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Sunday November 23rd 2014

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Waging the War on Women

Local Women Fight for Their Rights
By Jennie McKeon

Evalyn Narramore was taught to fight for her rights as a woman from her mother, an escort at an abortion clinic who belonged to the Reproductive Choice Group. She witnessed the bra-burning 1960s and is now confused as to why birth control is such a hot topic.

“I think, right now, we’re going backwards,” she said.

The 66-year-old president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Escambia County said the far-right politicians have gone too far.

“They don’t belong in your bedroom or your doctor’s office,” Narramore said. “Last year, it intensified. After 2010, when Republicans got control of state House of Representatives, they used women’s issues to divert attention away from the fact that they lacked any basic plans to really cut the deficit.”

For women like Narramore, to see and hear these debates over all forms of media is discouraging. For the younger generation, it’s more confusing.

“There are a lot of younger women who haven’t been in a society that didn’t have abortions,” Narramore said. “Only 40 to 50 years ago we were fighting for these rights. The younger generation takes it for granted.”

“We ‘older’ women are just plain fed up with those guys – political or clerical – who think, because they have a penis, that somehow they are divinely ordained to rule,” said Patricia Edmisten of the Democratic Women’s Club of Escambia County.

That’s why Narramore kept her daughter up-to-date on politics, just as her mother had.

“My daughter always tells people she’s a bedwetting democrat because she’s been a democratic since she was in diapers,” Narramore joked.

Defending the 99 Percent

Of the many issues that have been discussed, birth control has become the hot button issue. Whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” or the Catholic Churches getting upset at the thought of their female congregation having sex and using contraceptives, media everywhere made these issues into headline news. “Marie Claire,” “Glamour” and many other magazines all wrote stories about the debates and women are reading.

Diane Wilson, mother of four in Panacea, Fla., became involved in protesting for women’s rights in 2011 after Planned Parenthood’s funding was threatened. Her e-mail signature reads “Women are watching and we vote,” in a bold font.

“It seems that year was the year so many of the states started proposing these crazy laws restricting women’s rights, which is crazy because these were the same people elected to go to D.C. to keep government out of our lives,” Wilson said.

Wilson and the Unite Women organization took their messages to the streets of Tallahassee, Fla. on April 28. Although local media did not give the rally any press, about 200 people showed up. Rallies were held across Florida that day in Pensacola, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Daytona, Naples and St. Petersburg.

“While we were setting up, people were walking by asking what the rally was about and many had no idea there was a War on Women,” Wilson said. “They said they would definitely be taking a closer look at all the issues out there to prepare themselves for the upcoming elections.”

Like Narramore said, Wilson agrees that those elected to go to D.C. should pay more attention to building the American workforce instead of “attempting to control a woman’s uterus” as she put it.

According to a study done by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke at the Guttmacher Institute, among all women who have had sex, 99 percent have used a contraceptive other than natural family planning. Nighty-eight percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have also used a contraceptive other than natural family planning. Yes, pill-popping women (even the Catholic ones) are the 99 percent.

“As I see it, contraceptives should be accessible to all women,” said Sara Latshaw, regional organizer for ACLU Foundation of Florida-Northwest Region. “Not only are they used by the majority of women at some point in their life, but it is basic preventative care.”

As a youth, Latshaw experienced ovarian cysts, which birth control was prescribed to remedy.

“Had this not been covered by my insurance, the burden of paying for my prescription would have fallen on my family,” she said.

For Narramore, what happens in the doctor’s office should stay there.

“I don’t care if she’s using birth control to keep her acne under control or if she never wants to have a baby,” she said. “It’s nobody’s business but theirs.”

Sex in the Church

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78.4 percent of adults in the United States are Christian, and 23.9 percent are Catholic, the second most popular Christian religion after Protestant. When the Catholic churches rejected the health care reform, which required employers to provide contraceptives to employees, their resistance had the potential to block a large number of women from receiving the health care they deserve.

President Obama changed the health care reform, relieving Catholic institutions from covering birth control by making the health care providers – not the employers – cover the cost of contraception. But the Catholic Church still isn’t pleased and women, religious or not, are upset that their needs are up for debate.

“I do not believe that this should be expanded to include larger church-run organizations such as hospitals and universities, as many of the women employed or studying within are of various faiths,” said Latshaw. “In such large and diverse organizations, it seems that my health care coverage should not be dictated by the religious beliefs of my boss, as is true in any other large organization or business.”

The Catholic/contraceptives debate also confuses and hurts the women that were born and raised into the religion.

“Many of us – those with questioning minds—can’t help but feel resentment toward those in positions of authority who’ve not walked in the shoes of women,” Edmisten said. “It irks many Catholic women that have a completely male-dominated church that lectures and commands on issues affecting them, especially since we’re not consulted.”

When it comes to preaching, many Catholics believe the sermons should stay in church. They feel the religious leaders may be crossing a line.

“I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic grade school. My children went to Catholic grade school,” Wilson said. “I think the church needs to refrain from politicizing this. Women, Catholic or not, use contraceptives. It’s a fact of life. The churches should stop trying to play politics or lose tax status.”

Join the Fight

Women should not be afraid to be outspoken or boisterous – especially now.

“When consciousness raising groups formed in the 1970s, I was still reluctant to be part of them, but I was and what a wonderful gift they were to my life,” said Elaine Buker of the Democratic Women’s Club of Escambia County. “The key is self-confidence. Have that, and others can be whatever they wish.”

Dr. Maureen McKenna, legislative chair for the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, has a laundry list of musts for activist hopefuls. She notes Planned Parenthood, Democratic Women’s Club and League of Women Voters as worthy organizations to join.

“Get involved now,” she said. “Stay on top of legislation via media. Start and sign petitions and e-mails to your legislators. Don’t be afraid to make calls to your legislator. This is one of the most effective methods to be heard.”

Social media is also a great way to keep updated on issues and spread awareness. Snail mail is still an accepted form of communication to local news editors, and of course voting is crucial.

Men are more than welcome to the battlefield. With Buker’s strong feminist convictions, she’s made her husband and two sons women’s rights activists.

“I became an ardent feminist and so did my husband,” Buker said.

As McKenna explains, female issues can affect both genders. During rallies such as the annual Rally in Tally, DWC members go to the capital to address issues to their legislators.

“The war has galvanized feminism as a social movement, once more,” she said. “These marches will be extended to marches to the polls in November where women and men can vote for those who care for their children’s education, who care about their environment, who care about their working wages and who care about protecting full access to healthcare to their daughters, mothers, sisters and themselves.”

For some, the War on Women is hardly over. In the meantime, women can be politically active and look to the early feminists for inspiration. Some women argue there is no current war, there just needs to be reinforcement of the progress made 50 years ago.

“Is there a War on Women? I think not,” said Edmisten. “It takes two or more groups to go to war. We’ve won the war. Now we need to enforce the treaty.”