February 4, 2013

Women and Medications

It’s not well known that women experience a greater number of more severe side effects from medications than men do.  Dr. Janine Clayton of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (National Institutes of Health) recently raised the issue after the Food and Drug Administration was evaluating a new sleeping pill, Intermezzo.  Blood tests to learn how much of the drug remains in a user’s system the morning after taking it uncovered that men metabolized the drug much more rapidly than women.

Until 1993, women of childbearing age were not included in new drug trials.  When the ban on use of females was lifted that year, researchers realized that many of the “landmark” studies, including the study on aspirin use to prevent heart disease and stroke, had not included women, leaving them to wonder whether or not aspirin was effective for women in avoiding these conditions.  Because so many drugs were tested exclusively on men, it’s not known what the effects will be for women until a drug reaches the market.

A study done by the Government Accountability Office found that 8 of 10 drugs removed from the market between 1997 and 2000 posed significantly more health risks to women than men.  For example, a common antihistamine (Seldane) and a digestive aid (Propulsid) both caused dangerous heart arrhythmia in women – as do many drugs still on the market, including antibiotics and cholesterol medications.

But, the opposite may also be true – certain blood pressure medications and antibiotics appear to be more effective in women, and women typically wake up faster from anesthesia.  There are also clearly different responses to tobacco and alcohol: women smokers are more susceptible to cancer and heart disease than male smokers, women under 50 have higher blood alcohol content than men of the same age after consuming the same amount of alcohol, and women experience alcohol-related heart damage at lower levels of alcohol consumption than men.

The Society for Women’s Health Research has created a useful online tool, Fact Sheet: Sex Differences in Response to Pharmaceuticals, Tobacco, Alcohol, and Illicit Drugs: http://www.womenshealthresearch.org/site/PageServer?pagename=hs_healthfacts_dat.  And the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has new guidelines for studies of new drugs, which require that studies include gender response differences in the earliest stages of drug development.

Hopefully, there is increased attention to the physiological differences between females and males that may affect a range of products and dosages, among other things.

We continue to remind decision-makers to consider the results of all laws, research, policies, and services – and the possible disproportionate effect they may have on women – before making a judgment or conclusion.  The results of not doing so, such as those discovered in the scientific field, may be life-changing.

January 28, 2013

Family Leave Policies

A new study by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University reports that working women who have paid family leave are much more likely to be working after the birth of a child and, most often, experience an increase in wage from pre- to post-birth.

The study analyzed information from the US Department of Labor between 1997 and 2009.  Among the findings, the study noted that since the mid-1980s, there has been a 13% increase (now nearly 73%) in the percentage of children with both parents (or the only parent) working outside the home.  And despite a tremendous amount of rhetoric about “family values,” “support for working families,” and “keeping our children secure,” the United States lags far behind other industrialized nations when it comes to policies that support workers needing time off for family time and needs.

Except for only a few states, practice in this country is limited to unpaid leave, despite 1993’s passage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires that companies with a least 50 workers provide up to 12 weeks of leave (unpaid and not job-protected) annually “for their own health or the health of a family members.”  This leaves most employees to patch together sick time, vacation time, disability insurance, or unpaid time off to deal with personal or family health problems.  Most low-income workers have not vacation, sick leave, or PTO (Paid Time Off).

The United States in among the 3 countries (out of 178 – the others are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea) that do not mandate maternity paid leave.  And only 11% of private sector employees and 17% of public sector employees have access to paid leave through their employer. 

Specific key findings of the report include:

¬   Women who report taking paid leave are more likely to be working 9 to 12 months after a child’s birth than are those who report taking no leave at all (“nonleave takers”).

¬   Paid family leave increases wages for women with children.  Women who report leaves of 30 or more days are 54% more likely to report wage increases in the year following the child’s birth than are women who take no leave at all.

¬   Women who return to work after a paid leave have a 39% lower likelihood of receiving public assistance and a 40% lower likelihood of food stamp receipt in the year following the child’s birth, when compared to those who return to work and take no leave at all.

¬   Men who return to work after a paid family leave have a significantly lower likelihood of receiving public assistance and food stamps in the year following the child’s birth when compared to those who return to work and take no family leave at all.

Linda Houser of the Center for Women and Work summarizes the positive economic benefit of paid leave policies:  "While we have known for a long time about the maternal and infant health benefits of leave policies, we can now link paid family leave to greater labor force attachment and increased wages for women, as well as to reduced spending by businesses in the form of employee replacement costs, and by governments in the form of public assistance."

Forbes magazine sums up the economic benefits of paid leave in this way:

1.     Paid family leave addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and should be planned for strategically, uniformly and deliberately,
2.     Paid family leave is NOT a tax, but income replacement insurance program funded by employees at minimal cost, and
3.     We are paying for a cost for caregiving already - indirectly and inefficiently, through employee turnover, retraining, and workplace productivity.

This is the type of information Chrysalis works to provide to policy makers through SOLUTIONS, our annual legislative breakfast.  Our work is to provide factual, objective information that should be taken into account when decisions – state, local, individual – are being made that affect girls, women, and working families.

Thank you for being a leader in this work.

January 21, 2013

Human Trafficking in Iowa

First, a definition:
The act of human trafficking s the providing, buying, and selling of men, women, and children who will be exploited until they are no longer able to work, or are sold repeatedly to be violently, sexually abused.  Mobility is important, as traffickers move victims quickly away from home and/or family in order to build dependence and fear.

According to a September 2012 special report, Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery Exploiting the Vulnerable, trafficking human beings is the world’s fastest-growing organized criminal activity, generating a “market value” of $32 to $39 billion annually.  It is second only to drugs as the largest source of profit for organized crime, surpassing the sale of guns for the last 10 years.  The “average” trafficker earns $47,000 per week.

Chrysalis is proud to be serving on a Task Force with the Attorney General's Office related to human trafficking in Iowa. Through this process, we have learned a lot in a short amount of time that we wan to share.

Eighty percent of victims of human trafficking are female, 50% of victims are children; average age of targets for trafficking is 11-14 years old.  One in 3 runaway youth is approached for commercial sex within 48 hours of being on the street.

Iowa is an easy target for traffickers because of the intersection of key interstate highways connecting Minneapolis, Kansas City, Chicago, and Omaha.

Iowa was awarded a “D” grade on the Protected Innocence Challenge by SharedHope (http://sharedhope.org/PICframe2/reportcards/PIC_RC_2012_IO.pdf), in part, because our prostitution laws do not reference the human trafficking law to identify a commercially sexually-exploited minor as a victim of trafficking rather than a person soliciting money for sex.

Also, because of inadequate training and resources, law enforcement encounters are likely taking place where human trafficking is present, but it is not being recognized – more often, the charge is prostitution.  Since 2006, only 2 cases have been prosecuted under the Iowa Human Trafficking Statute.

Another problem with Iowa law is that purchasers of sex with minors must register as sex offenders only if convicted of human trafficking or solicitation of commercial sexual activity.  If a buyer is convicted under the prostitution statute, even when it involves a minor child, the buyer is not required to register as a sex offender.

These are among the concerns now being addressed by this team, which includes about 20 judicial, legal, public safety, and educational institution representatives.  In addition, Former Iowa Senator Maggie Tinsman of Davenport brings the resources of Braking Traffik, a nonprofit organization she founded to address this growing issue.

Last year, Chrysalis hosted its first Roundtable Community Conversation, and the issue of trafficking was presented by Lt. Joe Gonzalez of the Des Moines Police Department (and Chrysalis Board member) and a representative of the US District Attorney's Office.  We will continue to build public awareness and education about trafficking, as its devastating impact on girls and women increasingly comes to light.

Later this year, we plan to host a screening in the Chrysalis Office of Not My Life, a documentary produced in 2011 depicting the tragic effects of this multi-billion dollar global industry targeting girls and young children.

January 15, 2013

A Look Back at 2012

As you know, 2012 was a year of women’s accomplishments – we were primary breadwinners in a majority of US households, we were more educated than ever previously, and we saw females named to leadership positions in the political and corporate world.

But the Harvard Business Review noted earlier this month that there are still puzzling issues females will be facing in 2013, which continue to make us wonder about how much progress we have yet to make:

PAY:  According to the latest research, women are better educated than ever – earn nearly 60% of college degrees.  But we are still paid, on average, 23% less than men.  Career and life choices may cause some of this disparity, but in an analysis of full-time employees 10 years out of college, there was still a 12% difference in earnings not explained by profession or educational level.

GENDER STEREOTYPES:  Catalyst, a research firm tracking women’s progress in all fields, confirms that gender stereotypes make it difficult for female leaders to feel comfortable taking a “leadership” attitude because they are perceived as either competent or liked, but not both.  Forbes recently reported, "Studies show that assertive women are more likely to be perceived as aggressive; that women usually don't ask for what they deserve but when they do, they risk being branded as domineering or, worse even, "ambitious."

PROMOTIONS:  Females still attain far fewer job slots at the top of the corporation – only 4% of CEOs in the Fortune 1,000 top companies are female, and Congress is still less than 20% women.  There may be many ways to rationalize this fact, but the pool of qualified candidates for top jobs or leadership positions gets smaller when the best women leave to raise a family or for other opportunities.

NETWORKING:  Women may build wonderful relationships, but we seldom use our connections for jobs or promotions.  When we network, we typically don’t exchange business ideas or ask for jobs, and we need to use this opportunity for the career potential it offers.

BUSINESS OWNERSHIP:  Females are wonderful entrepreneurs, but it’s tough to find venture capital.   A 2012 analysis by Dow Jones VentureSource reported that women launch nearly half of all startups, and the most successful startups have more women in senior positions than unsuccessful ones.  Yet less than 7% of executives in over 20,000 companies studied by Dow Jones were women.

“HAVE-IT-ALL” SYNDROME”:   Women today still feel pressure to “have it all” and can become stressed or discouraged when we realize this seems impossible.  Both women and men feel this pressure, but more often, women leave work or change schedules when it’s needed.

Our work in raising awareness about these challenges is important not only because of fairness, but because girls and women need confidence and support as they move up the corporate or political ladder, and more qualified girls and women fill the pipeline for the future.  Avoiding the mixed messages and coaching girls and women to achieve their aspirations is the work of Chrysalis. 

January 7, 2013

Children with High Needs

Recently, the Child and Family Policy Center issued a report documenting the challenges faced by many of Iowa’s children and their families.  The report, "A Baseline on Iowa's Young Children: Capturing the Demand for Early-Childhood Services" notes that Iowa has one of the nation’s highest rates of children with one or both parents working, and an increasing number of single parent families.  These are just 2 of the many factors that contribute to stress within the family and affecting young children.

Although a majority of Iowa children begin school in good health and with appropriate cognitive, language, and social/emotional development – termed “school readiness” – to be prepared to engage in learning.  There is, however, a significant share of Iowa children who are dramatically behind their peers and require special assistance to “catch up.”

Nationally, 56% of children begin school behind peers in at least one measure (cognitive, social/emotional, or physical), and 21% are behind in 2 or more areas – requiring significant school time and investment in remediation.  These facts led researchers to question whether it is possible to identify these children early and provide support and assistance that will reduce this trend.  A tremendous amount of data points to identifying and responding to high-need children through the family.

Here are what the report terms “Top-line Findings” in defining children with high needs:

•     There is no one measure that captures “need” among children; rather a cluster of characteristics that contribute to good or bad outcomes.  On average, the prevalence of poor early-childhood outcomes is highest among children of less-educated, unmarried or adolescent parents, parents who are depressed, parents with limited incomes who have difficulty meeting basic needs, and among children with special needs themselves.
•     A significant share of Iowa families face economic stress; many are headed by young and less-educated parents.  More than 40 percent of Iowas young children live in households below 200 percent of poverty, a realistic measure of what it takes to support a family.  Nearly one in five (19 percent of the total) live in households below 100 percent of poverty ($22,314 for a family of four in 2010).  In 2010, 17 percent of Iowa first-time births, and 8 percent of total births, were to adolescent mothers, almost all of whom were unmarried with less than a high school diploma.
•    Another significant share of Iowa children have special health needs.  In fact, 21 percent of Iowa children four months to five years of age are at moderate or high risk of developmental, behavioral or social delays. Based on national research, we know over 50 percent of young children begin kindergarten behind in at least one area of special need
and over 20 percent have multiple needs that require even greater levels of support.

As we know, the United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection has supported early childhood education as a key priority for the past 10 years, assisting with accreditation of early learning centers and preschools, facility improvements, book drives, teacher training, and volunteer readers.  Several Chrysalis Board members have participated in this tremendous project.

The work of Chrysalis takes place in prevention efforts through Chrysalis After-School, which we created and have funded since 1998.  Our goal is to assure that girls gain the knowledge and skills to become resilient and successful women – overcoming and/or avoiding these “top-line findings" that cause the next generation (their families) to face these tremendous challenges.  Since we began, nearly 6,000 adolescent girls have been part of this powerful program.  It’s the best investment in the future we can possibly make.

January 2, 2013

Ever-Present Stereotypes

One thing that struck me over the past few weeks, however, is the fact that in some cases, it seems as though we are losing ground.  In particular, in the prevalence of stereotypes that has seemed to worsen over the past year.

For example, during a Christmas shopping expedition, I happened to notice gender segregation in the toy department!  Even though there have been efforts to neutralize gender stereotyping (there’s now a blue Easy Bake Oven for boys and there’s a Lego line made just for girls – although the girls’ line is more about beauty and domesticity than building), aisles and displays filled with pink and pastel, with toys involving homemaking and beauty obviously catered to girls, and across the way, blue and army green aisles filled with action, sports, and building-oriented toys were filled with boys.

I did a bit of research, and found that although there had been clear gender-based marketing when I was little, it somewhat disappeared in the 1970s – in fact, a researcher noted that in 1975, more than 70% of toys in the Sears catalog showed no markings of gender at all – there were even photos of girls playing airline pilots and boys cooking in the kitchen.

Over the past 30+ years, gender-based marketing has become much more explicit, causing increased pressure for girls and boys to stay within the manufacturers’ boundaries for their play choices.  According to the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, parents interviewed when leaving a toy store reported purchasing gender-typed toys because the kids asked for them, even though the toy may not have been the parents’ choice.  This type of phenomenon has no doubt fueled the development and marketing of gender-based toys under the guise of gender-differentiated play preferences.

Experts believe that the reflection of stereotypes about gender roles in toys and their marketing shows how little retail marketers’ attitudes have changed over time – even though 70% of mothers are in the labor force today, and most domestic responsibilities within a family are shared.

In a culture that bombards us with gender messages, it’s so important that we help both boys and girls understand that the choices and options are completely open to them, regardless of gender.  In Chrysalis After-School programs, we help girls navigate the gender-biased messages they see and hear in order to dispel the myths they convey.

P.S. Just for fun – when you think the minds and marketers in Hollywood are finally “getting it” -- http://youtu.be/i1FZF4nynMI