Ann Hesse posted about International Women's Day Remarks on Facebook 2018-03-08 08:53:54 -0500International Women's Day Remarks
International Chair Julia Bryan issued the following remarks for International Women’s Day 2018:
Before I flew to Washington this week I hugged my daughter and said, “Stay strong, work hard, and treat your brother the way you’d like him to treat you.”
Caroline’s fourteen, and already an ardent activist. In 2016, she saw Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as an “of course” moment. Of course there would be a woman president. Her world seemed equal, the past’s prejudices disappearing as the generations shifted.
When Clinton lost the election, my daughter realized, as so many of us did, that we still had a lot of work to do.
Today on International Women’s Day, I remember the numerous times women have been reminded that equality is not as near as we might believe. Think of Abigail Adams writing her husband in 1776, asking him to “remember the ladies” when he created our new nation’s code of laws. We know how well that turned out.
And even Women’s Day, launched in 1909 to celebrate women and push for greater equality: It’s a bittersweet day as we reflect 109 years later that we still have a ways to go on that goal.
So our “of course” moment has not yet arrived. Women must often work harder than men to earn less and run farther to get to the same place.
But some things have changed. After Hillary’s loss in 2016, women didn’t just sit down again. They rose up and launched the persistence movement. This year thousands of women are running for office at all levels of government. Kathleen Matthews, chair of Maryland state party, says that women are both tremendously motivated to run and that organizations and parties are deliberately finding women candidates to run. The results are evident in every state election this midterm.
That’s heartening news and a reminder that history is not a straight line. As President Obama said, it zigs and it zags.
This is also true of our story. Today, as we remember the many zigs and zags of women’s empowerment in the US and around the world, I ask all of you who have joined the persistence movement to stay strong, work hard, and, as I told Caroline, treat your brother (and sister) the way you’d like to be treated yourself.
The Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus fully supports the hundreds of March For Our Lives events taking place around the world on March 24th, in solidarity with the youth and families of March For Our Lives who will take to the streets of Washington DC to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.
As women, we cannot tolerate the gross negligence of the American government which permits horrific mass murders of our nation's children in schools, simply because Congress refuses to pass sensible laws restricting the purchase of assault weapons to keep them out of the hands of those who should not have them.
The Global Women's Caucus also recognizes and reminds everyone that the gun violence epidemic affects women very specifically. Domestic violence and gun ownership overlap in the US where 40% of American households own guns. 80% of those killed by gun violence at the hands of an intimate partner are women. And American women are 11 times more likely to die from gun violence than women of any other country. As former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford put it at the 2015 Domestic Violence Awareness Summit:
“dangerous people with guns are a threat to women. Criminals with guns. Abusers with guns. Stalkers with guns. That makes gun violence a women’s issue. For mothers, for families, for me and you”.
We urge all members of Democrats Abroad and the Global Women’s Caucus to change this paradigm by joining, supporting or hosting an event, by registering to vote and getting friends and family to register to vote and by making sure to VOTE out the NRA and the GOP in 2018.
Americans overseas can use: http://www. votefromabroad.org to get all you need register/request a ballot, and vote. DO IT NOW!
For all information on the March 24 rallies, marches and other events in your country, please check with your Country Committee Chair or, you don’t have a Country Committee, check with your Regional Vice Chairs. We also invite you to visit the GWC caucus page on the Democrats Abroad website: http://www.democratsabroad.org/wc_events as we will be posting events as we receive them from our members.
If you have any questions, please contact the GWC Co Chairs, Ann Hesse and Salli Swartz at: [email protected]
"We are celebrating women's history month by highlighting historical
brave, bold and breakthrough women. We are also featuring many of the
faces in the Black women's community who have done so much to build our
nation. These women, many of them lesser known, offered their lives to
the improvement of humanity and to improving the conditions of women. We
can be proud to stand on the foundation that they have built. I have
learned so much from their stories."
Christina Skovsgaard, Oslo
CAROLINE F. WARE
Caroline “Lina” Ware, was born and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts into a prominent, generous family in 1899. She received her education at Vassar, Radcliff and Harvard (PhD), in 1925.
She was one of the most innovative historians of her day, she astonished the profession when her PhD dissertation won a $10,000 prize. She had demonstrated that the early cotton mills of New England set the pattern for the future industrial development of the country and changed the nature of rural life, especially for young women. Ware's dissertation became a well-reviewed book, yet the only satisfactory job she could find was back at Vassar, where she was soon recognized as a master teacher. Ware moved to New York in 1931 in order to join her husband, Gardiner Means. During this time, Ware worked on a community study of Greenwich Village. She published her research in a groundbreaking book titled, “Greenwich Village”. She found a job in the Department of Agriculture and soon became "the person to call". Ware became involved in President Roosevelt’s New Deal, specifically creating a new field called “consumer affairs”.
When the war started there was less interest in the problems of consumers. She was already teaching constitutional history at Howard, the nation's preeminent black university. When Pauli Murray, a second-year law student, asked to audit her class, the two women became good friends. As a two-person civil-rights movement, they organized Howard students for marches and sit-ins and integrated two restaurants. They also set a personal example of ignoring color in their social lives. Ware remained at Howard until 1961.
Her 70-acre farm was a favorite haunt of young New Dealers setting out to change the world. Visitors included diplomats and leaders of all sorts of causes, any of whom might be put to work as what Ware labeled IBUL: "intelligent but unskilled labor”.
President Roosevelt appointed Ware to be deputy to Harriet Elliott, the consumer representative of a National Defense Advisory Commission. After resigning from her position in the National Defense Advisory Commission, Ware joined the Office of Price Administration consumer advisory group.
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy selected Caroline Ware to be a member of the President's Commission on the Status of Women.
She and her husband, Gardiner Means, donated the seventy acres of land as a public park. They were also environmentalists before there was such a term. She died in 1990.
A GWC Panel Discussion
by Jessica Craig, DA Women's Caucus Barcelona
The Global Women’s Caucus kicked off the EMEA Regional Meeting in Madrid (9th – 11th February) with a timely and provocative panel discussion about “Power, Sex and #MeToo: Now what?”. The informal and fun atmosphere of New Orleans-style restaurant, Gumbo, helped create a feeling of warmth and closeness between the diverse panellists and audience. For those of us Democrats Abroad who have only been following the outrageous stories about Weinstein, etc in social media and in the press, and who are living in countries that have not yet been as impacted by #MeToo and #TimesUp as the US (and to a lesser extent the UK), this was a welcome opportunity to step back from the hashtags and headlines and to discuss with fellow Americans the underlying social and political issues, as well as to assess the potential for lasting change.
Anne Hesse, Co-Chair of Global Women’s Caucus warmed up the room by raising key issues and questions. In recent history, we seem to have moved through three stages in the US, socially and politically. And, the Democratic party has not always made the best choices:
With Anita Hill, came a new definition of Sexual Harassment. Senator Biden could have come to her defense, backed her up, but he didn’t. What is our liability as Democrats now?
Then came the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” era of President Clinton. Will we finally address this? Or remain vulnerable to all the "yeah-but-isms from the other side?
We have now arrived in a tough “Zero Tolerance Zone” Are some, like Senator Franken having to pay extra because we looked the other way with Clinton?
How well do we understand the concept of intersectionality? Do we understand that some women face layers and layers of oppression? Do we understand that privilege is not just about skin color? That class. education, sexual orientation, disabilities, all play a role?
Is a simple thing like grammar undermining us? When we say "John beat Jane", John is the subject. And we all ask “what the hell is wrong with John?” But when we say “Jane was beaten….. by John”, “or worse, “Jane is a battered woman,” then the problem belongs to Jane. What’s wrong with Jane? Or, What did Jane do wrong? What about John? Where’s John? How do we make this about John’s problem?
And what about the Enablers? There are 3 actors on this stage: The Perpetrator, The Victim, and The Bystanders: The friends, co-workers, teammates, supporters, fans, spouses. How can we, as bystanders do a better job of supporting the victim…and isolating the perpetrator?
There is bound to be confusion, gray areas, and push-back as we transition. It’s exactly these gray areas we need to explore. Let’s explore these questions and more today in an atmosphere of equality, empathy and trust: As men and women simply trying to live together in peace. As Democrats trying to win a crucial election And as Democrats Abroad, trying to engage our far-flung, And very diverse voters.
The first question from GWC Co-chair Salli Swartz to the panel was “Is #MeToo going to change anything?” And the panellists overall were cautiously optimistic. Anne Bagamery, an independent journalist based in Paris and former senior editor of the International Herald Tribune/International New York Times, said she is impressed and encouraged by the sheer numbers – so many stories, so many areas of economy and culture, and so many parts of the world that are paying attention. She believes this movement has “critical mass”, especially because so many young people are involved. Ronda Zelezny-Green, an African-American mobile technologist, educator and researcher based in London, also commented on the extraordinary numbers powering this movement. “Between 2010-2017 there were 96 million tweets relating to sexual harassment and there has not been any other hashtag used as much as #MeToo.” Ronda also thinks the movement has become more influential and “intersectional” after the incursion of “popular white women” helped publicize the movement that was founded in 2006 by a black woman, Tarana Burke. The youngest of the panellists, Laura Downer, a student at University of Wisconsin – Madison, feels excited that #MeToo is the first big push for change in her lifetime, and that for millennials it now feels like “our turn” to push forward. The only note of ambivalence on the panel was from Leselle Marie Hatcher, a multi-racial daughter of an immigrant, and a musician and writer from NYC currently based in Madrid. Leselle agreed with the comments of the previous panellists, but pointed out that “a hashtag in of itself is not change and will not effect legal change”, and we absolutely must not rest on our laurels.
Michael Elias, the one man on the panel, contributed his perspective as a high-level and long-term writer, director and producer of major film and tv in Hollywood. He reminded us that even with all the dirt flying around about Weinstein and others, behaviour in Hollywood has changed since the 1970s and it has become a more “careful” and “respectful” place. But clearly there was an industry-wide blindspot about Weinstein. Michael said “When I would talk to producers or agents about working with him, they would say ‘he’s a thief’, ‘a monster’, ‘a bully’. But they would never say he was a sexual predator.” And there has been a double-standard among men when it comes to actresses. “I dealt with a lot of powerful women – executives and producers – they had power and no one messed with them. But actresses took the brunt of this because they want to work…”
The most powerful response to the next question “How can change be effectuated and how can Democrats get behind this movement?” was from Liselle: “#MeToo has taken away the element of shame for women, and places [sexual abuse] on a global platform, and does away with the silencing. The law is an important tool, but there needs to be change in people on the ground. Police need to start believing women, especially black women and black-trans-women, and all women who say they are feminists need to start believing each other because we have not been so good at that until now.”
Anne added to this her perspective as a veteran journalist, saying while we should applaud the courage of the media, particularly the New York Times and New Yorker, for backing the Weinstein story, the media is also part of the problem in perpetuating stereotypes of women. And the mainstream media is still not giving enough attention to the plight of the trans or LGBT community, nor to people of color. What journalists are supposed to do is, “to shine light into dark corners” and “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We should start looking more closely at “the people who we reward and what they (mostly men) have done – societally we need to change what we view as a successful person.”
A big part of the confusion around #MeToo is over definitions. How much can we complain about what is sexual abuse or what is sexual harassment? How much culture can go into drawing a line? Liselle’s direct response drew the first laughter mixed with applause from the audience, “No one’s trying stop anyone from getting laid! That’s not what this is about…But sex is more complicated than we want to think…” And in the US, the legacy of the puritans has given us extra obstacles in talking about sex. (So to those anti-#MeToo people in France who misunderstand the #MeToo movement and decry it for imposing American puritanism over libertine sexual relations, isn’t it really about freeing ourselves from puritanism which would have us be silent about sex?) Ronda thinks “We’ve placed far too much responsibility on drawing lines.” As an educator she is always aware that “change starts at home.” And “what are we doing to educate our men and boys, our women and girls?”
So how can we get more men involved in this conversation? Leselle says she tells her male friends, “When you go out, whenever you see something inappropriate, CALL OUT YOUR BOYS!” Both Anne and Michael (the one male panellist), and both representing the 50+ generation, think that younger people have a much better handle on this. There is a more “fluid structure” in their lives, and a “more open conversation going on” between women and men. Ronda thinks we need to find authentic male feminist voices for the cause, men who are interested in more than just likes and tweets. As a society we need to identify and create male champions for women. And again, this kind of change starts at home. Michael had a slightly different perspective, he seemed to doubt that men could be effective as feminists or to believe that women should continue taking the lead with the feminist movement. He said he would tell his sons to get involved in a different issue that still impacts the lives of women, such as to “fight as hard as hell against the NRA”.
One of the last questions for the panel was about an issue central to the Global Women’s Caucus: “Will the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) change our lives?” Most of the panel thought it would be a positive step forward for women, with the one dissenting opinion from Leselle. As a black+latino woman, she reminded us that her people have seen their constitutional rights constantly violated, and so she thinks the ERA would be a “nice gesture at best”. Laura, the youngest panellist, thinks it’s “dumb” we don’t have it in the constitution yet. And that passing it would be an important, not an empty, gesture. It would show incoming generations that women’s rights matter.
Two questions from men in the mostly female audience showed how uncomfortable even Democrat men are in responding to the #MeToo movement. One wanted to know “How can Democrats speak about these issues without pushing away 50% of Americans?” The best response to this was from Leselle: “The Democratic party needs to decide what kind of party it wants to be. I have trouble using the pronoun ‘we’ when I talk about Democrats because I don’t feel it represents me. We need to inspire. We need to more than just ‘not Republican’.” And the final question, awkwardly phrased from a man in the audience, revealed how personal these issues fundamentally are to men as well as to women, and how difficult it is for men to find the best words to describe communication with a woman. We heard in action one of the key questions raised in the intro to the event: “Is a simple thing like grammar undermining us?” Ultimately the man’s question was “How can men and women improve communication?” And just when it seemed like the panel would stay silent unless a psychotherapist appeared in the room, Anne, the journalist, came up with a great answer that reminded us how much the personal and sexual are now thanks to #MeToo inextricably linked to the political. “This is also a political problem and the only way male and female communication will improve is if more men and women are working together in the same room.” We just need to take one look at the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives to see how hard we Democrats need to work to bring this improvement about starting in 2018! And even while Democrats are more receptive than Republicans to taking action to address the issues raised by #MeToo, even when it brings up accusations against powerful men in our own party, we still have a lot of deeper listening and learning and changing to do, and this kind of change needs to be happening from the ground up - in our homes, our workplace, and in our own relationships.
The final questions Anne Hesse raised to “warm-up the room” at the start of the event are good to use as further questions we should keep discussing in the Global Women’s Caucus, in our local DA chapters, and in future DA conferences:
What kinds of questions should we as Democrats be asking?
Are we over-punishing our own legislators?
Is it fair to judge yesterday's conduct by today’s new rules?
Could a “zero-tolerance” climate result in keeping even more good, qualified people from running for office?
How do we uphold the “BELIEVE WOMEN” principle without falling prey to politically motivated, or even false accusations?
Is the Speier-Gillibrandt #METOO legislation adequate?
Do we need a South Africa-style “TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION” for our party?
The answers may not come today, but at least we will have begun the conversation. Many thanks to the Global Women’s Caucus for bringing together the topics, questions, and panellists that will help focus and guide us!
Stuttgart marched for women’s rights!
Despite pouring rain and icy cold, a group of roughly 30 hearty DA Stuttgart members, together with our precinct members from Freiburg and Tübingen joined a crowd of 500 activists to march in Heidelberg for women’s rights.
We were welcomed by DA Heidelberg chair Nancy Schimkat who was on hand with her team to help any and all Americans with their voter registration.
I was pleased to be able to share a few remarks at the end of the march highlighting some of this year’s successes for women. It wasn’t all bad news this year!
Soaking wet, freezing cold and exhausted by the end of the day, we “nevertheless” could not help but feel a bit proud of ourselves to have been in the company of such amazing, dedicated and ”persistent” activists!
Let us all resolve to keep on marching to the ballot box!
If you haven’t done it already, now is a great time to request your absentee ballot for the mid-terms.
Remember, Americans living abroad do have to re-register every year!
But then you’ll be all set for a year’s worth of primaries, special elections and the all-important mid-terms on November 6th when 33 senate seats, all 435 seats in the house of representatives,14 Governorships and countless local offices will be UP FOR GRABS
Our own Democrats Abroad Stuttgart chapter is doing everything in our power to reach out to fellow Americans in our area, and help them claim their right to vote at home. Our primary project for this year is getting out the vote.
We work hard, but we really do have fun! And we need your help!
Democrats Abroad Japan Kanto Chair, Linda Gould shares her own #metoo story of her experiences as a fashion model.
For years my husband would tell me how unfair it is that he married a fashion model and couldn’t brag about it.
You see, after I quit modeling, I rarely told anyone. If they asked how I was able to travel around the world, I would tell them I just bummed around or worked under the table.
Why would I be so reluctant? Because fashion models have a stereotype of being stupid. After spending ten years of having every aspect of my face and body scrutinized for the smallest flaw, I wasn’t confident enough in my own capabilities to be able to counter the stereotype.
But I’m coming clean now because I realize there is another reason for my reluctance to admit being a model. Everyone knows the stereotype of actresses sleeping their way to the top. Well, there is no industry like the fashion industry for sexualizing women, both in front of the camera and behind it. And if the film and TV industry is having its moment of comeuppance, then the fashion industry should do the same. Now. Today.
In the ten years that I modeled, I was groped, kissed and fondled incessantly. I had one photographer press his erection on me and tell me, “Imagine this was inside you. That’s what I’m looking for.”
And that wasn’t porn. It was a standard fashion shoot. That particular incident was unusual, but less aggressive assaults were the norm. You just learn to deal with it, laugh it off, and move away.
Models are invited as eye candy to the best parties where musicians, actors, socialites, and hangers-on are invited. Add drugs and alcohol, and you can guess the result.
During photo shoots, models are posed in the most sexualized positions you can imagine (and many that you, if you are a woman, probably wouldn’t imagine). And since many women are so very young, it is not surprising that they are taken advantage of by the people in the industry. Who? Photographers, assistants, advertising staff, special effects engineers… Well, those were just the ones who tried to take advantage of me.
When the industry looks the other way, I imagine others further down the ladder are prone to the same behavior.
But it wasn’t only fondling and groping. I knew women who were raped by photographers, although back then, we didn’t call it that. We wondered what we had done wrong to allow it to happen.
I was lucky, though. Although some situations were more tricky than others, sex was never forced upon me. And I met some of the most amazing photographers who are still friends today. The others? I have forgotten them, dismissed them, and they likely have no recollection of me, because the next day or at the next party, there were many more beautiful models, more vulnerable young women to choose from.
So, I hope that somewhere out there today, there are models willing to come forward with their #MeToo stories about the fashion industry. It is time to bring to light the dark side of the images that grace our magazines and billboards. Does anyone really believe that an industry that sexualizes women when advertising virtually every product would be a standard-bearer of virtuous behavior? It isn’t.
Maybe, just maybe, by revealing how vulnerable women are in the fashion industry, not only will it remove women from potential predators, maybe it will also change how fashion portrays women. Perhaps we can even stop being sex objects.
By Linda Gould, JAN 20, 2018
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
“Taking back Congress” is at the top of my own “to-do” list for 2018...how about yours?
We could see a “Blue Wave” in the 2018 midterm elections, but we will need a massive turnout in order to make it happen. What better way to start the new year than by requesting your absentee ballot for the midterms? Just go to VoteFromAbroad.org. Easy! And don’t you just love crossing things off your list?
2018 is in no way an “off-year.” And this is no time to sit on the sidelines. The November 6th mid-term elections could really be “make-or-break” for democracy in our country, and you personally, can make a difference, right here in Germany! Many races have come down to just a hand-full of votes, and the overseas ballots can tip the balance! YOU MATTER!
Our own Democrats Abroad Stuttgart chapter is gearing up right now to do everything in our power to reach out to fellow Americans in our area, and help them claim their right to vote at home. We need your help!
Here is a rundown on some of our upcoming events and projects. Take a look, and please jump in where you can:
1. Stuttgart is marching to the ballot box in Heidelberg!
Come march with our DA neighbor chapter in Heidelberg to commemorate the anniversary of the Women's March on Washington and to fire up all our people, men and women, for the crucial mid-term elections.
This year we are combining the march with a voter registration drive which will take place at the end of the march.
Just as we did last year, we will meet at the Stuttgart Main Train Station and travel as a group to Heidelberg.
The march in Heidelberg begins at 14:00.
This time, our meeting point will be the ticket machines at the south-tower end of the train station, near the seating area. Look for signs, banners and pussy hats-you can’t miss us! We will try to organize ourselves in groups of 4-5 to purchase discount BW tickets together.
We plan to take the RE19504 which leaves from track 11 at 10:19.
We will arrive in Heidelberg early enough to find a spot for coffee or a quick bite to eat with Heidelberg chapter members.
Watch our Facebook event page for last-minute updates on exactly where and when.
Some may wish to take a different train or drive, but do try to find us in Heidelberg either at the coffee shop, or at the Friedrich-Ebert Platz starting point. We will want to take a group photo or two, pass out our DA signs and flyers, and march as a group with our DA Heidelberg partners to show our numbers are strong-size matters!
For those of you who can’t make it to our “Pussy Hat and Sign-Making Workshop”: we will be making extras which will be available on the train and at our pre-march gathering!
2. Women's March Pussy Hat and Sign-making Workshop
Join us for a fun and relaxed afternoon of hat-crafting, sign-making, and voter registration at a member's home, in preparation for our trip to Heidelberg for the big women's march on the following weekend.
Don't worry if you are not a skilled sewer! We will be guided by one of our members who is a real pro! How lucky are we?
All materials for hat and sign-making will be provided for a small donation.
Space is limited so do RSVP right away to reserve your spot and to receive our member's exact address and more details.
3. Pub & Politics in Freiburg
Wednesday, January 10 at 8 pm-10 pm
The Holy Taco Shack
Barbarastrasse 18, 79106 Freiburg, Germany
Join us for a fun and casual evening at The Holy Taco Shack in Freiburg to talk about everything from Trump's first year, to the upcoming midterm elections, to the anniversary of the women's march!
This is your chance to meet other Americans in the Freiburg area, grab a drink together and talk about all things politics! We also want to share news about upcoming DA events and get your ideas of what other events Freiburg-Americans would like to participate in.
4. Political Pub Night in January
Thursday, January 18th, 2017 at 7:00 PM
Sophie`s Brauhaus Stuttgart
Marienstraße 28 , 70178 Stuttgart
Join us for the first "Third Thursday" in the new year for a fun evening of drinks and snacks and the chance to share your thoughts on strategy for this crucial election year!
Our Pub Nights are an especially good opportunity for curious prospective members to check us out, and for all of our non-American family and friends to share their unique views on the craziness in Washington that affects all of us.
Please do RSVP here to let us know you are coming!
5. Chapter Meeting and lecture/discussion on "Progressive Economics"
Friday, February 2nd at 7 p.m.
Forum 3 Café
Gymnasiumstr. 21, 70173 Stuttgart
"Thinking like an economist: Freedom, regulations and the democracy"
We are honored to welcome as our guest Matthew Bonick, Freiburg University PhD student and lecturer, and DA Konstanz precinct Captain, for this very special event! Matthew will share with us the newest ideas on progressive economics and lead us in a discussion on what this all means for us. Do join us for this special event!
6. EMEA REGIONAL MEETING
February 09, 2018 - February 11, 2018
Hotel Santo Domingo
San Bernardino 1, Madrid 28013 Spain
The EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Region and Democrats Abroad Spain will host a meeting of leaders, volunteers, and members from all over DA’s largest region. We expect about 100 participants from countries all around the region and we will focus on strategies and projects to elect Democrats in 2018.
All Members of Democrats Abroad from every region are welcome to join us!
The three-day program in the heart of Madrid will begin with a session from the Women’s Caucus on Friday afternoon, followed by an evening reception highlighting the best of Madrid’s culture and food. Saturday presentations, training sessions, and workshops will be followed by a Global Black Caucus Cocktail Reception and a “gala” dinner with a special guest speaker. Sunday training sessions and presentations will end around 1 pm.
7. DA Germany Annual General Meeting: 23-25 February
February 23, 2018 at 1:30 pm - February 25, 2018
Stiftung Kultur Palast Hamburg
Öjendorfer Weg 30a, Hamburg 22119, Germany
Join members of Democrats Abroad Germany in Hamburg to discuss our plans for 2018!
Every year Democrats Abroad Germany gathers in person to discuss issues back home and plan our activities for the coming year. With midterm elections quickly approaching, join us in Hamburg to learn more about how you can be an active part of getting out the vote, meet other democrats living in Germany and give your input on the DAG political process.
Many from our Stuttgart Chapter are already planning to attend. If you would perhaps like to share accommodations, and/or travel with others from our region, contact Ann at [email protected]
8. Looking Ahead:
We are making an effort to schedule our chapter meetings for "first-Fridays" and our Pub nights for "third-Thursdays" whenever possible.
We will also be scheduling additional events each month which don't always make in into our newsletter. So do check in on our Stuttgart Chapter website and Facebook page for the latest updates on events!
Mark your calendars now for these future events:
- Pub Night, Thursday, February 22 at 7 pm. Location TBD
Chapter Meeting and Round Table Discussion with
Stuttgart Fulbright Alumni Friday, March 2nd,
Forum 3 Café, Gymnasiumstr. 21, 70173 Stuttgart, 7 pm
I look forward to seeing you at one of our events.
Happy BLUE Year,
Chair, Stuttgart Chapter
A Letter from our Co-Chairs,
Carol Moore and Lan Wu
Our monthly meeting on November 15th was inspiring, with over 35 members joining us for a talk by Dr. Ronda Zelezny-Green on Intersectionality, followed by two workshops led by Ronda and DAUK WC Vice-Chair Kate van Dermark. That triggered extensive discussion and great ideas on how to move forward in 2018! In December, we will have a social gathering on the 13th, followed by the January 21st Anniversary of the Women's Marches (in DC, London, and worldwide), and there will be a DAUK WC activist "faire" called "March to the Ballot Box 2018"! So, we hope you all can join us for the chance to mingle and plan for activism (from the UK or when you're back in the States) to take back Congress next November!
Wasn't the November 7th Election Night a fantastic event? It was a combination of grassroots activism and an expanded number of Democratic candidates that resulted in the impressive wins in Virginia, New Jersey, and across the country. Women were out in force, with Northam winning the women's vote by a majority of 22%. Also, in Virginia, 11 of the 15 seats Democrats have (so far) picked up were women candidates (one remain contested) and one Democratic candidate, Danica Roem, is transgender. Women also won mayoral races in Manchester (NH), Charlotte (NC), Topeka (KS), and Seattle (WA).
And women are coming out in force to run in 2018. We heard from Stephanie Schriock (President of EMILY's List) at her talk on November 2nd that over 18,000 Democratic women have contacted EMILY's List to ask for information on running next November! Several political commentators are calling the November 7th election the start of a Democratic wave, combining Trump's record-low approval ratings (November 12-15 Gallup Poll gave Trump only a 38% approval rating) with high levels of Democratic activism and high Democratic scores in "generic" Congressional polls (+10%). We can be quietly optimistic, but need to prepare for hard work and commitment to convert these positive trends into success!
With best wishes to you and your families for a very happy holiday season,
Carol Moore and Lan Wu
Ann Hesse published Political Discussion on Trump Foreign Policy with DA Germany Chair in News 2017-12-06 09:56:50 -0500
We would like to thank our DA Germany chair, Owen Jappen, who paid us a visit in Stuttgart recently and skillfully defended our liberal principles in a political discussion on Trump foreign policy.
Representatives from a number of political organizations took part in the friendly debate at the Stuttgart Rathaus, including members of the Young Transatlantic Group, the Young European Federalists and the United Nations Human Rights council.
Even a representative from Republicans overseas joined in the discussion on topics that ranged from North Korea to the Iranian Nuclear agreement.
Our next round table discussion will be in March, with members of the Stuttgart Fulbright Alumni Association. If you enjoy hearing alternative points of view, and would even like to jump into the fray yourself, you won't want to miss it.
Details will be coming soon!
Looking for a unique holiday gift with real world impact?
The 2018 Global Women's Caucus Calendar is now available! Take a look!
These high-quality calendars celebrating women's firsts, make wonderful Holiday gifts for American daughters, nieces, sisters , friends. and even yourself!
Order here: https://democratsabroad.nationbuilder.com/gwc_2018_calendar
Ann Hesse published Great Info and Lively Discussion at our special meeting on taxation of Americans living abroad! in News 2017-10-22 07:15:53 -0400
Many thanks to our two Stuttgart Chapter "Tax Divas" Julia and Kristy, who lead this important discussion on US tax policy as it affects Americans living abroad.
The presentation covered many aspects of this complex topic including FACTA, FBAR, and RBT. If you don't know what any of that Alphabet soup means, you can follow this link and check out DA's comprehensive resource, Tax Reform for Americans Abroad Campaign in a Box .
Rich or poor, student or retiree, we learned that we are all in the same boat when it comes to these unfair tax policies.
But we also learned that DA is mounting an aggressive campaign in Washington to bring us some relief!
Our Democrats Abroad Global Taxation Tax Force has been knocking on doors in Washington this month to bring the particular issues of Americans living abroad to the attention of our legislators, many of whom are not even aware of our situation!
They have also presented the results of an extensive DA global taxation survey and their research report, "Can We Please Stop Paying Twice" to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
For those of you with questions about the residency-based taxation reforms DA is promoting please check out the RBT FAQs which, importantly, explains the distinction between the policy approach Democrats Abroad supports and the policy supported by Republicans Overseas. Democrats Abroad will not support a tax policy that opens up a new tax avoidance loophole.
The criteria Democrats Abroad will apply to any package of tax reforms are fully articulated in this presentation from our September Tax Advocacy Webinar and also profiled in h report.
Unfair tax policy is one of the main issues for Americans living abroad. We thank our team here in Stuttgart for all the information they shared with us, and we thank our global taxation task force for all their efforts on our behalf. Good Work!
by Nancy L. Coleman, Ph.D.
From the series: The GWC examines Women's Policy around the world
Demonstration for women's suffrage in New York, 1913
Norway is a parliamentary, representative, democratic, constitutional monarchy. This is a mouthful of characteristics, but for all practical purposes it means that Norway has a monarch who has symbolic power only. The actual governing power is invested in the Parliament (called Stortinget). Following a parliamentary election, which takes place every four years, the government is formed by the majority party, or a coalition of parties. The head of the Executive branch is the Prime Minister. The PM is not elected to that position, but usually comes from the largest party in the Parliament and is designated when the Government is formed. The Government and Parliament cooperate in enacting laws.
Even though his role is mostly symbolic, King Harald V plays an active role in Norwegian society. Norway has been changing rapidly, partly due to immigration from war zones in Africa and the Middle East. In exercising their official duties, King Harald and Queen Sonja show that they want to foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness and unity in a country that is challenged by the rather sudden diversity. Queen Sonja is very concerned with women´s issues and calls herself a feminist. She is also a talented graphic artist and photographer.
Norwegian Women and Political Power
Erna Solberg is the current Prime Minister, and 7 of the 18 cabinet members are women, including Siv Jensen in the powerful position of Minister of Finance. Policies that foster gender equality are outspoken goals in the cabinet and Parliament, but it is not easy to attain it. An important goal is for each sex to have at least 40% representation in Parliament. In the Parliament elected in September 2013, 39.6% of the members of parliament (MPs) are women. Norway ranks 14th globally in the percentage of women in Parliament. Of the Nordic countries Iceland ranks highest, 47.6 % women and ranked number 4, after Rwanda (61.3%), Bolivia (53.1%), and Cuba (48.9%). Sweden is number 6, with 43.3% women. Denmark has 37.4% women and ranks 22nd. All of these countries have a unicameral legislature. In comparison, the USA has 19.1% women in the House, 21% in the Senate, and ranks 104th.
The most recent national election was held on September 11, 2017. Erna Solberg and her Conservative bloc were given renewed support and will continue to govern. The representation of women in the Parliament increased to 41%, 69 of 169 representatives, the largest percentage women have ever achieved. The Center Party has the most women representatives, 10 out of 19, with Labor in second place, 24 out of 49 representatives. The Conservatives have 20 women out of 45 representatives.
Like many Western democracies, Norway has many political parties, 15 in the most recent election. Nine parties are represented in the new Parliament, and the government is a coalition consisting of the Conservative and Progress parties, with support from the Christian Democrat and Left parties. Women chair three of these four parties: Erna Solberg (Conservatives), Siv Jensen (Progress), and Trine Skei Grande (Left).
(Photo left: The first women member of Parliament, Anna Rogstad, who served in 1911, before Norwegian women got the vote in 1913)
Women in Norway gained the right to vote in 1913, but it took several decades before significant numbers of women became active participants in politics. As in many other countries, women mobilized in the 1970s in the new feminist movement. They brought feminist issues into the political agenda, asserting the right to equal pay, that society should provide childcare, that women should decide themselves whether to have an abortion, and they proposed a 6-hour working day.
In 1986, Gro Harlem Brundtland became the first woman Prime Minister in Norway. She formed a cabinet in which nearly half of the members were women, and this attracted international attention. This has set a standard for subsequent governments, even though the work is not finished.
International Cooperation on Gender Policy
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but it cooperates with the EU, the UN, the European Council, and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Norway has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and reports regularly on its progress. (The USA has signed but not ratified it.) After Denmark, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU, Nordic cooperation was toned down for a few years, but it is now being intensified once again. One of the key areas for cooperation is promoting gender equality, as there is wide consensus that gender equality policy has been one of the most important factors in the success of the Nordic welfare state, which has proven capable of designing a sustainable welfare model that promotes the "good life" for every individual.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is a cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Oland. The Council has cooperated on gender equality since 1974, developing similar policies in the member nations. In 2017, the Council is conducting a Sectoral Program for Gender Equality, which Norway will chair since it holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers this year. Four main priorities in this project are: work to combat violence, work to combat hate speech, gender equality in the labor market, and men and gender equality. Conferences are being held to address each of these areas, and the results of the project will eventually create common policies.
Gender Equality Policy in Norway
Norway has been developing gender equality policy for several decades. In 1978, Parliament adopted the Gender Equality Act, and it was last revised in 2013. The Act shall promote gender equality and aims in particular at improving the position of women. Women and men shall be given equal opportunities in education, employment, and cultural and professional advancement. Gender equality policy has broad reach and is incorporated into many departments and governmental agencies, but the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, currently led by Solveig Horne (Progress Party), is responsible for coordinating family and equality policy and proposing legislation. The Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization also play important roles. Gender equality is an integral part of the school curricula. Gender equality must be considered when hiring for teaching and research positions in higher education. If one sex is underrepresented, applications from the other sex are specifically invited, and qualified candidates from the underrepresented gender often take precedence. On all official committees, boards and councils, each gender must have at least 40 % of the members. The Ministry of Defense is also implementing policy to create gender-neutral armed forces. Girls born in 1997 and later will be serving in the military in larger numbers. About a third of those drafted and cleared for military service in 2016 were women. Women have served as Ministers of Defense since 1999, and in fact, with the exception of the years 2001-2002 and 2011-2012, all of the Ministers of Defense who have served since then have been women. Ine Eriksen Søreide (Conservative Party) is the current minister.
Gender equality policies will eventually impact all areas of society. Policies have been developed and more or less successfully integrated into the following areas: families and relationships; work, welfare and the economy; power and decision-making; education and research; crime and violence; peace and development; culture, media and sports; and health and reproductive rights. Gender policy is still being developed in other areas: transport and communication; finance; agriculture and food; fisheries and coastal affairs; petroleum and energy; and the environment.
One important policy area is women's health. Norway has universal health coverage, and it is a guiding principle that a woman has the right to make decisions regarding her own body. Women have the right to free health services during pregnancy and childbirth. There is easy access to contraception, and the Abortion on Demand Act, passed in 1978, regulates a woman's right to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The woman may decide herself in the first 12 weeks, while a commission must approve an abortion from 12-13 weeks, and except in exceptional circumstances, it is outlawed after 13 weeks. There are 16.2 abortions per 1000 women in the age group 15-44 years. In 2016, the US abortion rate fell to 14.6 per 1000 women, and this was the lowest since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.
Gro Harlem Brundtland became the first woman Prime Minister og Norway in 1986. Forty percent of her cabinet were women.
Much of Norwegian gender policy is centered around women's role as mothers. The system includes rights to parental leave, social security payments for children, leave to take care of sick children, and the right to childcare through a pre-school from the age of 1.
All countries have a goal of maintaining a stable population, among other things to ensure that the workforce is constantly fed with new generations. But Western countries have seen the fertility rate declining, and this has caused concern for the future of western democracies. Women are taking more education and participating in the workforce in increasing numbers, they are marrying and starting their families later and having fewer children. With an eye to making it easier for couples, but women in particular, to combine work with parenting, Norway has developed policies with the goal of making it easier to combine work and family.
In order for a population to remain stable, the fertility rate needs to be 2.1, that is that each woman needs to have on average slightly more than 2 children. In 1970, the fertility rate in Norway was 2.5, but by 1980, it had dropped to 1.72. Policies for longer paid parental leave and other measures seemed were developed, and these seemed at first to have a very beneficial effect, bringing the fertility rate up to 1.98 in 2009. Other European countries, like Italy, where the fertility rate was hovering around 1.4, sent delegations to Norway to study the impact of the family policies. However, the next years showed that there were no easy solutions to alleviate a falling birth rate. Every year since 2009, the fertility rate in Norway has declined, and in 2016, it was 1.71. Even so, it is one of the highest in Europe and other western style democracies.
When a child is born, parents in the workforce have the right to parental leave of 49 weeks at full pay, or 59 weeks at reduced pay. Parents of twins have the right to 54 weeks at full pay, 64 at reduced, and parents of triplets 59 or 69 weeks. In the case of adoption, the rights are usually the same. Single parents have the right to a leave of 2 years. In addition, two-parent families may take an additional year of leave, but the second year is without pay. Employers are required to grant parents parental leave, and the social security system refunds some or all of the salary to the employer. The refund has a maximum limit, and if a parent has a larger salary, it is up to the employer whether the remainder is also paid during leave. A pregnancy or leave may not be grounds for dismissal from a job. Parents who are not in the workforce receive a one-time sum of ca. $5475 for each child born.
One goal is to ensure that both the mother and father enjoy equal rights to parental leave, so the leave is currently divided into a father quota and a mother quota, each consisting of 10 weeks, with the remainder to be divided as the parents see fit. The mother must also take the last 3 weeks before her due date as part of her leave, and the six weeks after the birth are reserved for her. The work environment law also gives the father the right to a 14-day leave in connection with a birth. However, his employer decides whether it is paid or unpaid leave. Only in special cases can the father and mother quotas be transferred to the other parent.
The father quota was originally 14 weeks, but the Conservative government has reduced it to 10, in an effort to give the parents more freedom in dividing the leave to suit themselves. Analysts warned that this would lead to a reduction in the length of leave that fathers would be willing to take, and this has proved to be the case. There is at present general consensus that the father quota should be increased.
Women in the workplace who are nursing have the right to nurse or pump milk while at work. This time is paid leave of up to an hour a day.
Norway acknowledges the fact that children cost money. Parents receive $115 a month for each child up to the age of 18. Single parents may receive additional aid. Working parents have the right to stay home with sick children up to the age of 12, 10 days per year for parents of 1-2 children, 15 for 3 or more. Single parents have 20/30 days of sick leave to care for sick children, and if your child has a chronic illness, the quota will be extended by an additional 10 days.
When a child turns one, the parents have the right to childcare at a local nursery school and kindergarten, and children continue in this system up to the age of 6, when they generally start school. Parents pay for nursery school, but there is a maximum payment, and siblings are given a rebate. Childcare is subsidized for parents who cannot afford it, so that all families can exercise their right to qualified childcare.
Care of Elderly Family Members
Employees have the right to 60 days' leave to provide care for elderly family members or others dependent on their care. Employers decide whether this is paid or unpaid leave, but employers may apply for "care funds" refunded for an employee taking such leave. Employees may also take up to 10 days off to help elderly or sick family members who need help not otherwise provided.
Managerial Positions, Professorships, and Boards
In 2016, a number of new proposals were approved to help increase the number of women in managerial and board positions. The government had commissioned an assessment of gender equality, delivered to the Parliament in 2015. The opposition felt that the proposals did not do enough to promote women in leadership positions, and they suggested additional measures. Majority support for the most radical measures came from the parties not presently in the government: the Left, Labor, Christian Democrats, Center Party, and Socialist Left Party. These proposals targeted board rooms, with a goal of 40% female board chairpersons in publicly owned companies, new strategies to recruit women managers and university professors, stipulations to counter gender-based salary inequalities, the replacement of part-time with full positions, and a system of extra credits to equalize the number of girls and boys taking high school curricula traditionally dominated by one sex.
Egg Donation and Frozen Eggs
Two fairly new issues being debated as I write are egg donation and having one's eggs frozen. In their platforms for 2013-2017, the Progress Party, the Left, Labor and the Socialist Left Party all approved egg donation, while Conservatives, the Center Party and the Christian Democrats oppose it. The Green Party has proposed to rescind their disapproval in their new platform. This issue splits the parties in discordance with the government coalition, with the Conservatives and Christian Democrats opposing it, and the Progress Party and the Left supporting it. All of the parties are in the process of developing platforms for the next period, and the Conservatives are currently vigorously debating the question, while the Christian Democrats are throwing their weight around hoping to influence the Conservatives to continue opposing it.
In today's society, women often do not find a partner with whom they have children until their childbearing years are on the wane. An increasing number of women have eggs frozen before it is too late, so that they might have children later. In Norway, it is not permitted for women to have their eggs frozen, and an increasing number have therefore had them frozen abroad. Politicians are debating whether this policy should be changed, but there is fairly broad consensus that there are good reasons not to encourage women to become mothers after their natural childbearing years have ended. It is better to emphasize policies so that women can combine motherhood and careers when their bodies are designed for it.
Erna Solberg is the current Prime Minister. Party chairs in the Conservative bloc: Siv Jensen (Minister of Finance, Progress Party), Erna Solberg (Prime Minister, Conservative Party), Knut Arild Hareide (Christian Democrats), Trine Skei Grande (Left Party)
New Areas for Gender Policy Development: Violence against Women, Media, and Technology
One important "new" issue is gender based violence. Even though this has been a problem for a long time, there is more awareness of it today, as well as a will to address it through policy. Thanks to the women's movement and social scientists, it has been placed on the socio-political agenda. Gender based violence encompasses a wide range of human rights violations: sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, the trafficking and prostitution of women and children, as well as several harmful traditional practices, such as genital mutilation. Women are commonly the victims of gender based violence. Violence threatens the health, security, and dignity of its victims. Male violence against women and children is seen as a hindrance to achieving gender equality, and it is now being addressed by the Government.
Another new area is media and technology. In recent years there has been a tendency for mainstream culture to adopt the imagery and esthetics of pornography. Women are seen as objects, and the public space has undergone sexualization and "pornographization". The Gender Equality Act forbids advertising that discriminates on the basis of gender, and the law has been invoked in connection with a number of sexualized advertisements that were subsequently withdrawn.
Information and communication technology is also being addressed as a gendered phenomenon. On the one hand, it is desirable to make ICT available to all citizens. On the other hand, the widespread use of social media in our time has had some negative effects that help spread hate speech, sexual harassment, child pornography, and human trafficking.
Public opinion usually gives strong support to gender policies, as well as the goal of creating a society with equal rights and opportunities for women and men. Women politicians also command wide respect and support from their constituents. So how are the policies themselves working out?
Even though Norway has spent several decades developing gender policies, it is early to draw sweeping conclusions. But there are many indications that there are benefits to be drawn from a society that makes it possible for women and men to participate more or less equally in all sectors of public and private life. The Armed Forces, for example, which for generations was a man´s domain, see the participation of women as very positive. Women have changed and improved many aspects of military life, from leadership to daily life in the barracks, where women and men often share sleeping quarters – for sleep, not sex! Recent research shows that the number of sexual harassment cases has gone done, and both women and men feel that sharing sleeping quarters makes it easier to concentrate on the task at hand.
An important goal for many countries is to get women into the workplace and keep them there. Population studies show that this goal is in fact vital for countries to survive. The populations of many European countries are literally in the process of dying off. Ukraine is the country that has lost the most population, 9.5 million people since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1993. But Romania, Moldova, Latvia, Bosnia Hercegovina, Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Montenegro, and Germany are also in the threatened category. Macedonia, Slovenia, Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain will also experience significant loss of population. The Scandinavian countries, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Ireland, will experience growth. Norway is projected to have the highest growth rate, a population increase of 25.9%.
In Norway, generous family policies have helped numerous couples combine work and family life. But so far, they have not given the important political results of increasing the fertility rate to the sustainable 2.1. Trude Lappegård and Lars Dommermuth at the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics have looked at the fertility rates since the highpoint in 2009. Starting with 2010 the rate has gone down every year. Two factors are important: 1) women are waiting longer to have children, and 2) fewer are having a third child. But with such good family policies in place in Norway, why is this happening? According to Lappegård and Dommermuth, people want to have children just as much as before. But potential parents experience a lot of uncertainty regarding the general economic situation and their own access to the job market. Norway was not hit as hard by the financial crisis as many other European countries. Nevertheless due to other factors, there are fewer jobs, and there are many uncertainties for young people looking for work. Especially in areas where unemployment is high, the birth rate has sunk markedly. It now takes longer to get established in a job, and the path into the workforce is crucial for people to have children. Women in particular experience more uncertainty in their economic prospects and postpone having children. Minister of Finance Siv Jensen has emphasized the need for more women in fulltime positions, if Norway is to preserve and develop the welfare state. Studies have shown that stay-at-home moms or women who work part time have more children. There is no indication that it will be feasible to get more women into fulltime jobs and simultaneously increase the fertility rate.
However, there is every indication that generous family policies have been of benefit to Norway. Even though there is a running debate on the details, no one would suggest decreasing parental leave and terminating the other benefits mentioned above.
At the moment, France has the highest fertility rate in Europe (1.93), but this was the lowest rate in 40 years. French women are also going to school longer and giving priority to careers in the workplace. The trend is similar to the Scandinavian countries. But contrary to what many people believe, there are positive signs. The highest fertility rates in Europe are found in the countries where the most women are in the workforce. Experience from both France and Scandinavia shows that general female participation in the workforce is the most effective way to increase fertility. But it is dependent on good policies for prenatal healthcare, parental leave and childcare.
There is every indication that Norwegian gender policy is promoting a more egalitarian society and a country with a sustainable welfare system which can more easily survive and adapt to our changing world.
Nancy L. Coleman, Ph.D.
Ann Hesse posted about Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus: Energy and Persistence in a Time of Need on Facebook 2017-07-10 10:17:31 -0400Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus: Energy and Persistence in a Time of Need
By Erin Becker, DA Chile
The Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus is expanding its reach, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers in many countries around the globe. The Caucus is gearing up to make its mark on the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. It plans to be a catalyst to action on issues affecting American women, both in the United States and abroad.
Those interested in joining the Women’s Caucus can contact Caucus leaders Salli Swartz or Ann Hesse at [email protected].
The election of President Trump has seen a dramatic increase in threats to women’s rights. The president’s agenda poses many challenges to women’s health and well-being, such as the re-installment of the so-called Global Gag Rule; attempts to expand the rights of employers to deny contraceptive coverage in their company insurance plans; an uptick in attacks on abortion rights at the state level; and a health care bill that would repeal many of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions benefitting women and their families.
The Trump administration has also threatened the civil rights of some of the most underserved groups of women, including the withdrawal of Obama-era protections for transgender Americans and increased deportations and attacks on immigrant rights that leave women especially vulnerable.
Finally, the Republican-controlled government poses a great threat to women’s economic security, with a budget that would cut funding for many programs used by women in poverty––including nutrition aid for women and children––and a renewed indifference to the wage gap women across the United States still face.
The DA Women’s Caucus recognizes that this is a crucial time for action to defend and bolster women’s rights in the United States. Members are ready to take on these challenges. Ann Hesse, Stuttgart Chapter Chair in Germany and Co-Chair of the Global Women’s Caucus, notes that members across the world have been enthusiastic about increasing their involvement and founding in-country groups advocating for women’s rights.
For groups just getting started, activities include monthly online meetings and webinars featuring speakers from women’s groups and members of Congress. Medium-sized groups can begin forming their own country chapter of the Caucus, sponsor workshop weekends, and stage events. Finally, countries with well-established chapters can create their own working committees, hold teach-ins and film nights, and invite internationally-known speakers for live events.
On Inauguration Day, many Caucus members participated in the Women’s March, both in Washington, DC and around the globe. Large Caucus meetups have been held in Norway and Germany. On their own or with country committees, individual members from many different countries have written postcards to Congress and made phone calls advocating for women’s issues. In Latin America, Caucus members are currently working to establish a DA presence in Colombia and Haiti, with other countries to follow. New member Erin Becker has helped spread a pro-woman message outside the Democrats Abroad communication channels, blogging on reproductive rights in both Chile and the United States for Safe Abortion Women’s Right and Ms. Magazine.
Ann Hesse––the Caucus co-chair living in Germany––believes that Democrats Abroad members should take advantage of their view of the United States from the outside in. Many members have experienced life with the support of feminist policies already working well abroad: affordable healthcare, free education, a social security net, maternity and paternity leave, and more. Democrats Abroad members can use this knowledge and experience to advocate for similar programs in the United States. The Women’s Caucus strongly believes in their responsibility to spread this knowledge to other Americans, and to press the US government to provide these basic, common-sense programs for people back home.
It’s a challenging time for women’s rights in the United States, but one that Democrats Abroad is facing with energy, dedication, and persistence. Democrats around the world are making their voices heard––and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Ann Hesse posted about Call to Action : Women's Healthcare at risk! on Facebook 2017-06-26 12:13:02 -0400Call to Action : Women's Healthcare at risk!
Democrats Abroad Action Team UK has launched a series of actions on Health Care.
As you know, the American Health Care Act (or Trumpcare) could cause 23 million people to lose their health insurance.
Health insurance costs will rise for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
Women will lose their contraception coverage. Medicaid would be gutted. In an effort to bypass the criticisms of the bill, Senator McConnell has invoked Rule XIV, a fast track procedural step that moves the bill directly to the floor of the Senate without committee hearings.
This bill must be stopped.
We are asking you to call your Senators and urge them to vote against the AHCA.
Never called your Member of Congress? We have you covered.
Here are two scripts you can use.
Share your story and let your Senators know how the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will affect you or your family.
If your Senator supports repealing the Affordable Care Act or is on the fence:
My name is [your name] and I am a constituent of Senator [Senator’s name].
I am calling to ask that the Senator oppose the ACHA and any healthcare bill that contains similar provisions.
- Repealing the Affordable Care Act will disproportionally impact women, particularly low to moderate income women and women of color.
- The repeal bill would eliminate critical protections in the Affordable Care Act that prohibit discrimination against women in the provision of health care.
- Insurers would no longer be required to provide women coverage for services such as maternity care and they would be allowed to charge women more that coverage if they do offer it.
- And it will erode women’s access to reproductive healthcare by dismantling no-copay birth control and defunding the organizations that provide this care.
Healthcare is key to women’s well-being and economic stability.
I urge the Senator to stand up for [his/her] female constituents and oppose any repeal bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act.
[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your full voting address to ensure your call is tallied]
If your Senator opposes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
My name is [your name] and I am a constituent of Senator [Senator’s name].
I am calling to thank the Senator for opposing the ACHA and any healthcare bill that contains similar provisions.
- As the Senator is aware, repealing the Affordable Care Act will disproportionally impact women, particularly low to moderate income women and women of color.
- It would allow insurers to discriminate against women, deny them health coverage based on “pre-existing conditions”, and make insurance more expensive for women.
- And it will erode women’s access to reproductive healthcare by dismantling no-copay birth control and defunding the organizations that provide this care.
- I want to thank the Senator for standing up for [his/her] female constituents and opposing any repeal bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act.
Please urge the Senator to ask [his/her] colleagues to do the same.
[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your full voting address to ensure your call is tallied]
June 15, 2017 is the automatic IRS filing extension deadline for Americans overseas. In order to draw attention to our taxation issues, as well as to underscore that Trump has yet to release his tax returns to the US public, you can join in a virtual Tax March. Take a photo of yourself holding the sign "Show me your Tax Returns" and post to social media.
Download this Template and Print, Pose and Post to Participate!
Don't forget to use the hashtag #virtualtaxmarch so that we can find your photos and share to DA social media.
As you probably know, the US is the only developed nation that taxes its citizens on their world-wide income. As such, we are subject to taxation by the US on the income that we generate in our country of residence, no matter where we live, no matter how long we live abroad and regardless of whether we are taxed on that same income by our country of residence.
Our DA Taxation Task Force is spearheading a Grassroots campaign in support of Residency Based Taxation or RBT.
They are asking that we all pick up the phone to call our Representatives and Senators on June 15th - the tax deadline for international filers - and ask for their support for Residency Based Taxation.
A Fact Sheet on Residency-based Taxation can be found here
A Sample Script for calling your legislators can be found here
Find your legislators here:
This is one of the most important issues for Americans living abroad. So make your voice heard TODAY!
From our series "Meet the dynamic women of Democrats Abroad"
by Randi Milgram, DA UK
As women in America long for a leader to respect, the women in Democrats Abroad are fortunate to have such an intrepid leader in Salli Swartz, Co-chair of the DA Women’s Caucus with Ann Hesse. For decades, Salli has been fighting injustice around the globe, and there’s no stopping her now.
After growing up in Philadelphia and then Boston, Salli’s dedication to helping those in need started early in her life, as did her fascination with international events and foreign newspapers. She worked for Democratic party candidates in Massachusetts while being involved in women’s rights groups. After college at the University of Massachusetts and law school at SyracuseUniversity, she translated her desire to do good into a much-loved career in legal services. While working as a legal services attorney in rural Pennsylvania, Salli started a battered women’s safe house and defended abused women.
Salli’s career took a sharp turn when her husband’s work moved them to France and she couldn’t continue the same path. Fortunately, her determination was unrelenting, and her prior courtroom experience proved valuable to a firm that provided the foot in the door that she needed to jumpstart a successful career in France. She thus became a corporate transactional attorney doing deals worldwide for French and foreign companies. Her subsequent practice areas ranged from international arbitration to mergers & acquisitions as she gained experience and learned about the French legal landscape. After racking up years of experience, Salli and a French barrister friend founded their own law firm in Paris, allowing Salli to finally continue the kind of work she was always meant to do.
Throughout her work as a transnational business lawyer in France, Salli learned firsthand the difficulties of being a woman, and an American woman at that, in the male-dominated world of law and the male-dominated culture of France. “It was extra hard as a woman back then,” Salli said. Although the corporate culture, especially in law, still provides a difficult experience for women today, the outright sexism in the past was more obvious and the people more blunt. “I don’t think people will say the same things to women now as they did then,” Salli said. A lifelong feminist and fighter for women’s rights, Salli found that the problems she faced in her early career reinforced her passion to work for and defend women’s rights.
And despite the changing shapes that sexism takes, the obstacles women face today remain the same. “There’s a huge resistance to women lawyers who want to make it up the ladder in corporate law firms,” Salli said. She pointed out that the French legal environment is not striving to improve matters for women. “They don’t make a big effort in terms of hiring women, supporting families. They’re not as innovative as even some firms in the States are, who account for families and flex time.” Women are dropping out of the legal corporate world before they get higher up the ladder, possibly due to a lack of support and mentoring in addition to the culture tailor-made for men.
Observing, and experiencing, the unequal ways of professional life was a driving force for Salli’s interest in the Women’s Caucus. “Seeing this happen in France didn’t change my politics; it just makes me want to fight harder,” Salli said. A huge concern of hers currently is that that younger generation doesn’t know how hard she and her peers had to fight for the rights women now enjoy, and how much stronger the fight has to be, not only to attain further goals but just to protect what has already been won. “The current administration will try as hard as they can to take it away,” Salli said, noting that this was a big reason she was eager to co-chair the Women’s Caucus. “It felt like the women’s movement was slipping, and I really wanted to shake it up and reach out globally to make sure all American women are aware of what’s going on. We’re going to have to pick up the fight right away.”
With her politics and dedication to women’s rights driving her, Salli never lost track of the important work she wanted to do, including protecting and promoting the rule of law, fighting for women, and exposing corruption in different parts of the world. In a fortuitous meeting, Salli was introduced to an employee of the embassy in Paris who told her about a division of the State Department that would focus on African Services. This arm of the State Department called on Salli to go to Africa to run training programs. Salli started bringing other organizations into this ongoing, widespread work, including international bankers and lawyers. After participating and moving up the ladder for some 20 years, Salli became the chair of the International Law section of the American Bar Association. Continuing and growing this work, she participated in and/or organized delegations of American international lawyers to learn about the Rule of Law and support it in Lebanon, Jordan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda, and many, many more countries in the developing world.
Salli’s work in Africa let her do what she always wanted to do – simply put, help people and do good things. Her experiences rounded her out professionally, she says. The work entailed training government civil servants and society groups all over Africa and assisting them in recreating independent, strong judicial institutions. “More than most, they recognize how serious the threat to our judiciary is,” Salli said, in terms of corruption and deterioration.
This work also taught her a great deal not only about those countries and what they needed, but about the USA as well. “As an American, [I learned that] we are not globally adored,” Salli said. She learned how to figure out the preconceptions of other cultures in order to facilitate productive discussion. “I changed the manner in which I approach subjects,” she said. “I approach people there with much more humility and much more cultural awareness. For example, in part of the Arab world, the discourse is different so you need to adapt to get the message across in a constructive manner so you can be heard. In parts of Africa, it’s clear that solving the problems will take generations.” At the trainings she organizes in various countries, her hope is to get just one or two people each time to hear and really digest what she says. “Then I will feel I have been a success,” she said. “It’s really a drop-by-drop, step-by-step process.” This work has similarly informed her views on foreign relations: “It’s affected how I shape the message, but not necessarily the actual message,” Salli said. “It has reinforced all the views and values I have as a Democrat.” Traveling and experiencing and testing all her points of view by working with different cultures has indeed made Salli feel even more strongly about the principles of the Democratic party. “It made my politics stronger, to be supported by actual evidence of why what we say we stand for is the right way to go – particularly in regard to education, women’s rights, corruption in government, and resource development.”
As an expert in developing democracies, Salli is shocked by the current level of discourse in the USA. “Polite discourse is gone,” she said. “It’s difficult to have a debate or a discussion on different subjects without people screaming and using unpalatable expressions.” Also, despite her work in analyzing and preventing government corruption, she did not predict that the USA would suffer from such blatant conflicts of interest. “Conflict of interest was always clearly defined, but now? Maybe not,” she said. “And I always thought the First Amendment would be upheld. The ‘City on a Hill’ is no more. All is not well and it’s getting worse.”
Although her widely shared concerns about the current administration’s destruction of constructive discourse and integral governmental safeguards are appropriately grave, she has hope that likeminded women will be persistent and determined enough to win this fight. “You can’t be complacent. We need to push forward,” Salli said. “This is not the time to sit back and congratulate ourselves on everything we’ve done before. This is a fight to keep the rights to make decisions concerning our bodies.” This fight entails the Global Women’s Caucus looking to push this agenda forward now, by establishing priorities for action items and filtering it to the separate Women’s Caucuses worldwide. They also aim to create new caucuses, as many groups as possible spread to the farthest reaches of the globe to unite women across the world into the fight of our lives. “We need to be vocal, to get our bodies together and show we won’t be walked over,” she said.
Specifically, Salli’s shorter-term goals include teaching women in various countries how to start and run a caucus. The Women’s Caucus is also planning an upcoming teleconference with Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List, and it will be supporting all female candidates up for reelection in midterms and other upcoming elections. Smaller projects include sending a storm of postcards to Washington, making a 2018 calendar, posting tools to help new caucuses, posting a regular newsletter, and assisting local caucuses in their event planning and training. With the internet presence increasing and a steering committee being appointed, more and more vital work can be done as more people get involved and share their ideas and values. “We need to get input so we can get output,” Salli said, quoting her Co-Chair Ann Hesse. With every country’s priorities being different, the goal of the Global Women’s Caucus is not to lead top down but to facilitate the work they have chosen to do. “We want to create a space where there’s a dialogue so women Democrats know they are being supported,” she said. “That we are here for the women’s movement in general.”
Consequently, the most important thing Salli wants all members of Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus to know about the women’s movement is that our rights are in danger. “Our rights are being attacked, and we cannot accept that. We have to act as an opposition party and be unified in that role.” Salli’s optimistic view of the ability to do this is buoyed by her experience last July as a Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic Convention. Providing the opportunity to meet so many likeminded women and have access to so many important figures, the convention was one of the most meaningful and exciting events she ever participated in. “It was fascinating to watch how people interact with each other, how they lobby for their causes, and even though it’s highly choreographed there’s still so much excitement and so much hope. It was wonderful.” Salli said her memories of this event and all the people she met continue to give her hope.
Of course, it is still difficult to accept the outcome. To win the next election, Salli said the Democrats need to learn from their mistakes, primarily to learn humility. Leaders cannot be isolated from the street, from the people on the ground. “That’s why we lost,” she said. “You need to learn to be in contact with your troops, people on the street, and be on the ground and communicate better with members. It should be a system of messaging upwards and not sending a principle downwards. Voices need to be heard.” Likewise, these are the same goals Salli has for the Women’s Caucus – to communicate more efficiently and effectively and ensure that we work together to achieve necessary shared goals. Salli’s most important piece of advice for all the members of the Women’s Caucus and Democrats Abroad in general continues that theme: “Get active, speak up, and make your voices heard.”
by Randi Milgram, DA UK
By Nancy Coleman, DA Norway
From our series "Meet the dynamic women of Democrats Abroad"
Ann Hesse is co-chair of the Women's Caucus for Democrats Abroad, serving together with Salli Swartz. She is also the chair of DA Stuttgart. Ann lives in Ludwigsburg outside Stuttgart, Germany, with her Peruvian-German husband and two teenage daughters. Ann's own ethnic background is Irish and Italian, and her US roots are mainly in San Francisco. Her immigrant grandfather was a streetcar driver in the city, and his son, Ann's father, became a professor of Biomedical Engineering at the time when this was a new field. Her father pursued his career at a number of universities, moving his family to Houston, Boston, and Palo Alto during Ann's childhood.
As a Californian, Ann was not knowledgeable about the segregated world of the South. Ann lived in Houston from kindergarten through third grade. Their neighborhood was all white and Ann attended a school that was still segregated. Their house had a toilet at the back near the kitchen. No one in her family thought anything about it, and everyone used it when it was convenient. It wasn't until Kathryn Stockett's book and the subsequent film The Help came out that Ann realized that the toilet was a colored toilet intended for the cook and the maid. The Help suddenly put her Houston life in a context she was unaware of while she lived there.
Ann found political science fascinating and considered studying it, but her father told her that that subject was for men. Not yet feeling herself up to fighting in a man's world, Ann eventually settled on opera as a career choice. She did her undergraduate degree at Santa Clara and graduate work at Indiana University. Ann is a coloratura soprano and became an opera singer at San Francisco Opera.
Ann's story in Germany starts in 1986 with a lucky parking place. Her roommate in San Francisco, who was also at the SF Opera, had received a scholarship to Germany through the Goethe Institute. In connection with her friend's planned trip, Ann offered a drop- off at the Goethe Institute's office in San Francisco. She found a rare parking spot and on a whim, decided to go into the office and wait for her friend to conduct her business. It turned out that they had one more spot to go to Germany, and it was offered to her! Her course took her to Schwäbisch Hall in southern Germany for three months. This was her first trip outside the US.
In 1989, Ann auditioned for a position with the opera in Bielefeld, Germany, and when she got the position, she moved back to Germany to work there. From 1975-98, this opera gained international renown, and was known as the Bielefelder Opernwunder (opera miracle in Bielefeld). The company successfully revived a number of operas, and they also staged operas that had been considered entartete Kunst (degenerate art) by the Nazis and banned in the 1930s. Ann had roles in some of the rediscovered operas, as well as in the traditional opera repertoire.
1989 was a significant year in modern German history – the year that the Berlin wall fell, resulting in the reunification of Germany. Ann was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience these historical events firsthand. She went to Berlin, rented a chisel from a local who was also taking advantage of new opportunities, and started hammering away on the Berlin wall. It is fun to think that she was partially responsible for its destruction!
While in Bielefeld, Ann fell in love with her conductor, and they married. Ann married fairly late and had two daughters. After she settled into married life, she did not work outside the home. When she had her children, Germany was still a society with conservative gender roles, where mothers were expected to be homemakers. Schools sent the children home for a hot meal and mom's TLC at midday, and there was no childcare, unless you had a family network of grandmothers, aunts, or sisters who could help a working mother. So there was not much choice for women in Ann's situation. With more women entering the workforce, German society has had to adapt and is an entirely different place today.
Ann's family were Republicans of the comfortable, classic sort that used to be familiar. She grew up thinking that countries like Germany were able to provide things like free higher education because the US used its military resources to protect them, so they could have the luxury of providing services to their citizens. She was taught that social programs don't work anyway, and that they would eventually implode. Ann had American health insurance when she came to Germany, and was initially skeptical regarding socialized medicine. Ann was gradually swayed by what she had heard about universal healthcare as a government service, but she didn't think much about it. She was a young, healthy single, but she did support caring for those of fewer means, especially if they were honest and wouldn't abuse the system. But that was the point that had been engrained in her mind; in socialized medicine you would inevitably have millions of cheaters, who would abuse the innate trust and cause the system to collapse.
Her outlook changed when she discussed the subject with her husband. He pointed out that he would rather pay more for his healthcare so that a child who needed care could get it. But what about all the cheaters? Ann pressed him. He was willing to pay for them too, rather than risk that people who need care can't get it. That was a new way of looking at it, a "German, almost mathematical understanding of the reality" that Ann found convincing. Ann started evolving into a liberal. The experience of bringing up children in Germany made her see the light in so many ways, and she realized that so much of what she had learned as a child and taken for granted just wasn't true. She joined Democrats Abroad and has been involved in their work for many years now.
It has been a while since Ann has sung any arias. When her children no longer needed Mother at home, she didn't want to go back to working in opera. In fact, she was pretty tired of singing Mozart. A coloratura soprano voice is distinguished by agile runs, leaps, and trills. But what she no longer sings, Ann makes up for when she talks, with agile running comment on any number of subjects, leaps to asides, and trills alternating from subject to subject. But she has gotten to be a fan of symphonic metal, particularly the Finnish group Nightwish. You can learn a lot when you have teenage daughters, and Ann's musical universe has expanded accordingly. "Élan" which means 'hunger and thirst for life' is also a single by Nightwish, from their album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and a favorite of Ann's.
I asked Ann what she valued most about living in Germany. The runs and trills stopped for a moment, and then she settled on an understanding that German people have that there is a standard of decency. You are not on your own here, and no one questions that everyone has the right to education, healthcare, pensions, and help when life gets difficult. In return, you try to be the best and most productive citizen you can.
Ann sees life in the context of an anthropological view of tribal cultures, where a life consists of three phases. In the first phase, you develop your self. The second phase is devoted to your family. In the third phase, you give back to society. By 2015, Ann was looking for ways to use her talents to give back to society. She signed up for a DA Women's Caucus workshop in Göttingen, an act which became a turning point. Cheryl Sandberg's book Lean In was a major inspiration for the workshop, and the women were asked to find out how they could lean in for the common cause. The workshop was very inspiring, and Ann asked herself, "Why not lean in?". On the next Webex call, Salli Swartz said she needed a co-chair, and Ann volunteered. Soon she was doing training to manage the Global Women's Caucus's website and other media outlets.
Now that we have entered the era of the Orange Dragon, it is even more important for women to lean in where they can. Ann uses another metaphor to illustrate the important tasks ahead, the story of the cave in Plato's Republic. This allegory asks us to imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from birth. The people are chained so that they are forced to stare at the wall in front of them. They cannot look around, at each other, or themselves. Behind them there is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised walkway where other people walk back and forth carrying puppets of people and other living things. The light from the fire casts shadows of the puppets onto the wall, but the people manipulating the puppets are concealed from view by a wall. The prisoners can only see the shadows cast on the wall in front of them. The people carrying the puppets talk, and their voices echo off the walls. The prisoners believe that the sounds come from the shadows. But then one prisoner is freed. The person looks around and sees the fire, but the light hurts. Then someone drags the person outside into the sunlight. The person is in pain from the light and feels angry, but gradually shadows become visible, then people and things themselves. Eventually, the person realizes that the world outside the cave is superior to the world inside the cave, and the person goes back to bring the other cave dwellers into the sunlight.
For Ann, this is a good analogy of what the DA should do. The majority of Americans are imprisoned in the Cave of the Orange Dragon, and they have no idea how other countries address problems and find solutions to create a well-functioning democracy that works in the interest of its citizens. Outside in the sunlight there is healthcare, free education and a security net. The Women's Caucus is the freed prisoner who has seen the light. Now we must go back to the cave and tell the other prisoners about it. The other prisoners in Plato's cave did not believe what the freed prisoner told them, and their instinct was to attack and resist. Returning to the cave is not an easy task, but as we know now and believe: She was warned. Nevertheless, she persisted!
Ann sees great potential in the membership of the Women's Caucus. "Love is the context of what we are," she says. Members are spread out, of different ages and economic ability. But if the DA can tap the pool, these members have the resources to help bring about change in the Democratic Party.
Nancy Coleman, DA Norway
Ann Hesse published An interview with Dr. Radhika Puttagunta, a woman of science and Stuttgart chapter member in News 2017-04-10 11:38:53 -0400
Ever since her days as a high school student in Flint, Michigan, Radhika Puttagunta has known she wanted to be a geneticist. After receiving her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, Puttagunta left the American Midwest to join her husband in Germany, and she now runs the Neurogeneration Laboratory at the Spinal Cord Injury Center within the UniversityHospital in Heidelberg. We caught up with Radhika, 41, a member of the Stuttgart chapter of Democrats Abroad, as she was working on two grant applications and hoping to carve out time to participate in the April 22nd Science March in Heidelberg.
In an interview conducted via e-mail and telephone, Radhika took aim at the approach to science adopted by the new administration in Washington, D.C., described the challenges she faces as a woman in her male-dominated field in Germany, and talked about how she and her engineer husband manage two demanding careers and care for two young children.
How did you become a member of Democrats Abroad?
I was searching for groups for expatriate Americans when I first moved here about 10 years ago, and found Democrats Abroad, along with Writers in Stuttgart and the International Women’s Club, as well as a short-lived Book club. The first time I attended a meeting, however, was this year, as the group was undergoing internal changes. This was the first time I actually felt fear for my country and wanted to do something about it. I went to the February meeting because I believe that the country is headed sharply in the wrong direction. I was upset and so were several of my friends, whose anger registered with me via Facebook even from the other side of the world. I watched all this activism back home and wanted to be involved.
I had been so elated in 2008 with the election of President Obama, and thought we had turned a corner as a country. But after that election I saw that extreme factions grew stronger, with racism and anti-government sentiment coming to the forefront, and biased cable news programs dominating the media landscape. I was shocked as I watched friends back in the USA struggle to afford health care for their families and the start of teaching non-scientific topics within science education in schools. I felt things spiraling downward, and then with the 2016 election, the bottom fell out. Betsy DeVos, a person without any public education background, who pushed “school choice” in Detroit, Michigan effectively destroying that educational system, was named head of the Education Department, and Scott Pruitt, who is vehemently opposed to environmental preservation, was put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, just to name a couple of the many disappointments in a very short period of time.
What do you think of the new president’s approach to science?
I think it will have the exact opposite effect of what he says he wants, funding on results alone is not the way to go forward. Creativity and solutions cannot be rushed. Things such as basic science research are being defunded, to give preference only to science that can be translated into human health benefits. Why is this problematic? Because where do we find answers to our current problems? Often in nature. Understanding how it works and what solutions have naturally evolved help us find new breakthroughs. When we start to lose that inherent curiosity about the world around us and are only concerned with results, we most likely will lose out on the really transformative discoveries. What has made American science amazing and had the world knocking at our door was the amount we spent on ALL kinds of science. I think the biggest innovations came from funding innovative risky out-of-the-box ideas or basic exploratory science without a specific result in mind. Those moments when you think there is no way this will work but let’s try it anyway -- those are usually the moments that go down in history. When you pull your purse strings so tight there is no margin for error, well, science just doesn’t work that way, it is a process. I am of the field of thought that we should fund more science and education, this is the way forward. Find alternatives for lacking resources, find cures for diseases we never lived through before, find new ways to conserve. Look at our history, how much has come out of funding science, we are able to achieve it, but we must fund it. We need knowledge, not war and slashing 20% of the NIH budget will not help with that. Unfortunately funding science after things are destroyed or epidemics are started does not help solve problems, we must remain ahead of the curve.
How did you get to the job you do today and what does it involve?
I have wanted to be a scientist since high school and I have wanted to be a professor since I was 16. The reason? I love science but more importantly, I want to teach others about science so that when they go off and vote, they make informed decisions on things that not only affect my work but our lives as a whole. I don’t want people to vote out of fear or ignorance.
Classically trained as a geneticist, when I moved to Germany, I wanted to put my skills to work in the field of neuroscience. I find the brain and both nervous systems absolutely fascinating. There is no computer we have ever created or any invention that is even close to the human body. All of that is controlled by our nervous systems. Living in Stuttgart meant I had the choice between two well respected universities with excellent Neuroscience programs, Tuebingen or Heidelberg. After seven years of work at the University of Tuebingen, I have been running my own group at the University of Heidelberg for the past year. Although housed in a clinic, I do basic research, focusing on how to grow neurons again after a spinal cord injury. With that kind of injury, the damage means that the brain is no longer able to make a connection to the rest of the body – I like to say, the circuits are interrupted. I am doing research into how to regrow nerves, and re-establish the circuitry. We don’t just hope to make people overcome limb paralysis but regain bladder control, sexual function and overcome injury induced pain, issues often not highlighted in the field.
I currently have three PhD students I am training, along with one post-doctoral fellow, a lab manager and several rotating masters students. I am now working toward the “habilitation” certificate necessary to become a professor in Germany. Aside from running my laboratory I teach courses for Masters and Phd students and hope to develop new courses for medical and undergraduate students. I love the creativity of what I do, that I shape young minds and I get to experiment! I get to actually think of possible solutions to problems and try them out. I can find out if I was right or wrong, how great is that?!
Do you have family members who work in science?
Not exactly scientists but my parents are both physicians, in fact most of my family on my mother’s side are physicians, but my father’s side is a bit more diverse. My late paternal aunt was a chemistry professor in India. One maternal uncle has a PhD in chemical engineering and runs the research division at the New York Blood bank after having been a professor at UC Berkley for many years. I have maternal cousins who also have become professors now after pursuing medical degrees, they are wonderful researchers at prestigious US universities. I have one paternal cousin who is pursuing his biology PhD. We also have our share of engineers, business entrepreneurs, lawyers, software programmers and such.
Are there heroes whom you look up to?
Yes, of course! First and foremost, my mother, as she was a pediatrician with her own practice (now deservedly retired). Being our primary caretaker, as my father was working quite a bit, she somehow she made it all work. She never missed an event at school, any doctor appointments or meetings. We grew up doing pretty much any activity you can think of, piano, karate, Bharatanatyam dance, Girl Scouts, guitar, basketball, tennis, horseback riding, etc. I am sure I missed some activities in there. Anyway, she was incredibly busy with us running around on top of running her own business. So when people ask me how I’m able to do something they view as extraordinary, I just don’t see it that way. I’m doing what I see as every day normal. I should also state that all four of my maternal aunts are just like my mother, doctors with families. As I said, it has always been my norm. That said I now know after haven been through it that it involves hard work and dedication; they are my heroes, especially my mother.
I was so fortunate to have an amazing undergraduate advisor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who raised her two children while successfully building her research laboratory. She is German but now also an American citizen. She is an accomplished scientist, mother and choir member. Her talents are truly endless. Again, this showed me at a young age that you can have it all, you truly can be a mother and successful in your career.
Do you participate in any networks for women in science? Are you helping to organize any events around the Science March?
There aren’t that many for women at my level here in Germany, but I am involved in a mentorship program that is linked to a collaborative grant I am a part of. I did start a group in Tuebingen for female investigators after they finish their PhD and it has continued after my departure. Maybe one day I will get the chance to start a similar one in Heidelberg. Regarding the marches – unfortunately no organizing as I am really stretched for time right now. I must get two grants out by the end of the month, and for now everything else must wait. I hope to march in Heidelberg if I have the time. I was so disappointed to be out of the country at the time of the Women’s March and unable to participate.
Have you encountered problems at work because of your gender?
I have to say that in German culture, both men and women, are quite tough on full-time working mothers. It seems to be the belief that the mother should stay at home while the children are young. So I get shocked looks or comments to indicate such after I mention my full-time job and all the commuting I do. I have lots of female friends in the US who work and they don’t hear similar criticism for working full time with young children. You have to remember many of them grew up in daycares, after school programs or with babysitters and we didn’t find doing so to be detrimental in anyway. There are very few women here at my position or higher, so there aren’t many role models to turn to, and probably why I have inadvertently became a de facto role model to others. Do I feel women still have to work harder to prove themselves than men do in science? Yes. Does the data back me up? Yes. I still don’t see why me having two X Chromosomes would make me any less of a scientist or capable than someone with a X and Y Chromosome.
Most of my colleagues are men, and although they may be more involved at home than previous generations most of them have full support through stay-at-home spouses. They don’t need to come home and worry about running the laundry so the kids have clean clothes for school in the morning. Is there an upside to all of this? Well, I am not sure how to explain it exactly but once you become a mother you find you become hyper focused and very efficient. I guess it is due to extreme necessity that may have been lacking before. Having a family in this field and being a woman even frames the smaller decisions. For example: I actually thought twice whether to put photos of my kids up at work. If a man does that, it’s, “Oh, how sweet.” But I might hear, “Such young children – that must be difficult for you to balance?” I could make life easier for me by hiding that part of my life but I don’t see any reason to apologize for my full life. So not only do I have their pictures up but also drawings they have done recently. I don’t dwell on the kids but I also do not ignore their existence.
Biology is a field that starts out with about 50% women in PhD programs. By graduation you have already lost some of those women, in the post-doc years many more leave and very few stay after that. Those that do are typically not married, or if they are, they don’t have children. Those that do either of those two definitely don’t have multiple kids. Those of us that have opted for those three cardinal sins are considered to be a rare breed. Only time will tell if I can break through the glass ceiling, but I am not giving up. I want my kids to see that nothing can stand in your way when you want something. Not your gender, not your ethnicity and not your nationality.
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Feminism means to me supporting women in their choices, careers and dreams just as much as we do men. I am not under the illusion that there will be complete equality as our biology does not for allow for it in some ways, but I do believe we can have intellectual and job equality.
To do my part I actively speak about things I have experienced that I think women do not discuss freely enough about; dealing with infertility; not loving every moment of being a mother; raising a kid your way, and that way may be a mash-up of different cultures; choosing to breastfeed or not; marriage is hard work; speaking your mind and feeling that you deserve to be heard; knowing yourself truly and your own desires before getting involved with someone else; being abundantly clear with your significant other, they are not able to read your mind; that quality is better than quantity of time with kids; making sure to look after your own health because too often we let our health slide to unhealthy depths; and that not everyone needs to marry or have kids and that is perfectly ok. As you can imagine the list goes on and I think we benefit from having more open discussions without fear of judgement but support of our sisters.
Have you had to deal with failures or major obstacles, and if so, what did you do to get past them?
Unfortunately, I had a very verbally abusive PhD advisor. He was pretty horrible. Whatever his reasons were he took out his life frustrations on me. I nearly dropped out of graduate school because I thought he was right when he told me I was stupid and lazy, because the experiments didn’t work the way he wanted. It took all I had in me to pick myself off the floor literally and crawl my way back to graduation. I asked for help and no one was willing to help, probably because he was careful to keep the abuse hidden. What it taught me was resilience, to keep asking for help, that failure is OK, and learning from it is crucial, but most importantly, to never, ever, let someone have that type of control over me again. I now feel that if I could make it through that I can make it through just about anything.
What might a friend or family member say when asked to describe a characteristic or experience that would define you?
I have never been “normal”. It may have been from being a first generation American and bridging two cultures, maybe it is from being a woman in a male dominated field, maybe it is being a minority, or just a combination of all of them. I have never felt that I fit in any box, but I am OK with that, I am uniquely me and I like that. Strangely I always felt that was what being American was about, and I am seeing nowadays that I may have been mistaken.
What do you like to do in your free time?
What is this “free time” you speak of? No, seriously I used to have many hobbies but life got busy with kids, working full time and commuting previously 1.5 hours daily to now 3 hours daily. I used to play tennis, read, choreograph bellydance and write poetry. I hope to get back there one day. I teach my students that creativity outside of the lab breeds creativity in the lab, I really do believe that.
Where do you find inspiration, or cause for hope?
In nature and medicine. Look at all that is around us, how amazing is it? I get to study that. Look at the human body, can you think of anything more complicated and intricate, yet more beautiful or functional? I can’t. Look at all the strides we have made so far in medicine. Those strides come from scientists like myself tolling away behind the scenes, rarely getting any credit. Why do we do it? Simply because we couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I may not like every aspect of my job, but for the most part I have my dream job.
How did you and your family end up in Germany?
My husband is German. We met while he was studying abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The agreement was that whoever graduated first would move to the other person’s country, and then whoever moved got to make the decision on where to live next when the other one graduated. Needless to say, I graduated first and I decided we would remain in Germany. I decided raising a family the way I want to would be easier in Germany. While we may not make more money here, we have more services easily accessible to us, such as reasonably affordable healthcare and childcare, greater personal safety due to less gun violence, strong funding of science, paid parental family leave and better work-life balance, decent roads (take a trip to Michigan and you’ll see why that is on the list), and strong free public education through university level, so I can actually save for retirement. Oh, I also like that it is quite easy enough to pop over to another country to experience their culture, and that you get enough vacation time to do so. That is just so crazy to me, even though I been here for 10 years now.
How old are your children, and are they in German schools?
My son is seven and my daughter turns four soon. My son is in first grade at a German elementary school, my daughter is in a full-time pre-school. Both have gone to child-care or pre-school programs since they were nine months old, mostly full time. I worked part-time after a year off following the birth of my son, only because I couldn’t find full-time daycare. After having my daughter and taking a year off, I returned to work full time.
Have you taken them to your workplaces?
Yes, they have been to my labs. I talk about science with them. It is really important that you talk about what you do with everyone. My feeling is, if I can’t explain what I do to everyone, including children, then I’m not all that good at what I do.
How do you and he work out the balance in your careers and family life?
Lots of people have asked me how this works. My husband knows how cut-throat it is in academia, and how much I want to be in it, and have wanted it my whole adult life. Since I got the position in Heidelberg and commute so much, about 3 hours a day, he has stepped up even more and cut his hours back at work. This was his choice and I love that he supports me and our family. He is now the primary caretaker, meaning he drops them off and picks them up, he does the grocery shopping and cooking (he is quite talented in the kitchen and has always had this role in our relationship), he deals with bills and taxes, he does the doctor appointments and parent evenings. What do I do? I do the most I can in the time I have. I make time in the morning and evening for the kids and also the weekends. All of the rest of the household duties fall to me. I am lucky my husband knew himself well enough to know whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He really listened to me when I said science was a big part of who I am and having a family did not mean giving that up. My husband and I may be as different as day and night but maybe that is why we work, we complement each other well, my strengths are his weaknesses and vice-versa.
Besides my husband, our full-day pre-school and full-day school, I must give credit to my in-laws. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I always said I would live either near my parents or his. I grew up on the other side of the world from my grandparents and I didn’t want that for my kids. Not only do the grandparents spend a lot of time with our kids, but they bail us out whenever we need help. They do it willingly, they love their grandkids and seeing that makes my heart swell. I have been blessed many times over.
Where is home for you?
When I am speaking and say home I could be referring to Germany or the US, it depends on the context. However, it is funny you ask this, it was part of my wedding vows. When you are first-generation American and you look like me many “Americans” don’t think I belong. So I am not considered really American by Americans and not really Indian by Indians. I AM American and only lived in the US until moving to Germany. We did three-and-a-half years across an ocean long-distance, including one-and-a-half years after getting married. Anyway, my wedding vows said that I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere truly until I met my husband and home is where he is. That is how I feel, where we are together is home, the place doesn’t matter, the person you spend your life with does.
I am completely a Midwest girl, born and raised – born in Park Ridge, Il. (Chicago adjacent, where Hillary Clinton grew up). My parents immigrated from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, and had lived with the fighting in Ireland before moving to Chicago. From there we went to Detroit and then on to Flint, Michigan. I know people have heard about Flint in the news recently, but it was really a great city to grow up in back in the day. People don’t realize it was very affluent – previously known as BuickCity, home to the General Motors Institute (now KetteringCollege), a very good engineering college. The old downtown was paved with cobble stones, there was the Flint Institute of Art, the opera, the ballet, MottCollege and AutoWorld. There was a lot going on in Flint, but then when Buick moved out, there wasn’t much diversification, and things went downhill.
I was shaped by growing up in southeastern Michigan, and I thought everywhere was as diverse as that. We had lots of African-Americans, Indian-Americans, the Arab population was the third largest outside of the Arab world, there was a sizable Latino population. It was like that when I went to college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, I was in for a bit of a shock. 9-11 happened while I was there, and you could start to feel the tension. When I ventured out of southern Wisconsin I realized the state was relatively homogenous and I wasn’t always welcome there.
It is hard to put into words. Somehow the US was different when I was growing up, there was racism but maybe it was more hidden and now it is more in your face. Priorities seemed to have changed. People used to be more open and helpful, now they just seem frightened and it isn’t always clear of what.
What do you hope to be able to look back on later in life?
I hope when I look back that I will see that I raised two strong independent thinking children, married the man I love and respect, I was able to add to the knowledge base out there in my field and move it forward. I hope to train some students that will continue as good academic scientists as well as others who will branch out into other fields. All in all, I hope that my existence makes a difference.
Thanks for your time, and your willingness to tell us about your life as a
"woman of science."