Sunday, January 29, 2017

Prevention is essential

We are less than two months away from the United Nations Women Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York! Since starting the fellowship in October, I have collected data and completed my research report on studied dating and sexual violence youth prevention education in Durham schools. I collected data through interviews with staff members of nonprofits around North Carolina, teachers, government officials, and public health workers. I also examined health reports and research articles to find quantitative data on rates of dating and sexual violence and the associated economic impacts. The Durham Crisis Response Center is an amazing nonprofit organization and I am grateful for their staff’s insights on the status of dating and sexual violence prevention services in Durham County. The message that I want to convey to everyone during all of my upcoming presentations is that prevention education is essential to ending interpersonal violence.
            Durham currently has limited youth prevention education that is evidence-based and comprehensive. Their neighboring county, Orange County, has been able to provide age-appropriate comprehensive dating and sexual violence youth prevention education curricula to all of their students in K-9th grades. This model is extraordinary and can serve as an example for counties all over the country. Durham County nonprofits, teachers, and government officials have already expressed interest in expanding dating and sexual violence youth education services to all of their students but require further support from local government, the school system, and the public health department. Durham as a city is in a unique opportunity to be one of the first cities in the United States to adopt the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. On a similar note, Durham county and city governments could work together to make the county of Durham one of the first counties to fully embrace dating and sexual violence youth prevention education.

            I will be conveying my research results to the Durham city government on the afternoon of February 23. That same day in the evening I will present my research results at the Durham Local to Global Women’s Forum: Cities for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This dinner is open to the public and will give the fellows a chance to present their research findings to the local community. We head to New York on March 11 to present our research at the CSW conference. In April, we will present our research to the Durham County government. In order to prepare for all of these presentations, we are currently developing our public speaking skills and practicing our presentations with our mentors. I have found that my greatest struggle during this research project is staying focused on something specific. Dating and sexual violence prevention is a huge topic and it was difficult to fit everything I wanted to say within my 10-page research limit. I cannot wait for all of this hard work to pay off when I see how Durham government officials apply the findings from my research report into change for their community and when I share my research with local and global audiences.

Research Experience

During my experience as a I fellow, I have learned a lot about the women of my community. I have had the privilege of discussing the reproductive rights of girls and women with staff members from jails, local non-profit organizations, and local scholars. Without their engagement in my research, I would not have been able to gain much knowledge over the reproductive services available to girls and women in Durham's jail facilities. Their support helped me come a long way from my research question. Though I have taken the time to collect information about this subject, I learned that there is still more information to be collected from facilities.

During my research, I found myself lacking enough details about the reproductive services for girls and women at Durham's detention facilities. I wanted to know more about the frequency of services provided to the girls and women. My hope is that Durham City Council will be inspired to adopt another method of data collection for the reproductive services of girls and women at its Durham County detention facilities. It would be reassuring to know that women who are incarcerated are being served their reproductive services just as equally as women outside of jail. As a researcher, I was amazed at the continuing efforts that non-profits have made towards the reproductive rights of women. I commend them on helping incarcerated individuals with their issues. I look forward to presenting my research to the supporters of WomenNC and CSW at the UN. I want to thank everyone that has assisted me with this experience, especially our mentors. I appreciate all the things you all have done to make every step of this process easier.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Peaks and Valleys: The Road Ahead

The last few months have been a trying one for women all over the world who are striving to eradicate sexism and misogyny. Last week, we witnessed the inauguration of a president who trivialized sexual assault, used thinly veiled sex stereotypes to attack his opponent, and embraced a staunchly anti-choice voting bloc. While Ivanka Trump has spoken up in support of paid maternity leave and other laws aimed to make the workplace more family-friendly, the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to pass any such legislation. On the other hand, Mr. Trump has demonstrated his commitment to the anti-choice cause by signing an executive order blocking federal funding to international NGOs that supply or promote abortion. These developments at the national level, combined with the failure of the incoming North Carolina leadership to negotiate the repeal of HB2 makes local action to promote gender equality all the more urgent.
Unfortunately, taking action at the local level is easier said than done, as I am discovering first hand with my work as a CSW fellow. First of all, most of the policy remedies that would most effectively combat the wage gap—fair scheduling ordinances, living wage laws, paid family leave and sick days—are all prohibited at the local level in North Carolina. North Carolina has what’s known as “Dillon’s Rule,” which states that local governments only have the powers specifically enumerated by state statute. This precludes any law a city or county might pass that would require private employers to guarantee their employees certain rights. However, the City of Durham can implement all of those policies for their own employees, and have already begun to do so. Durham County will soon provide paid maternity leave for their employees. Public employers can have a great influence on the overall labor market when they raise standards for their own workplaces.
On a more personal level, the quest to support the Cities for CEDAW movement with original research proved a much more overwhelming task than I expected. It was difficult for me to keep my research focused and pertinent to the task at hand. I was also frustrated by the simplistic level of analysis I was limited to because of the time constraints and limitations of my data. Most of my statistical analysis feels somewhat trivial and incomplete. However, I could not go more in depth without going beyond the scope of the project and many more pages past the 11-page limit. There will always be critics who are going to criticize the depth and methods of any report. Many of these people will be unsatisfied or unconvinced no matter how many more statistics you cite.
I must remind myself that the real purpose of this report is not to produce indisputable proof of the exact dynamics of the wage gap in Durham. The goal is to provide a model for the kind of formal analysis that the city and its partners should do in order to correct pernicious gender inequities in our communities. I need only to highlight the existence of the problem of the gender wage gap and to educate a general audience about it in such a way that inspires action. This will be the toughest challenge yet, but with the training of the WomenNC mentors, I think I will be able to create an effective presentation that will move people from complacency to action.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hopes and Goals for CSW Fellowship Experience 2016-2017

When I first found out about the opportunity that WomenNC offers to be a CSW Fellow, I cannot explain the emotion I felt knowing I could potentially have a chance to make a difference in not only my community, but possibly the state.  As a first generation college student, I cannot explain how difficult it has been for me to navigate through the process of finding the right college, figuring out how to pay for it, and also the application process. 
            It was somewhat difficult for me to narrow down my options of what topic to research, but I have found that there is nothing better than to work on something I am very passionate about and also something I have experienced firsthand.  There is still much to work through on my topic, but to give you a broad overview of what I will research is the educational opportunities/resources available to the children of immigrant women, specifically how to increase the rate of students who go on to pursue higher education.  I am hoping that through this research I can a make long lasting impact on the community of Durham.  I hope the Durham City Council will find not just my research, but the research of my fellow participants significant and pursue through necessary legislation to make the necessary changes in Durham. 
            One of my goals is to put into practice what I have learned up to this point in the classroom.  I am trying to treat this as my first real life assignment.  As a public policy major, this research is something where many of my classes come together and I hope I can make not only my institution proud, but also my professors. 
            My overall goal is to take this experience and turn it into something I can continue to work on even after all of my work is done with this Fellowship.  I have found that everything I have done thus far, leads to the path of advocacy.  I am very proud of myself for being a part of this, and I cannot wait to learn as much as I can from this experience.  I am very excited to see where this will lead me!

Local then Global

I am beyond excited to have been chosen as a 2016-2017 WomenNC Fellow! This fellowship graciously grants me the opportunity to present research on an important gender equity topic relevant in Durham to Durham’s City Council and at the 61st Annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) event at the United Nations in New York. I will work with a mentor to create a gender equity status report relevant to an issue within Durham County and I have the privilege of going through this fellowship experience with three other college students.
There is so much to be grateful for because of this fellowship. I am grateful I had the opportunity to practice writing applications and going through an interview process since I will most likely have to do many more applications and interviews throughout my life. I am grateful to have already met incredible women who volunteer their time for WomenNC and incredible young people who also want to make a difference in advancing women’s human rights. This experience will give me a chance to build relationships with the other fellows, my research mentor, at least one local organization in Durham, and the general WomenNC community. These relationships have already inspired me and I look forward to the rest of the year getting to spend time around these radiating forms of inspiration and support. I am thankful for the resources that will help me grow as a person and as an advocate. I am particularly excited for the training I will receive on presentation and public speaking skills; I know that I have a lot to learn. Of course, I cannot even believe that I now have the chance to attend the Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations in New York. I will forever be indebted to WomenNC for making this a possibility for me.
When I first heard about the fellowship, I mostly thought about the CSW event in March. I have been daydreaming about successfully presenting my research, meeting amazing activists from all over the country and world, and finding ways to connect long-term with people and organizations that do wonderful work in eliminating forms of oppression. I am also excited to focus on issues most relevant to Durham County, the neighbor of Wake County where I was born and raised. I think learning the conditions and current status of women in the local area is essential for working to improve those conditions and elevate that status. Then, the lessons learned in my own state can later be applied to the global work and international conversation about women’s human rights. I feel confident about working to make a difference somewhere close to where I’m from rather than trying to overstep boundaries and create change somewhere I do not understand as well. If I can be an effective advocate for change locally then I will be better equipped to contribute to the global efforts for women’s human rights.

There are over a million things a person could study related to gender and choosing a research topic has been challenging. Possible topics included the conditions of girls in the juvenile justice system, the wage gap, women in political leadership, transgender healthcare at Duke Hospital, postpartum depression, and sexual assault prevention education in middle schools. I have narrowed down my list to those last two items and am trying to decide whether to pursue my interests of the intersection of gender and mental health or early education for sexual assault prevention. I am leaning towards sexual assault prevention education because of my previous work at NC State’s Women’s Center as a peer educator on topics related to interpersonal violence. I would study education efforts in middle schools and the distribution of safe spaces on campus. This work would ideally allow me to make recommendations on how to widen the safe spaces on campus and help schools improve their education efforts to reduce incidents of violence in the future. I will work with my mentor Brooke Jones this week to finalize my topic and begin my research. I cannot wait for all that is to come!

Blog 1: Hopes and Goals for CSW Fellowship

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) proposes for states to take a series of measures in order to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. The incorporation of equality for men and women is a key principle under the CEDAW. Ensuring women’s equal access to education, health, and employment is fundamentally supported by the CEDAW. As a CSW fellow, I take great interest in advocating to local government officials for the implementation of the principles under the CEDAW.  

After interning at the North Carolina General Assembly for three legislative sessions, nothing interests me more than the implementation of social changes.  I enjoy researching and evaluating issues that impact many groups of North Carolina. I am incredibly excited to take on a new role as a CSW fellow because my work will be focused on local advocacy for women’s human rights under the CEDAW. I hope that my advocacy efforts will initiate Durham’s City Council to propose legislation in support of women’s equal access to healthcare services.

My goal as a CSW fellow is to research the disparities regarding access to reproductive health services in varying parts of Durham. I plan on working with Lynne Walter from the ACLU to evaluate the disparities in access to reproductive health services and the implications of the disparities.  An examination of reproductive health disparities in Durham would provide a greater knowledge of the issues that local women have due to lack of access. My goal is to summarize the findings and propose a preliminary solution to the Durham City Council. I hope that the council will consider adopting legislation in order to ensure women’s equal access to reproductive health services as proposed under the CEDAW.

-Cristy Villalobos