Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eve Ensler: One Billion Rising, Michelle Chen: Is Your Local Restaurant Relying on Exploited Women's Labor?

Hi.  One note on this essay.  I read it quickly and thought her action proposal had passed.  A second look showed its being planned for next year, February 14, 2013.  -Ed
Kanyabiyunga, Congo: While covering her face, a Congolese woman describes her rape to a health worker. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Kanyabiyunga, Congo: While covering her face, a Congolese woman describes her rape to a health worker. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

One Billion Rising

Eve Ensler, Reader Supported News

19 February 12

t's 14 years since we started V-Day. We made a determination that we were going to end violence against women and girls. It was an audacious and almost absurd idea, but we committed to it. We believed we could change human consciousness and make the world a place where women were safe, free, equal, with agency over their bodies and futures. This determination fueled our work with urgency, possibility and wild creativity. It was not about magic (although uttering and hearing the word "vagina" has brought inexplicable transformations and occurrences). The work was practical and painstaking. Thousands of activists volunteered their time and talent and energy year after year. They put on theater that broke taboos, got some arrested, others censored, that raised money and attention. They did this at colleges, in churches, in Parliaments, in offices, in factories, in community centers. They did it in Ithaca and Islamabad, Manila and Manchester. In 140 countries. They did it in solidarity and collaboration with thousands of awe-inspiring local groups and leaders whose daily work was on the front lines in community shelters and hotlines, fighting for laws and policies, advocating and healing.

The work was about brave women survivors breaking their silence, telling their stores, risking their lives and helping others to do the same. It was about holding perpetrators accountable and ending impunity and speaking back to governments and international elites. It was about calling out racism and colonialism. It was about developing trust and partnerships with male allies. It was about putting the issue of violence against women smack in the center of the conversation, culture and media. It was about turning shame to strength and pain to power. It has been an extraordinary 14 years. There have been many victories.

But we have not ended violence. Today 1 out of 3 women in the world - more than 1 billion women - will be raped or beaten. As economies collapse and the 99 percent struggles with less and less, as global warming increases, and fires, floods, drought abound, the violence against women and girls increases. They become targets. They become commodities, sold in many places for less than a cell phone.

And as we succeed, our victories attract a more virulent resistance. As we get a foothold on our rights and power, the push back from the patriarchal minorities in every country becomes stronger and more dangerous. The recent Republican campaigns in America are examples of this - a very organized and devious attempt to undo VAWA, and the outrageous and mystifying Blunt Amendment, whose aim is to overturn birth control benefits.

We must escalate our efforts. Now is the moment. We must be as disruptive and loud and determined and organized as the small groups attempting to set us back. We must come together, in energy and solidarity, and make a determination to go the distance. We must stop being polite and behaved and find new inventive tactics to shift the paradigm. We are the majority. We literally hold the future in our bodies.

This month I was in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where I had the privilege to witness the graduation of the first class of City of Joy, a revolutionary training, healing and leadership center for women in the Congo who have suffered the some of the worst atrocities in the world. I watched the group of women who I met 6 months earlier - women who when they arrived at City of Joy, were traumatized, sick, full of self-hatred, muted, and exhausted. At graduation they were reborn: strutting across the stage, self-possessed, giving speeches without notes, passionately and effectively speaking truth to power, demonstrating proficient and instant knockout self-defense moves, reciting poetry. They were rising in front of us, their determination contagious and insistent.

In honor of the women of Congo who are rising in the face of the impossible, V-Day is calling the 1 billion survivors of violence on every continent of the planet to join and RISE. On February 14, 2013, we are inviting, challenging, and calling women and the people who love them to walk out of their homes, schools, jobs to strike and dance. To dance with our bodies, our lives, our heart. To dance with our rage and our joy and love. To dance with whoever we want, wherever we can until the violence stops. We know our brothers, husbands, sons and lovers will join us in the dancing. Imagine 1 billion women and those that love them dancing. Imagine us taking up space, expanding our borders and possibilities, expressing the depth of our desire for peace and change. Dancing, 1 Billion Dancing. The earth will surely move and violence against women and girls will end. Because it can.

Join us at onebillionrising.org and follow us on Twitter @Vday: #1billionrising.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. 

* * *

Is Your Local Restaurant Relying on Exploited Women's Labor?

A new study warns that when Americans eat out, they feed into an industry fueled by exploitation and rampant discrimination against women.

Next time you plunk down some change on the table before leaving a restaurant, think about what might be behind that service with a smile. A new study warns that when Americans eat out, they feed into an industry fueled by exploitation and rampant discrimination against women.

The report, published by the labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) in partnership with a coalition of labor and women's rights groups, details the restaurant industry's secret recipe for fattening profits: low wages, harsh working conditions, erratic hours and multiple racial and gender barriers to job advancement.

In a testimony in the report, Claudia Muñoz recalled how her job at a national pancake chain restaurant in Texas demanded round-the-clock hours without overtime pay. Scrounging for tips, she earned as little as $160 per week. Muñoz says:

I had to eat less than $6.50 for the employee meal. … I could only afford pancakes. If you were on the schedule for only 5 hours, you couldn't get a meal. There were days when I wouldn't eat all day.

Surrounding her was a cross-section of the country's forgotten workforce:

There were a lot of older people—women in their 50's. They had children, families, some were single mothers … and $2.13 plus tips was all they had. … It really opened my eyes. It was Latinos cooking, white women working graveyard shifts, men working during the day. I saw the racism, sexism, and low wages in the industry. Everything I remember from that place was horrible.

It's no secret that typical restaurant work is stressful and poorly paid, but it's easy to dismiss as a side gig or a way-station on the road to more stable work. However, in today's sour economy, as Muñoz witnessed, tough jobs in eating establishments are often the only way for struggling workers and their families to scrape by.

Wages are low for all restaurant workers: About four in ten earn at or below the minimum wage. But women in the industry have it especially hard, according to the study. Women make about 79 cents to every dollar earned by men. While this is approximately the national gender wage gap, but the ROC report points out a key distinction when it comes to the restaurant industry: "In many sectors, lower wages for women are often a product of discriminatory employer practices, but in the restaurant industry, lower wages for women are also set by law."

Federal law makes the labor of tipped workers especially cheap (assuming that tips will make up the difference): a subminimum wage of just $2.13 compared to the standard $7.25 for other sectors. And of restaurant workers who rely on tips, most are women, concentrated in jobs like serving and tending the counter.

The lower-wage tier for restaurant work reflects a legacy of discrimination in labor regulation. Historically, sectors relying heavily on women and people of color, such as domestic work and farm work, have been excluded from critical labor protections.

But the inequity restaurant workers face isn't just a bread-and-butter issue of wages. A national survey of several thousand restaurant workers found that:

90 percent lack paid sick days and 90 percent do not receive health insurance through their employers. One third of all female restaurant workers … lack any kind of health care, whether provided by their employer or otherwise.

Families suffer when parents can't afford to take a day off to care for an ill child. And when sick food-service employees drag themselves to work, everyone is at risk. A majority of restaurant workers reported "going to work and cooking, preparing, or serving food while sick," according to ROC's study–a startling 70 percent among women. Imagine a bout of the flu in a hot, crowded kitchen, and how many hands touched your salad on its way to the table.

While they're needlessly exposed to health risks, women are also acutely vulnerable to being sexually violated at work. According to ROC's national survey of about 4,300 restaurant workers, some ten percent "reported that they or a co-worker had experienced sexual harassment in their restaurant." The climate of abuse, the report found, is aggravated by employers' failure to provide adequate workplace trainings or enforce formal rules against harassment.

ROC's research reveals that the day-to-day hardships and indignities of restaurant work are compounded by long-term structural barriers of gender and racial segregation, which keep many women in marginal, irregular jobs with little hope of moving up from, say, server to manager.

So what can be done to fix the restaurant industry? Some states have already set higher wage floors for restaurant work. If the federal government were to do so, raising the national subminimum wage to $5.08, it would immediately boost the pay of an estimated 837,000 workers, most of them women, according to ROC. And that would simultaneously shrink the gender wage gap in the industry by one-fifth.

On the family-leave front, there have been some state and local initiatives to mandate paid sick leave for all workers, including a landmark ordinance passed a few years in San Francisco, which has been championed by public health advocates with broad support from local employers. But lawmakers around the country have little appetite for helping sick workers recover. A proposal similar to San Francisco's policy has stalled in New York City, where nearly two-thirds of low-income workers don't get paid sick time, according to the Community Service Society of New York. Industry advocates say more generous sick leave policies would eat into profits. But an analysis by the Institute for Women's Policy Research shows that expanding paid medical leave could save the country over $1 billion annually in healthcare costs.

For now, just as most of Claudia's customers probably barely noticed the exhausted workers bustling around them, the abuses throughout the restaurant industry appear to be invisible to the political establishment.

Take action with the ROC and tell Congress on 2/13 to raise the $2.13 subminimum wage for restaurant workers.

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.


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