Saturday, December 10, 2016

World Human Rights Day

Celebrate Human Rights Day and celebrate yourselves!  While we have focused the last several weeks on an anticipated backlash on human rights, let's be mindful of the progress that we have made in injecting the human rights framework into the US advocacy and academic dialogue.

Each of you has played no small part and are honored on this day.  The community is thriving despite tremendous challenges.  We have learned to lean on each other and build upon each others work.  This is an era we will survive through community.  We will survive the challenges by respecting the dignity of all human beings and tending to the care of each other.  Thanks to you!


December 10, 2016 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Life of Hope Lewis: Activist, Scholar, Teacher

We are saddened to report the passing of Hope Lewis, Professor at Northeastern University School of Law.  Professor Lewis was a passionate voice for human rights at home and abroad, and a leading scholar on economic, social and cultural rights.  Hope's colleague, Professor Margaret Woo, contributes to this account of Professor Lewis' life and her many accomplishments.  

L. Hope Lewis passed away on December 6, 2016 after a long and courageous battle with illness. Beloved daughter, treasured friend to many, champion of the poor and disadvantaged around the globe.

Born on May 14, 1962, Professor Lewis was a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School. She joined the Northeastern University School of Law faculty in 1992. A passionate champion of the poor and disadvantaged, Hope focused her teaching and scholarly work on human rights and economic rights in the global economy. She was a founder of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and served as the faculty director of the law school’s Global Legal Studies.

An internationally recognized legal scholar and commentator on human rights, she authored numerous articles and co-authored the seminal textbook Human Rights & the Global Marketplace: Economic, Social, and Cultural Dimensions (Brill, 2005). Professor Lewis was a co-drafter and compiler of the "Boston Principles on the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of Non-citizens," a project of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy. She was a founding co-chair of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) International Disability Rights Interest Group and served on the ASIL executive council between 2010 and 2013. She served on the board of governors of the Society of American Law Teachers and the executive committee of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups.

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) honored Professor Lewis in 2015 with the Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award. She was the 2014 Kate Stoneman Visiting Professor of Law and Democracy at Albany Law School. Professor Lewis was a 2008 Sheila Biddle Fellow (Ford Foundation) of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African & African-American Research at Harvard University.

Apart from her scholarship and activism, Professor Lewis was well known for her commitment to her teaching and to her students. In recognition of her extensive work in mentoring students and colleagues, she was awarded the 2001 Haywood Burns/Shanara Gilbert Award at the Northeast Regional People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference and the 2012 American Bar Association’s Mayre Rasmussen Award for Mentorship of Women in International Law. Legally blind, she was also a recipient of the 2011 Thomas J. Carroll Award from the Carroll Center for the Blind and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.


Professor Lewis will be missed by her family, colleagues, students, and all of those who knew and loved her.

For more information on services and to sign the guestbook, click here


December 8, 2016 in Global Human Rights, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lessons from North Dakota

Months of protests carried over seasons and a mini-city grew up around the site protected by the Sioux.  In the spirit of human rights advocacy, hundreds of veterans traveled to North Dakota to reinforce and support the protestors.  Lawyers organized in anticipation of arrests.  Violence erupted marking at least one with severe injuries.   Image1

Then the Army Corp of Engineers announced it would explore alternate routes for the planned pipeline, but compromise does not appear to interest the pipeline producers.   Peace - temporary peace.

The lessons from this most recent Native attempt to save the earth are likely to be far reaching.  After generations of broken treaties and other government deceptions, the Sioux are aware that the next administration may default to the original pipeline route.  The Sioux reminded us of the power of civil protest.  What happens when the new administration is in place will be instructive on both tactics to be employed by the new government and its response to civil disruptive actions. 



December 7, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Law Firms Reflect on Human Rights in Practice

Like other businesses, law firms are subject to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  In November 2016, several London-based firms met to share ideas about how to implement these guidelines in the practice of law.  The report of the workshop is available here.  Legal ethics professors take note:  while this material is rarely covered in ethics textbooks, it goes to the heart of the questions concerning lawyers' roles.

December 6, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Human Rights at Home: The Municipal Option

There are many paths for local human rights advocates to travel as they seek to establish and secure a human rights' perspective in local communities.   Risa Kaufman wrote on the many of the options available to advocates.

This post focuses on the option for your community to become a Human Rights City.  For those exploring the concept, there are definitions and explanations from early and newer coalitions.  From the website of the People's Movement for Human Rights Education comes one definition: 

'What are human rights cities? Imagine living in a society where all citizens have made a pledge to build a community based on equality and nondiscrimination; --where all women and men are actively participating in the decisions that affect their daily lives guided by the human rights framework; where people have consciously internalized the holistic vision of human rights to overcome fear and impoverishment, a society that provides human security, access to food, clean water, housing, education, healthcare and work at livable wages, sharing these resources with all citizens-- not as a gift, but as a realization of human rights. A Human Rights city is a practical viable model that demonstrates that living in such a society is possible!"  

The imperative to commit to human rights communities has never been more urgent.

This week, Northeastern Law School's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy holds a conference devoted to the topic of Human Rights Cities.    Go here for more information.    



December 5, 2016 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

New Direction for Austin Human Rights

The Austin, Texas Human Rights Commission is considering whether these extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.  The Commission has proposed that the Austin City Council condemn Donald Trump's discriminatory statements and ban sale of Trump products in the city.  After its initial introduction, the resolution has been tabled pending additional amendments.  However, even after revision, its prospects are unclear.  Several of the Commissioners have indicated that they view the resolution as "political," and outside of the scope of the Human Rights Commission's responsibilities. Others, however, say that the Commission has a responsibility to speak out.

The issue may ultimately be decided by the city council, where several members are already on record opposing Trump and the new administration's policies.  As council member Gregorio Casar stated, invoking the power of cities to address human rights, "In Austin, we’re not just going to resist through protest. We are going to resist by being a powerful example of effective government. Trump will not bring solutions to our community. We will. We will pass policy that truly fights economic inequality. We will create jobs, and we will help those who desperately thirst for change and fairness in our society.”



December 4, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

US Human Rights Advocacy in the Age of Trump

By Risa Kaufman, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute


Human rights and social justice advocates are still reeling from the election and assessing what, exactly, a Trump administration will bring. Conversations with colleagues around the country underscore our alarm, and also our resolve.    

Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his initial nominations for key appointments have triggered high alert. His campaign statements and proposed policies, if enacted, gravely threaten the rights of so many. Trump’s disdain and disregard for core human rights norms such as equality and non-discrimination; his campaign’s (and some of his nominees’ and advisors’) embrace of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, homophobic rhetoric and proposals; and his support from anti-internationalist and white nationalist groups are all cause for deep concern about a Trump administration’s respect for human rights and engagement (or non-engagement) with international and regional human rights systems.

While there is still so much that is unknown at this point, at least one thing is certain: strong, coordinated, and strategic U.S. human rights advocacy has never been more relevant and necessary.

U.S. advocates have a deep history of engaging international human rights to mobilize and fight against rights violations at home. And they have long understood the value of leveraging international pressure to affect change within the United States. As Katherine Sikkink reminds us, domestic advocacy paired with international pressure were key in the fight for civil rights and to end Jim Crow. More recently, they played a critical role in exposing and curbing the Bush Administration’s policies and practices on torture and rendition (though accountability remains an ongoing battle).

As we find our way in this disorienting new environment, I offer three thoughts on the relevance and direction of our efforts in the years ahead:

  1. State and local human rights efforts are more important than ever.

Already, cities around the country are standing up to the incoming Administration, declaring themselves to be Human Rights Cities and Sanctuary Cities, and pledging to protect their residents from harmful policies and practices. Some are developing local ordinances implementing human rights standards, such as those found in CEDAW, into local policies. Officials throughout state and local government have a role to play here. And they need not start from scratch. Mayors, state and local human rights commissions, and city councils, among others, have already forged a path.  Advocates play a key role in urging the localization of human rights and working with local officials to make it a reality.

  1. We need to cultivate deeper and more genuine transnational collaboration.

Human rights defenders around the world operate in dangerous conditions and face increasing threats and closing space for their work. U.S. advocates have much to learn from our international colleagues, and must seek out and develop genuine opportunities for transnational collaboration to fight for human rights here at home and across the globe.

  1. We must stand with and support impacted communities.

Vulnerable individuals and communities are under significant threat in the United States. These include people of color, women, people with disabilities, Muslims, LGBTQI people, immigrant populations, and people living in poverty. So, too, are people who live outside the United States, and who are impacted by its actions and policies. In this post-election climate, we are reminded of the critical need, now and always, for U.S. human rights advocates to work in partnership and stand in solidarity with communities and individuals, and to support their organizing and advocacy work as they resist, oppose, and defend against actions and policies that threaten human rights.

U.S. human rights advocates and the larger social justice community are on high alert. And we are prepared.

December 1, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Academics Face Up to a Trump Administration

As the reality of Trump's election sinks in, more and more academic institutions and faculty groups are staking out positions in support of immigrants, people of color, religious freedom, freedom of speech, gay rights, and human rights, all of which have been threatened by the incoming President or his senior staff.  For universities that were founded on the robust exchange of ideas, and that thrive on diversity, these are critical issues that strike at their core.  As Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told a group earlier this month, "[t]he University is not a political institution—we do not take positions on political issues. But when you have a system that produces a president and vice president that challenge the central idea of a university, one has to do something." 

A number of the open letters and statements, including one signed by more than a hundred university presidents, are here.  Others include this statement from faculty at the Perkins School of Theology of SMU, Texas, and this from a group of Tufts faculty.

Many of these statements invoke human rights as emblematic of the fundamental values threatened by the incoming administration.  The Columbia Human Rights Institute explicitly stands with its social justice allies and calls on the new administration to respect human rights.  A group of Berkeley Clinical Faculty call for safeguarding the human rights of their clients, as well as students and staff.

In his Columbia speech, Bollinger issued an immediate mandate to “teach the Core Curriculum with more fervor and passion than it has ever been taught before.”  In law schools, courses on human rights, constitutional law and legal history take on new significance as we return to core debates that we thought were long ago resolved by common agreement on the rule of law.  It's comforting to think that those of us in academia can do something to stem the tide of racism, mysogyny, xenophobia, and fear, by teaching with fervor and passion.  But is that enough?  As Bollinger said, "one has to do something," and as events unfold, we may be called upon to do more.




November 30, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Human Rights and Schooling

Have we ever needed human rights education more?  For new ideas about the why and how of human rights education and what we can do in our own classrooms, check out the new book by Audrey Osler, Human Rights and Schooling:  An Ethical Framework for Teaching for Social Justice.

According to the publisher:

Human Rights and Schooling examines the theory, research, and practice linking human rights to education in order to broaden the concept of citizenship and social studies education. Bringing scholarship and practice together, the text uses concrete examples to illustrate the links between principles and ideals and actual efforts to realize social justice in and through education. Osler anchors her examination of human rights in the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.

The author will be discussing her book at RFK Human Rights in Washington, D.C. on December 1.  For more information and to RSVP for this free event, click here

November 29, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

November 29: International Women's Rights Defender's Day

Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women,  Dubravka Simonovic, spoke about global concerns of increased risks to women as fundamentalism and "populism" rise around the Image1globe.    A group of UN human rights experts including Simonovic, Alda Facio, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a joint statement expressing the concerns of many women around the globe.

“In the face of rising populism and fundamentalisms and deplorable setbacks on the women's human rights agenda, we need more than ever to unite our forces to preserve the democratic space in which women human rights defenders represent an essential counter-power and a colossal force of action.” 

"The experts highlighted a host of specific challenges faced by women rights defenders – including misogynistic attitudes, threats of sexual assault, travel bans, lack of protection and access to justice, imprisonment, killings, laws which violate their rights, gender-based defamation questioning their “femininity” or sexuality, and gender stereotyping which questions their engagement in public life instead of sticking to their caretaker role in the family."

US women recognize the fragility of their advances in the post-Trump climate.  

What supports the concerns of US women is the fact that there has been no general outcry from men denouncing the wave of misogyny that has let lose since the Trump campaign began.  If men are not willing to risk the ridicule of other men by taking a public stand against misogyny, how can women be safe? Particularly silent are the men of Congress.  Are all too busy worrying about how to get along with the incoming president? Or they are concerned with how to retain their seats and have Trump's support.  This is no time for cowards to represent us.  But bravery has not been a hallmark of many of our male representatives for some time.  The few vocal male congressional supporters are insufficient to create change. There was some hope when Republican leadership publicly stated they could not support Trump because of his videotaped remarks. But that assessment seems to have diminished in the race to preserve their status.  Respecting and accepting the process is very different from silence in the face of bias.   


November 28, 2016 in Discimination, Gender Oppression, Margaret Drew, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Housing Not Handcuffs

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless were the creative forces behind the development of Housing Not Handcuffs.  HNH is focused on ending homelessness, but recognizing that a current barrier is the criminalization of living in public. As the number of homeless in our country has risen, so has the wave of laws that criminalize poverty.  
Image1One absurd and punitive nature of laws criminalizing homelessness is to create criminal records for those who need housing.  Yet, the no-criminal records renting policy of many private and public landlords, deprives those whose housing need is greatest from achieving their goal of adequate and secure shelter.

HNH encourages localities to adopt policies that incorporate the goal of creating affordable housing as a way to end homelessness rather than short sighted and self-defeating arrests.  

Preventing unlawful evictions is another method of preventing homelessness.  Preventing eviction is tied significantly to the movement to provide counsel for those being evicted.  We have written before on the right to counsel and for more information see the website for the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel. NCCRC is one of the HNH supporting organizations.


November 27, 2016 in Civil Right to Counsel, Margaret Drew, Poor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Special Rapporteur on Trafficking to Visit the US

The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking will visit the United States between December 6-16th.  

Rapporteur Judge Maria Grazia Giammarinaro will visit four US cities to meet with civil society, grassroots organizers and government officials.  According to the UN Website, the duties of the rapporteur are threefold,

1. Take action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.

2.Undertakes country visits in order to study the situation in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries and/or regions.

3.  Submit annual reports on the activities of the mandate.

The special focus of the visit will be on women and girls.  

A question posed by the US to the Special Rapporteur is:   Anti-trafficking strategies should be comprehensively integrated into humanitarian efforts. How does Special Rapporteur Giammarinaro believe we can raise awareness within the humanitarian community about the risks and consequences of human trafficking?

A prior report on trafficking focused on countries in conflict.  While not experiencing civil war, the US is now sharply divided. No word has come from the Trump administration on the either the visit or the issue.  

November 25, 2016 in Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thank You

Thank you, advocates and readers.  We are grateful for your work and the community you provide, particularly in these uncertain times.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The US Endangerment of CAT - Again

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to bring back waterboarding.  Indeed, he promised to bring back much worse.  In apparant disregard of the Convention Against Torture, Trump proclaimed "I would approve more than that.  It works."

The G. W. Bush administration has a sordid history with waterboarding and other forms of torture. While the administration sought to distance itself from torture decisions, recent information reveals that Bush was more than aware of the waterboarding use.  

According to an earlier report on NPR, the torture report points to a document prepared in September 2006, the same month Bush publicly acknowledged the U.S. was holding detainees in secret prisons. It was intended as a Q&A to help the National Security Council principals deal with fallout of public disclosure. One question asked, "What role did the president play... Was he briefed on the interrogation techniques, and if so when?"

The answer: "President was not of course involved in CIA's day to day operations — including who should be held by CIA and how they should be questioned — these decisions are made or overseen by CIA directors."

Image1In his book BushJean Edward Smith chillingly reports that not only was Bush aware of the use of waterboarding, he directly ordered its first use.  

Human Rights First reported on Senator John McCain's recent remarks warning against the use of torture.  HRF reports on Sen. McCain's history working to ban waterboarding and other forms of torture.  

"Senator McCain, a victim of torture during his 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led a successful bipartisan landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 Fiscal Year—was an historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture."

In a late breaking report, the New York Times reveals that Trump today claimed that Retired General Matis convinced Trump that water boarding is ineffective. 

We will see if the new administration, as well as Congress, will leave the anti-torture provisions intact.



November 22, 2016 in Books and articles, CAT, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Human Rights Days

As we strategize about how to ensure that the policies and rhetoric of the incoming administration do not become the new normal, it’s worth remembering that we are not alone in this struggle.  On Thursday, I attended Sweden’s annual Human Rights Days, a nationwide gathering of hundreds of human rights activists and advocates, including city and regional representatives who work on human rights from within government.  At the opening ceremony in Malmo, the moderator welcomed us, then offered her own reflections on the state of human rights.  She began:  “He got in.” 

Even thousands of miles from the US border, in Malmo, Sweden, we knew who she was talking about.  And even during my short trip, I’d heard it before.  Taking a cab from Copenhagen, when the driver learned that I was American, he muttered, “he shouldn’t have gotten in.”   

At Human Rights Days, our moderator admonished the Swedish human rights activists and advocates to keep the faith, to fight for a return to sanity, and to be creative and dogged in their continued work to protect and expand human rights.

Yes, it certainly falls to activists within the US to take the lead in bringing human rights home, even amidst the adversity that we now face.  But we should remember that others around the world are not only watching but are also ready to provide support. 

November 21, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I Saw Hamilton With Mike Pence: I Was Glad He Was There

by Cynthia Soohoo


I knew something was up when a policeman ushered me away from a cordoned off entrance to the Richard Rodgers Theater. But then again, this was Hamilton, and the presence of celebrities and politicians in the audience is almost a common occurrence. So it wasn’t quite a surprise when the woman in the seat in front of me told me the Vice President was attending the show. How great to watch the show with Joe Biden, I thought, glancing around the theater to see if I could spot him. That’s when Mike Pence walked in.

I bought our tickets to see Hamilton back in January.  My daughter’s friend Alicia, a self-proclaimed theater geek had introduced us to the show.   Alicia is Chinese-American, like me, and has written eloquently about what Hamilton means to children of immigrants, who are Americans but are often made to feel we are not part of our own country.  Our family listened to the soundtrack non-stop.  We were entranced by the story of the imperfect founding father, “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore.”  We loved the history and patriotism, the focus on the promise of America in a story centered on immigrants, African-Americans and women.  It made us feel that we were part of the narrative. 

Then the election happened.

When Mike Pence walked in, there was a mix of applause and jeers.  I stood silent, annoyed that Pence was going to ruin yet another thing for me.  As the show went on, I’ll admit that it was cathartic to cheer with fellow New Yorkers when Angelica Schuyler sang we “hold these truths to be self-evident/that all men are created equal/and when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m gonna compel him to include women in the sequel.”  And again when Hamilton and Lafayette proclaim “Immigrants: we get the job done.”  Towards the end of the first act, King George comes on stage to warn the newly freed colonists how hard it is to rule, singing “when your people say they hate you, don't come crawling back to me.”  Cheers were so loud that the actor, Rory O’Malley, had to stop singing.

During the intermission, my daughter speculated that Pence might skip the second act.  Even though I’ve written to criticize Pence’s policies in Indiana and am truly scared about his agenda for the country, I found myself hoping that he would stay. I actually wanted him to see Hamilton.  Hamilton is a beautiful play created by a diverse cast and crew.  It represents a vision of America and American values that is important for the Trump/Pence administration to hear.

After the play, Donald Trump tweeted that the cast should apologize. The theater should be a Image1special place, he said, calling the cast “rude” to Mike Pence, “a good man.”  Like many others, I question the hypocrisy of essentially asking for a safe space for the future vice president, when Trump and his supporters mock the need for such spaces for young people and minorities on college campuses.  However, I agree that as a country, we need to create spaces for dialogue and theater should be one of them. 

But Hamilton’s cast and crew have absolutely nothing to apologize for.  They performed a wonderful, inspiring, and thought provoking show.  Rather than allowing Pence to sneak out after being jeered by the audience, the cast asked Pence to stay, urging the crowd to refrain from boos.  The crew welcomed the Vice-President Elect and thanked him for attending the show. They also expressed a fear that many of us feel: that the new administration will not protect us. Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, closed by saying he hoped that the story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations would help to inspire Pence to uphold our inalienable rights and to work on behalf of all of us to uphold American values.  I can’t think of anything more American than that.

November 20, 2016 in Cindy Soohoo, Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Post-Trump Human Rights Round-up

Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England School of Law has posted a sobering review of human rights at home and abroad during a Trump presidency.  According to Professor Carasik, 

"His victory has caused panic for many vulnerable groups: Muslims, African Americans, LGBTI people, women, immigrants and others in the US petrified of the fallout from the nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny and racism that he has unleashed. He will now govern a bitterly divided country that has completely lost sight of its founding ideals, exacerbate its existing troubles and imperil its very democracy."

The silver lining, writes human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar in the Washington Post, is that because so many groups are targeted as "other" under this new regime, "every minority demographic group in the United States must now feel a sense of collective urgency to mobilize together for the future of our multicultural society based on what we witnessed during this presidential election."

Yet beyond our immediate borders, as the Washington Post editorial board warns, Trump's election also jeopardizes human rights worldwide, giving aid and comfort to human rights violators that they can act with impunity on the world stage.

As we look to the next four years, US advocates have a unique and important role to play in ensuring that the voice for human rights at home and abroad is not drowned out in our domestic debates.  Our work may focus on strengthening local human rights initiatives -- don't forget, there are still many progressive local actors interested in creating human rights cities and looking for other ways of honoring and implementing human rights protections in the US.  Other advocates may strategically focus on coordinating across international lines to create international pressure on the US to pursue more humane policies.

Many activists are already moving ahead with great resolve, sharing reflections, ideas and strategies, and planning for the future.

As veteran organizer Gloria Steinem wrote in The Guardian last week, "we all will have to learn that the president can only hold a finger to the wind. We must become the wind."





November 17, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Analizing the Tampon Tax

One of many low points in the recent presidential campaign was the night when then-candidate Trump tried to shame Megyn Kelly by saying that there was blood coming out of her eyes and her "wherever,"  apparently alluding to menstrual bleeding.  As women increasingly reclaim menstruation, however, and refuse to treat it as something as dirty and unmentionable, such shaming tactics are less and less effective.  At the same time, the ways in which menstruation's invisibility has hurt women become more apparent.  The tampon tax -- a sales tax paid on tampons and other menstrual products -- is one of the many ways that women's inequality has been perpetuated by this silence.  The tax typically does not single out menstrual products for taxation, but by treating such products less favorably than non-essential items often used by men, such as Rogaine, the tax system unfairly burdens women.

In September, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed state legislation that would have eliminated the sales tax on tampons and other menstrual products.  But while California waits, change has already come in New York, Connecticut, Illinois and Canada.  The "Free the Tampon" movement is also active in Australia, the UK, and Switzerland, with considerable traction.  Depending on the jurisdiction, some estimate that women spend between $20 and $100/year just paying the tax associated with these necessities.  If the sales tax was lifted, women would save thousands over the course of a lifetime.

Law Professors Bridget Crawford and Carla Spivack will publish their analysis of this issue in a forthcoming volume of the Wisconsin Law Review.   The article is titled Tampon Taxes, Equal Protection and Human Rights.  Here's the abstract:

In recent months, activists around the globe have harnessed the power of the Internet to raise awareness of the so-called “tampon tax,” an umbrella term to describe sales, VAT and similar “luxury” taxes imposed on menstrual hygiene products. In response to pressure from constituents, five U.S. states and Canada have repealed their tampon tax. Active campaigns are underway in Australia, the United Kingdom and several other countries. Where public pressure has not been an effective technique, those seeking to challenge the tampon tax in the United States have turned to litigation. In four U.S. states, class action lawsuits have been filed seeking repeal of the tax and a refund for back taxes paid, alleging equal protection violations. In the international context, human rights law provides a promising foundation for similar legal challenges to the tampon tax because human rights law takes a capacious approach to gender equality. In the European Court of Human Rights, for example, there are several tax cases that recognize gender-differentiated taxes as a form of impermissible discrimination. This Article explains how the tampon tax violates equal protection and human rights norms. The tax also shows how deeply embedded gender is in matters of tax policy. Full realization of gender equality will require revision of tax laws.

Girls and women use tampons and sanitary napkins for multiple days every month for at least 30 years because of their biology. At first glance, the tampon tax might appear to be the result of a misclassification of menstrual hygiene products as luxuries, while items like Rogaine and condoms, for example, generally avoid taxation. But these comparisons are inapt, as it is difficult to find a precise male analog to the menstrual hygiene products that women use. Nor is it adequate to explain the existence of the tampon tax as the product of women’s historic absence from the legislature. This explanation is both simplistic and incomplete. Women’s bodies in general and menstruation in particular have been and continue to be the source of great cultural (and legal) unease. Women’s (involuntary) bleeding is meant to happen “out of sight, out of mind,” whereas men’s (voluntary) bleeding in war is meant to be celebrated.

Part I of this Article provides an overview of the sales and similar taxes on menstrual hygiene products. Part II explains why, as a cultural matter, the tampon tax has gone unnoticed. Part III situates consideration of the tampon tax in the context of international human rights. Part IV explores current legal challenges to the tampon tax in the United States and outlines a possible human rights challenge to the tax in Europe. The Article concludes with a discussion of why the tampon tax has become a global issue and why the tax law provides a unique lens for examining issues of gender inequality.



November 16, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gay Weddings Revisited

By Jeremiah Ho



Today, the Washington Supreme Court hears the case of a florist who refused service to a gay couple for flowers for their wedding.

The case is Robert Ingersoll, et al. v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc., et al. and the link to the briefs of parties and amici is here. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, had denied providing flowers for the couple’s wedding based on concerns that doing so would have violated her religious freedom.  However, last year, a lower court judge had ruled that Stutzman’s refusal violated Washington’s anti-discrimination bill.  The Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson is arguing on the gay couple’s behalf.   

Editor's note: This is an issue that is likely to come before the US Supreme Court after the "9th" is appointed.

November 15, 2016 in Jeremiah Ho, Marriage Equality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Advocacy Resurgence

Every new president flounders a bit during the first two years.  This is not dissimilar to what most of us experience in new positions.  The more complex the duties, the longer the adjustment.  Some argue that we should give breathing room to Mr. Trump as he assumes the presidency.  There may not be time to do so as he pledges to move quickly on issues such as health care and immigration. We will need to judge his performance when we see how and whether he actually attempts to implement the agenda promoted during his campaign.  With a Republican congress, whose leaders are now ready to please Trump, some actions could be swift. 

What we do not have to wait to see is the unleashing of the post-election vitriol by some of the Trump supporters. 

Schools are reporting a rise in racist incidents.

As reported here earlier, the damage has been done. Disturbing reports are surfacing and many involve young students.  One woman reports an African American female student being told by her white high school peers that "blacks will be the first ones sent back."  While the statement is absurd, the threat is not. A spike in racial incidents has been reported on college campuses.

Middle and high school age students report misogynistic remarks directed at Secretary Clinton on social media.  One young female student reported boys "Trumping" (grabbing) girls.

President Clinton influenced a generation of young men to believe that anything short of  intercourse is not sex. That position became the mantra of many teens.  President-elect Trump has taken anti-female actions to a new level. Mr. Trump's admitted sexual assaults demonstrate to young boys that similar assaults on their female peers are acceptable, hijacking any hope of ending misogyny.  The disservice to young men is layered.  Living in hate is an uncomfortable and unproductive place to be. Young men are particularly vulnerable to influences promoting their power and prowess. Those young men, however, are now more likely to end up on a sex offender registry for engaging in the very same actions normalized by their president.  

Men and women have taken to protesting in numbers unheard of in recent political history.   There is a new population of human rights advocates willing to take to the streets.  Our challenge is to support those who are willing to publicly voice their opposition and keep the human rights discussion in play.



November 14, 2016 in Gender Violence, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)