent of women under age 65 still lack access to basic health care services, including preventive and prenatal care. The number of uninsured women in the United States has grown faster than the number of men, specifically three times faster, and women of color are more likely to be uninsured than white women.
Women of all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups continue to experience inequities and neglect in health care. So do their families. It is a tragedy when a family must be selective about who gets care. Our country's policies are literally making families choose who will live, who will die, and who will suffer with chronic pain. We deserve better health care.
To improve the health and quality of life for women and their families, our country must adopt a cohesive and dynamic approach to these problems by enacting universal health care coverage. Found in all other industrialized countries, universal health care would ensure affordable coverage for all. Also known as a single-payer system, it is endorsed by many national organizations. Some people fear that it will require an increase in income taxes, that it veers to close to socialism, or that the decline of quality medical care will follow. In reality, the United States already spends more for health care than any other country; yet the money is not being distributed proportionately, and many possible financing schemes (besides raising taxes) do exist. Support for universal health care is growing. In March 2004, 125 cities observed Health Care Action Day to promote comprehensive health care reform. Other events happen throughout the year, so that everyone may learn about the possibilities of universal health care and get involved.
Protect Reproductive Rights
Vicki Saporta, President and CEO, National Abortion Federation
Despite the fact that one out of three women of reproductive age in America will have had an abortion by the age of 45, we live in a time where state and federal legislative attacks on abortion and reproductive rights have reached unprecedented levels. Anti-choice extremists also continue to threaten abortion providers and their clinics with acts of violence. Since 1977, the National Abortion Federation has documented more than 4,200 incidents of clinic violence against abortion providers. To counter this, women are speaking out about their abortion experiences, and abortion providers are furnishing accurate medical information and speaking out against clinic violence in the effort to protect reproductive rights.
In January 1998, Emily Lyons's life changed forever after an anti-choice extremist bombed the abortion clinic where she worked as a nurse. The bombing left one police officer dead and Emily severely injured. Although the crippling experience took away her ability to drive and work, it did not take away her ability to speak out against clinic violence. In July 1998, Representative Henry Hyde was leading efforts to amend the law and protect anti-choice extremists from being prosecuted for criminal conspiracy. Emily testified to help defeat this anti-choice legislative attempt. "In the last six and a half months, I've spent almost 30 hours on the operating table in nine different operations, only to still have dozens of pieces of shrapnel left permanently in my body," Lyons testified. "I am not interested in sympathy. However, I am determined to make sure that people see the end result of this type of terrorism." Emily's testimony was so effective that the law remained intact.
In 1996, representatives in Congress passed a federal ban on abortion. We at the National Abortion Federation brought forward a group of women who needed abortions after finding out during their wanted pregnancies that they were carrying fetuses with lethal anomalies. These courageous women spoke passionately in congressional briefings and testimonies and to the media about the choice they made to have an abortion in order to protect their health. As one woman said, "We are all here for the women that follow us ... because all women deserve the finest medical care that exists and we want that for them." Moved by their stories, President Clinton invited these women and their families to the White House and told them that it was their stories that convinced him to veto the bill. "This country is deeply indebted to them for being able to speak out," Clinton praised. "We need more families like these."
These two stories help to demonstrate how our individual voices, especially when we work together, really do make a difference. The reproductive rights movement grows stronger with every story shared and every choice affirmed. Although the majority of Americans are pro-choice, we continue to be barraged with anti-choice legislation and actions. This means we must all continue to speak out to protect and advocate for reproductive rights. We need your help to ensure that abortion remains a safe, legal, and accessible reproductive option for all women.
Ensure Sexual Health
Gloria Feldt, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Rachel, a teenaged Planned Parenthood client, told us, "My parents are not supportive or even very willing to discuss sex or reproductive health with me.... The clinic has helped me with many things: birth control [I can afford] ... and many kind and informative words. Without them, I do not know what my life would be like now."
Sexual health isn't as simple as making a visit to the gynecologist every year or using contraception every time. It also has a mental health and emotional component. Women – especially young women – are often made to feel ashamed, disempowered, or objectified around expressions of their sexuality. Only when we as a society are honest and open about sexuality and when we recognize that the joyous expression of one's own sexuality is central to being fully human can we truly begin to make responsible choices.
There are still many women for whom access to sexual health care is a rarity. Jenna McKean, co-organizer for the Smith College Student Coalition for the March for Women's Lives, explained why she so passionately fights for reproductive rights: "I grew up on welfare in the ghetto of South Philadelphia. For the women [where] I come from ... choice is basically a myth.... If you are too young, too poor, or a color other than white, then the coat hanger desperation everyone else left behind in the '70s is alive and well for you."
The first step toward ensuring sexual health for all women is making reproductive health care and family planning accessible. We must make family planning services, contraception (including over-the-counter emergency contraception), and reproductive health care available to all women. This also means opposing mandatory parental notification/consent laws, which drive some young people to desperate measures.
The second step is making reproductive health care affordable. Family planning provides the tools women need to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The Bush administration's freeze on funding for Title X – which provides uninsured women with access to family planning services, regardless of their ability to pay – is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
Finally, we must provide women and girls – as well as men of all ages – with comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education. Abstinence-only (or, more accurately, ignorance-only) sex education is taught in 58 percent of public schools. Since 1996, the federal government has increased funding for these ineffective, dangerous programs by more than 3,000 percent – and has slated $168 million for 2005. We must instead use our resources to teach our nation's girls and women about human growth and development, to help them develop their own decision-making skills, and to provide them with the resources to protect themselves against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Every woman deserves to be sexually healthy and deserves access to the services that make sexual and reproductive rights meaningful. And since the preponderance of Americans agree that women must have the legal right to make their own reproductive choices, it's time to act like the majority we are. We must immediately address this situation, from the top down and the ground up.
Treat Your Body Well
Diana Zuckerman, President, National Research Center for Women & Families
How many women do you know who like the way they look? Are you one of them?
Like most women, I am well aware of the things I wish I could change about my physical appearance. But for millions of women, every extra pound, every new wrinkle, and every deviation from the Barbie body ideal has become a battleground. Many of us are fighting these battles with fad diets, eating disorders, ineffective "natural supplements," and plastic surgery or cosmetic injections.
At the same time that so many women are resorting to questionable quick fixes, too many of us are neglecting our health. Obesity is a national epidemic, contributing to dramatic increases in serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and even breast cancer. But yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, or expensive and sometimes risky cosmetic procedures are not going to make us healthier and may cause real harm.
Experts estimate that five to ten million Americans suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – almost all of them women. Millions gain weight because going on and off impossible diets usually causes us to add pounds, not lose them. And millions more use prescription diet pills, not realizing that research shows that these pills have only a modest impact on weight loss and have side effects that can cause permanent damage or even death.
Excerpted from 50 Ways to Improve Women's Lives by National Council of Women's Organizations. Copyright © 2005 National Council of Women's Organizations. Excerpted by permission of Inner Ocean Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction Martha Burk, Chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations,
section 1 Do It for Your Health,
section 2 Practice Real Family Values,
section 3 Grow Your Money, Grow Your Mind,
section 4 Lead the Way,
section 5 Forge a Path for the Next Generation,
section 6 Build the Community You Want to Live In,
section 7 Reach for the World,
Afterword: Women at the Global Decision-Making Table Madeleine K. Albright,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent book with all the information you need to make big changes! Women in america and around the world are suffering. We need to each tackle one of these issues to improve our lives now, as old women, and for our daughters futures! Did you know that the United States has not signed the United Nations Treaty for the Rights of Women, when 90% of its member states have? This book is full of many things we don't know so please become aware!