By: Emily Morazán, NCWO intern

Villains aren’t always easy to identify in the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black. Even antagonists like George “Pornstache” Mendez, Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, and Yvonne “Vee” Parker elicit viewers’ sympathy from time to time. So, who – or what – is the constant villain at the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary? That would be the security housing unit, or SHU. SHU is just one of many phrases that means solitary confinement; others include disciplinary segregation, supermaxes, the hole, or the box. As it turns out, SHU isn’t all that different from its villainous television depiction. In fact, it’s worse.

Much like in OITNB, SHU is used as punitive measure in real-life prisons. Generally, there are two types of solitary confinement: Disciplinary segregation and administrative segregation. Disciplinary segregation is self-explanatory: break the rules and land in SHU. Administrative segregation, on the other hand, is more complicated and not affected by an inmate’s behavior. For the most part, this measure separates prisoners who are a danger to themselves or to others, like a gang member. However, another form of segregation called protective custody takes inmates who are in danger of other prisoners and ”protects them” by segregating them. If OITNB were to reflect this aspect of solitary, we might see Sofia Burset placed in solitary because she is trans*. Because trans men and women in prison are in danger of other prisoners, they are frequently placed in “protective custody”. This solution serves as a punishment for trans* prisoners and is not an effective solution.

In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) testified before Congress regarding increased use of solitary confinement with a particular focus on its use as a protective measure for Gays, Lesbians, Intersex, and Transgender individuals in prison. These groups are among the most likely to be placed in solitary as a “protective measure” along with other vulnerable groups, such as mentally ill prisoners. Information about the number of prisoners in solitary is almost impossible to pinpoint, as the definition varies from state to state and even prison to prison. Psychologically, SHU has negative effects ranging from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, paranoia, and hallucinations to many other problems. The terror on Piper Chapman and Janae Watson’s faces when they are carted off to SHU in the first season of OITNB is just a glimpse  of the terror that extended periods in solitary can excite.

Today, organizations like Solitary Watch, the ACLU, the Correctional Association of New York, and even the American Psychological Association are working to decrease the use of solitary. While OITNB creates its own villainous characters, it also steps back and presents the harsh realities of a deeply-flawed criminal justice system as character of its own. The correctional officers, violent prisoners like Vee, Sam Healy (the prison counselor), Figueroa, and Galina “Red” Reznikov are all situated within a broken system. Although these characters face their own personal villains, SHU is one way that viewers can see the broken system as a universal antagonist.

We encourage you to learn more about solitary confinement and get involved by donating your time, becoming more familiar with the issue, and consider joining an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights.


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Pretty Little Liars' star Ian Harding surrounded by Super Heros of Southern Maryland who will be at the inaugural race.

by Sharon Kessler, Event Director, Race for Every Child

Mark your calendar for October 5, and Race for Every Child! Why?

In 1870, children in the Washington, DC area were shouldering the unfair burden of the Civil War, fighting poverty, hunger, and a severe lack of social services. A group of physicians who were determined to meet the needs of sick children living in poverty opened a hospital for children in a humble row house in Washington.  It was furnished through the work and donations of 20 dedicated women who pledged their support to the children’s hospital and created the Board of Lady Visitors.

From the first hospital admittance in 1871 to today, Children’s National Medical Center has met the medical needs of children in our community and has championed the needs of children everywhere. Every child has a compelling story. A baby born with a hole in her heart. A teenager bouncing back from bone cancer. A child who needed a kidney transplant to survive.. The stories are very real and, too often, hit close to home.

But these stories also inspire hope and healing. Children’s National serves more than 270,000 children a year, regardless of their families’ ability to pay. While staying true to its original mission to serve the children of Washington, D.C., it has expanded to become a destination hospital for families around the country and the world. In addition to the children who are treated there, Children’s National improves the lives of so many other children through groundbreaking research, advocacy, and community partnerships.

To help bring more awareness to children’s health needs and its breadth of services, Children’s National will kick off its inaugural Race for Every Child this fall. NCWO and its members are invited to lace up and get their cardio on to show their support for children and families and to ensure that all children can have a chance at a healthy future. If you can’t participate in person, you can sign up to participate “virtually.” The Race for Every Child will help fund specialized medical care, research into childhood diseases, and important wellness and preventive services to keep all children healthy.

The event, which also includes a Kids’ Dash, will be held on America’s Main Street, Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. (Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street, N.W.), on October 5, from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm with appearances by Hill influentials, “Pretty Little Liars” celebrity Ian Harding, Super Heroes of Southern Maryland, and Zumba with FitKids. Awards will be given out by age category.

This October, the spotlight will be on children, every child. So get in the race to save and improve lives.

This summer, get a jump on registration, sign up at before September at a reduced fee, and do what women do best – mobilize your members, build a movement for a worthy cause, register and run as an individual, a team/virtual team, a family who counts its blessings or volunteer. 

And just as important, please spread the word through your blogs, Facebook posts (and see, Twitter (#race4everychild to benefit @childrenshealth).

Then get out and get training this summer.  See you at the finish line!


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Lindsey Jacks
Programs and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations

Summer has barely begun and I have already lost track of the amount of conversations overheard about swimsuits and the never ending trials and tribulations of body hatred. Fitness and diet advertisements come packaged with the tag line “Get ready for swimsuit season!” A simple Google search for “swimsuit season workout” will provide you with 16,500,000 results because clearly your body is not ready the way that it is now.

In a 2013 survey of 102 undergraduate females, participants had the highest scores of self-objectification when asked to imagine themselves trying on a swimsuit in a dressing room. Is this really surprising though? We’re constantly provided with pictures of airbrushed models sporting bikinis on almost every magazine cover, along with millions of suggestions to “improve” our bodies. Is it really any wonder that women become depressed when they are faced with their very real bodies that do not live up to society’s daily expectations?

Continue reading

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Thank you, Dana. You spoke out, you shared your story with the world, you called out a corporate giant.

The statements made by Disney employees who should have been helpful and supportive were instead condescending and harmful to people of all genders.  An attempt to report a sexual assault should not lead to “an endless loop of transferred calls”. The “complaint” should not be merely “noted” in a counselor’s file.  A company that claims to “strive to create an optimal employee experience” and prohibits employees from harassing other employees should be ashamed of this incident.

We call on Disney to: Continue reading

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By Anney Bolgiano, Programs and Policy Intern

California and New Jersey are on opposite coasts. New Jersey’s population is 8.8 million, while California’s is a whopping 38.4 million. Their climates are different, their histories are different and they are separated by nearly 3,000 miles. But there is one very important thing California and New Jersey do have in common: paid family and medical leave.

Unfortunately, California and New Jersey stand out as the only two states with fully funded and functioning paid leave programs in the US.


“But we have something,” a friend says to me, after I explained the lack of paid leave to her, “didn’t Clinton do something?” The “something” she is referring to is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993. FMLA provides 12 weeks unpaid, job protected leave for recovery from a personal medical condition or to care for a seriously ill family member. But many Americans simply cannot afford to give up 12 weeks worth of wages.


On Wednesday, May 29th, the National Work and Family Coalition hosted the congressional briefing Paid Family and Medical Leave: Ensuring Economic Security for Workers, Employers and Communities. The speakers were state Sen. Gayle Goldin of Rhode Island, Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology CUNY Graduate Center, and Permelia Toney-Boss, a New Jersey worker personally impacted by need for paid leave. All three women delivered earnest and informed arguments for the importance of paid family and medical leave.

The paid family and medical leave program outlined at the briefing would “provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness; the serious illness of a parent, child or spouse (including domestic partner); the birth or adoption of a child; the injury of a family member who is in the military; or exigencies arising from a service members deployment.” The proposed funding would come from “employer and employee contributions two-tenths of one percent of the worker’s wages,” amounting to “less than $1.50 a week for the average worker.”

More details are available on the NPWF factsheet, The Case for a National and Medical Leave Insurance Programcited above.


Prof. Milkman shared data from her forthcoming book Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum*. The data Milkman brought to the panel challenged the argument that paid family and medical leave is damaging to businesses.

According to Milkman and Appelbaum’s 2010 employer survey, the effects of paid family and medical leave on businesses in California is hardly noticeable. 88.3% of employers reported no noticeable effect on profitability and performance, 87% reported to noticeable effect on employee productivity, 88.6% reported no noticeable effect on employee turnover and 13.1% reported a positive effect on employee moral.

The negative effect of business is nearly non-existent, but the positive effect on workers and their families is indisputable. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), “Paid leave programs in California and New Jersey have created more than one million periods of leave for workers who are caring for a child or ill family member.” For women, paid leave may be even more important, according to the NPWF, “Paid leave helps women stay in the work force and is associated with higher wages over time.” Access to paid family and medical leave can also reduce health care costs. For example, a child’s hospital visit is cut down by 31% simply by having a parent present.

Caring for an ill family member, bonding with a new child, or recovering from ones own illness are natural parts of life that are socially relevant and deserve recognition and accommodation. Paid family and medical leave isn’t just about individuals in individual circumstances, but also creating a caring culture, one that understands interconnectivity.

The statistics make a clear case for paid family and medical leave, and so do the many voices of those who need it most. Family Values at Work has collected many stories from workers who see and experience, first hand, the need for paid family and medical leave.

We have the power to provide Paid Family and Medical Leave. Let’s continue to put pressure on Congress to prioritize workers, prioritize families, prioritize fairness and follow in New Jersey and California’s examples in making our whole country a better place to live and work.


*Complete citation for Milkman and Appelbaum’s book: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum* (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, fall 2013) © 2013 

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Lindsey Jacks
Programs and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations



I recently signed up to lobby for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for Transgendered people, and quickly realized how little I knew about the subject. Armed only with the knowledge that this kind of discrimination affects someone that I know personally, and a sense of indignation at the fact that discrimination of this sort even still exists, I began research on ENDA.

The Facts:

What I discovered was quite startling. According to the Center for American Progress, “It currently is perfectly legal in America to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender… Rather than being evaluated on their skills, qualifications, and ability to contribute to the job, LGBT workers are all too often not hired, not promoted, or, in the worst cases, fired from their jobs solely due to their sexual orientation and gender identity—characteristics completely irrelevant to job performance. And in a majority of states and under federal law, these employees have no legal recourse to challenge this discrimination” (emphasis is my own). 29 states currently have no laws against discrimination of LGBT workers, and sadly 90% of those that identify as trans* have reported being harassed or mistreated in the work place, or they have reported having to hide who they are to avoid this discrimination.

As if this was not enough, the financial stress that discrimination places on a company is unbelievable.

Continue reading

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For Immediate Release       

Contact: Dawn Aldrich

National Council applauds appointment of first woman director of the U.S. Secret Service

Washington, D.C. March 27 – The National Council of Women’s Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 240 progressive women’s groups representing 12 million American women, today commended President Obama for appointing the first woman director of the U.S. Secret Service.

“We celebrate Julia Pierson’s selection as the first woman in 148 years to head the Secret Service,” said NCWO Chair Susan Scanlan.  “This is well-earned recognition of an outstanding agent with thirty years of exemplary performance at the agency. Congratulations to the President for empowering an outstanding and deserving woman to break yet another significant barrier to equal employment!”

In a statement accompanying his announcement, President Obama described Pierson: “Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own. Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency.”

Pierson currently is the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chief for the United States Secret Service. She has been a Secret Service agent for over 30 years after beginning her career in Florida.

“We look forward to great things from Director Pierson,” Scanlan said.  “The Council is grateful for her service to country, for the example she sets for girls and young women, and for the leadership she will provide the dedicated male and female agents in the Secret Service.



The National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) is the nation’s oldest and largest coalition of women’s groups.  Our 240 member organizations represent women from all socioeconomic and demographic groups, and collectively represent more than twelve million women nationwide.  Member groups include grassroots, research, and advocacy organizations dedicated to political, social and economic progress for women.

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On November 11, 2011, Eve Ensler told the world that she was Over It.

She’s over rape. And rape culture. And gender-based violence. And passivity. And victim-blaming.

Aren’t we all? Or, at least, shouldn’t we be?

Politicizing the violence is an affront to all victims and survivors of sexual assault. It is condescending to their experience and a pardoning of the perpetrators.

Rapes and sexual assaults and sexual harassment happen every day to countless people of any and all gender identities. Races. Ages. Religions. Political affiliations. Abilities. Sexualities. Incomes. NO ONE deserves it. NO ONE asks for it. NO ONE should be denied justice.

Eve tells us that approximately one billion women on the planet have been violated. ONE BILLION.

I have heard my friends, acquaintances, and strangers tell stories of being harassed, violated, beaten, and raped. I have heard others question the victims’ clothing, relationship to the attacker, sexual history, location, state of mind, and whether they’ve ever told a lie.

This doesn’t have to be the world we live in. We are better than this. We are hard-wired for human interaction, for compassion, for community. As Sohaila Abdulali so rightly stated, “rape is not inevitable, like the weather.”

We can do something to change this. We can do something to prevent future stories like those that have come out of Texas, Penn State, Notre Dame, the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, Steubenville, Delhi. We can rise.

On Thursday, February 14, 2013, we are rising. One billion of us: women and men, young and old, victims, survivors, friends, family. There are One Billion Rising events taking place all over the world. (You can find one closest to you here. You can also start your own rising.)

Here in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) is proud to sponsor DC Rising. The rally will take place from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 14th, in Farragut Square. It will feature members of Congress, diverse musical entertainment, and advocates from the women’s community.

We invite you, your friends, and your families to join us. Tell us why you’re rising. We’ll be dancing to build a sense of community and resistance. We’ll be dancing to laugh, bring joy, and love ourselves. We’ll be dancing to demand an end to violence. Join us as we call on the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Learn about gender-based violence. Find resources for those impacted—directly and indirectly—by the violence. Dance with us. Rise.

This post was written by NCWO’s Director of Programs and Policy, Dawn Aldrich. Do you want to tell us why you’re rising? Send a picture or tweet to @DCrising214 and use #ReasonToRise.

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Women voters will decide the winner of the Nov. 6 presidential election, according to political pundits, but they have heard almost nothing from candidates Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney about the issue of their basic constitutional rights.

In late summer, the following question was sent to both presidential campaigns:

“Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination, but an April 2012 poll by Daily Kos/SEIU shows 91% support for constitutionally guaranteed equal rights. Do you believe the Constitution should specifically guarantee that women and men have equal legal rights?”

The reply from Pres. Obama’s campaign to the National Council of Women’s Organizations ERA Task Force:

 “President Obama has a proven track record of supporting the ERA. As an Illinois State Senator, he was a sponsor of a joint resolution ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, and as a United States Senator he was a cosponsor of the Women’s Equality Amendment.”

The reply from Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign to Mormons for ERA President Chelsea Strayer: none.

The 2012 Democratic Party platform includes ERA ratification, while the Republican Party dropped its 40-year support of the ERA in 1980 and declared opposition to it in 1984.

Gov. Romney has faced virtually no questions about his relationship as a former Mormon bishop to the political actions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon Church), which since the 1970s has organized and supported anti-ERA activism nationally through its members.

Writer Jon Krakauer states, “Most political analysts believe that had theLDSChurchnot taken such an aggressive position against the ERA, it would have been easily ratified by the required thirty-eight states, and would now be part of the U.S. Constitution.”

Mormon opposition to the ERA continues to the present. A 2009Nevadalegislative hearing on a non-binding resolution supporting the ERA was packed with anti-ERA Mormons, primarily women.  The LDS church hierarchy is entirely male.

Judge Robert Bork, an unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee in 1987, was a mentor to Justice Scalia and similarly believes that the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination. He is Gov. Romney’s chief legal advisor.

The Equal Rights Amendment – “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by theUnited Statesor by any state on account of sex” – was passed by Congress in 1972 but got only 35 of the needed 38 state ratifications by a 1982 deadline.

It is reintroduced in every session of Congress, and legal analysis proposes that the existing state ratifications may still be valid.

The ERA would protect and advance equitable treatment of women and men in employment, education, and many other areas of law.  (See

Roberta W. Francis, Co-Chair, National Council of Women’s Organizations’ ERA Task Force

Chelsea Strayer, President, Mormons for ERA

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By: Mali Irvin,  Program and Policy Intern

National Council of Women’s Organizations

As you may have heard, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) made a few, to say the least, insensitive remarks about “legitimate rape” Sunday in response to a reporter’s question about whether or not he supports abortion in the case of that heinous, lifelong devastating crime that we in America have pared down into a four letter word. Rape. His answer (emphasis mine):

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s (pregnancy from rape) really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Today Akin apologized for his remarks: “I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word,” Akin said. While I acknowledge his “apology”, Akin’s justification shows he is disconnected from the reality of rape. Continue reading

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