What’s in a name? Pro-choice v. pro-life and the abortion debate

Labels have, up until this point, played a pretty sizeable role in the abortion debate. Are you pro-choice? Pro-life? Anti-choice? Pro-abortion? Sometimes it felt like what you called yourself mattered more than what you said.

Abortion discussions also frequently cite Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. But a recent study, conducted by Pew Research Center in honor of Roe v. Wade’s monumental 40th anniversary, found that only 40% of those younger than 30 even know what the case was all about.

It’s no wonder some are intimidated by abortion debates, especially when people on both sides of the issue are so passionate about their views. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and it needs to move beyond the hard-edged pro-life/pro-choice sides.

At least that’s the stance Planned Parenthood has taken. The “pro-choice” organization recently announced it would remove the word “choice” from its language as part of its latest campaign, Not In Her Shoes. According to the short video they released, Planned Parenthood has said it hopes that moving beyond labels will help foster more meaningful conversations surrounding the issue.

“For many people, [abortion is] not a black and white issue,” the video says. “So why do people try to label it like it is? Pro-choice? Pro-life? The truth is these labels limit the conversation and simply don’t reflect how people actually feel about abortion.”

According to polling done on behalf of Planned Parenthood, the numbers support this idea. A 2012 poll showed that 35% of those who identified as pro-life did not want Roe v. Wade overturned. Further complicating the issue, a whopping 12% said they were both pro-choice AND pro-life, while another 12% argued they wouldn’t identify as either. (For the full polling results, visit NotInHerShoes.org.)

So are the pro-choice/pro-life monikers really working?

At a press briefing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said, “It’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity.”

Feminist and women’s rights outlets have also weighed in on the issue. Amanda Marcotte wrote a great piece about it for Slate.

“I can see why Planned Parenthood might want to shed the term in order to get these conflicted people to realize they are on Planned Parenthood’s side. But I’m afraid that the desire to go label-free is doomed to fail,” Marcotte wrote. “Labels are simply part of language, and shorthand rhetoric is part of the political debate. As long as abortion is a contested issue, there’s no opting out of that.”

Over at RH Reality Check (which also has a fantastic article about Roe v. Wade) Tracy Weitz tackled the issue, too. She wrote, “Pro-choice is a political label and has nothing to do with the real stories and lives of women who have abortions.” However, Weitz also brought up the point that simply backing away from polarizing labels isn’t enough. “What’s next?” she asked.

It’s a brilliant question, and hopefully one that reproductive rights panels – like the one CWEALF attended on Jan. 17 – can delve into further. At that panel, Lt. Governor, AG George Jepsen, SOTS Denise Merrill, and Treasurer Denise Nappier all spoke candidly about what Roe v. Wade has meant not only for them personally, but for women’s rights as a whole. On Jan. 30, Planned Parenthood and CWEALF will host another discussion about abortion at Hartford’s Charter Oak Cultural Center, 5:30 p.m.

Whether you support Planned Parenthood’s decision or not, we likely can all agree that its announcement, coupled with the chatter surrounding Roe v. Wade’s anniversary, has sparked a crucial discussion. Now it’s up to us to keep the conversation going. 



Written by Crystal Maldonado. Crystal is a content developer and professional blogger by day, and a dog-mom and super-feminist by night. Follow her @crysmaldonado.

April is Sexual Assault and Harassment Month!

While few of the thousands of students who are sexually harassed each year, both at school and in their places of work, are targets of sexual assault, all are affected by the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, research suggests, is normative in both the classroom and the workplace. According to the most recent American Association of University Women study (2011), 48% of youth in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in their schools during 2010-2011; the incidence of sexual harassment in both school and non-school sponsored workplaces is largely unknown due to the lack of targeted research in this area. Fineran and Gruber (2009) indicate that the incidence of workplace sexual harassment among high school girls may be as high as 35%, exceeding that of working women. The numbers of high school students in the workplace (statistics indicate that approximately 80-90% of adolescents work at some point during high school) suggest that the negative impact of sexual harassment, including lessened connections to and engagement with school and work is overlooked to the detriment of the country’s youth.

So, what is our responsibility? Students entering the workplace, especially as part of a school-sponsored work experience, should be educated about the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment, the laws that govern workplace and school behavior (Title VII and Title IX), and the actions that students can take to report.

Additionally, educators, especially those who supervise work-based experiences, should be proactive about sexual harassment by providing students with instruction about the law in concrete and relatable terms and stay vigilant about student behavior that may result from sexual harassment.

Written by Lucy Brakoniecki. Lucy is the Research & Evaluation Director at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund.

Opportunities for Women in Politics


Did you read our recent post, Breaking Down Barriers to Women in Politics and become frustrated by the lack of ladies in politics? This absence is due to multiple systemic factors that make it more difficult for women to run for political office, such as implicit bias. Luckily, two upcoming events are targeted to assisting women interested in breaking down those barriers to be involved in politics.

On Wednesday March 12th, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) is hosting Women’s Day at the Capitol entitled “Journalism & Gender: When Women Report on Politics and Public Policy.” The day will begin with networking at 9:30 followed by a welcome from constitutional officers.  Next, a panel of female political reporters will share their experiences in the field.  Lunch is provided after the panel, another opportunity for attendees to network with one another.

After PCSW’s program, participants have the opportunity to learn how to manage a political campaign or run for a political office.  Specifically, CT NOW is hosting an informational forum with Patti Russo, Executive Director of the Yale Women’s Campaign School at 1:45 in the North Lobby of the LOB. CT NOW is offering two full scholarships* to cover the cost of attending the annual summer session. The Yale Women’s Campaign School tuition costs $1,250 and runs from June 9-June 13, 2014. The informational forum will allow participants to learn more about the Yale Women’s Campaign School, how to apply for the scholarship, and ask questions.

*Please note: Eligible women for the full scholarships are pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and interested in holding office in Connecticut.

Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a first year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF.

Girls Rising

This weekend, a wonderful documentary will be shown on CNN. The documentary is titled Girl Rising, and it tells the resilient story of 9 extraordinary girls from around the world. According to the Girl Rising website, it “showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.”

                Girl’s education is extremely important to their development into strong adults. CWEALF participates in the education of girls through our G2O STEM Expos, which keep 7th grade girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. The campaign behind the Girl Rising film, 10x10, “is a global campaign for girls’ education” that brings together multiple international organizations dedicated to improving the lives of girls everywhere.

                Girl Rising will be shown on CNN at 9pm on June 16th, and again at midnight. If you can’t take any time away this weekend to watch the film, there are a couple showings across Connecticut in the next few months. You can look them up here, or if you’re feeling bold, arrange a screening yourself! If you feel moved to do something, check out the 10x10 campaign or The Girl Effect to learn how you can help.

Written by Linda Manville Kaphaem. Linda is an intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).

Supporting Family Values Means Supporting Paid Family Leave


“Supporting Family Values Means Supporting Paid Family Leave”

–Michelle Noehren, Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW)

On Tuesday June 10, a group of passionate community members gathered to discuss the possibility of paid family leave in Connecticut at the first “Let’s Talk About It” event in a series of community conversations about current issues impacting women.  The first topic was family and medical leave insurance (FMLI) also referred to as paid family leave (PFL)[1]. The conversation was led by the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave co-chairs Catherine Bailey of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and Michelle Noehren of PCSW.  CWEALF and the Campaign co-hosted this event in Hartford as a way to hear the perspectives and personal narratives of workers and family members.

Participants ranged from lawyers and policy advocates to curious family members struck by the imbalance of safety net policies for employees. Participants shared their experiences about how family leave policies—paid or unpaid—assisted them when they needed time or when it was detrimental to not have such as policy in place.

One motif to cut across all stories was the notion of unpredictability and how that affects work and home life. A participant shared that her best friend, a 25 year old woman, developed cancer and had to leave work to go through treatment. Her parents needed to stop working to provide their daughter care for several months. That family is still dealing with the repercussions of a lack of pay compounded with medical bills and ultimately the loss of their daughter.

Another challenge emphasized was how workplaces can vary greatly with what they provide to their employees. Some people shared organizations in the community who excel with family friendly policies. But, many pointed out that these policies may not become apparent until you need them. Several women mentioned that they did not know the state or federal policies regarding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) until they became pregnant or until they or a loved one became ill. Participants shared a lack of awareness of the policies and disbelief that there is no statewide or national policy to provide compensation for needed leave.

During an emotive stretch of a person’s life it becomes even more grueling to require a leave of absence from employment without pay or being unable to take an unpaid leave. While this type of legislation has many moving pieces, several states have already successfully implemented PFL. Several research studies have shown positive effects in the workplace and in family life after passing such policies. Longer term economic gains including lower likelihood of needing public assistance and higher wages among new mothers entering the workforce after leave should be seen as important gains for Connecticut (http://paidfamilyleavect.org/why/).

Lindsay Farrell, Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families, noted that the economy was not what it used to be; in two-parent household most families need two incomes. Lucy Brakoniecki, Research and Evaluation Director at CWEALF, commented that even more individuals are “sandwiched” in between providing unpaid care to elderly parents and dependent children or grandchildren while balancing a career. To encompass these cultural and economic changes, policies need to adapt to the changes of the market to reflect this reality and the unpredictability of life.

For more information, visit the Campaign for Paid Family Leave. http://paidfamilyleavect.org/


Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention faith study.

[1] FMLI or PFL would create an insurance system in which employees could receive temporary wage replacement in the event of a serious illness (personal or to care for a family member), having a child, arrival of an adopted child, or to care for an injured service member. Logistical considerations such as duration of leave, those eligible, and amount of wage replacement, are all factors involved in the policy planning process. 

My Family, My Marriage

There has been a lot of news coverage lately about the lack of support for same-sex couples being allowed to marry; because of this, I feel compelled to talk about my marriage, new family and my experiences.

I am in a same-sex relationship. Over a year ago, on our way to get married, my partner’s water broke, 7 weeks early. The hospital worked hard to keep our child from being born.  But one week later, Parker was born at 1.7 lbs. We spent the next few months in the NICU at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.

But this isn’t a story about how well our child Parker did or is doing. Instead, I wanted to say how amazing everyone in the hospital was the entire time.  From the minute we walked in, we were met with kindness and respect — for us, our situation and our relationship.  Though I was not the birth mother, the staff was very clear I was the parent of this child. 

We went ahead and got married, at our home, with dozens of family and friends in attendance. The day we got married, we went to visit with our son at the hospital. The staff cheered and congratulated us. It was heartwarming. But besides being heartwarming, it was a huge relief.  We knew that if we were met with any staff who were opposed to our relationship that it really could have affected our ability to focus our attention on where it needed to be, on our family and our child’s health.  But instead, we were accepted, as a couple and as a family. 

I’m proud to be from Connecticut and to work at an organization such as the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), because I was part of the effort to ensure same-sex couples could legally adopt together, then,  with Love Makes a Family, part of the effort to change the laws and the minds and hearts of so many about same-sex marriage. However, this latest controversy is a good reminder that there is still so much work to do so every same-sex family can enjoy the respect my family was shown during a very difficult time.

Written by Amy Miller. Amy Miller is the Program & Public Policy Director at CWEALF.

June is LGBT Pride Month!

This month The Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) is celebrating LGBT Pride Month!  June is LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots that occurred on June 27th, 1969 in Greenwich, New York.   On that day in June, police raided a gay bar, something that had happened many times in the past. This time was different, however and a series of events caused the bar’s inhabitants to become angry and rise up against the police. They began throwing coins and other debris at the police who then trashed the bar and beat an innocent man as well as injured many more.  News of this riot reached other LGBT members across the city who came out to support the rioters. For the next two evenings the rioters gathered again to protest.  

The Stonewall riots raised discussion in the LGBT community and it lead to the modern Gay Rights Movement. In remembrance of the Stonewall riots the first LGBT Pride March was held in June 1970 and these marches have spread all across the United States.

This year’s LGBT Pride March will be held on Sunday June 30th in New York City and will pass the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots.  CWEALF is dedicated to equality and tolerance of all people no matter the gender or sexual orientation of that person and work to increase awareness of the inequality based on gender and sexual orientation in Connecticut.

Photo by Sasha Kargaltsev, “New York Gay Pride 2011” June 29, 2011. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License. 



Written by Jennifer Farina. Jen is an intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and a student at the University of Connecticut. 

Breaking Down the Barriers to Women in Politics


In recent years, several measures have been taken to advance gender equality in today’s workforce and political environment.  For Connecticut, the 2013 election became a historical turning point for women as many prevailed in highly contested political races within the state.   While this defining moment promises future success for female leaders, women still remain widely underrepresented in leadership roles.  Presently, women constitute only 14 percent of the state’s Congressional Delegation, 29 percent of the Connecticut General Assembly, and 25 percent of municipal governing bodies.  What’s striking about these statistics is that studies show that women tend to fare well against men in political campaigns. The existing disparity among female representation in politics can be attributed to a variety of societal factors that impact a woman’s decision to pursue a political seat.  Nonetheless, women are vital to the political arena as they provide a perspective unique to their male counterparts. 

Women face a range of barriers regarding their political involvement.  The most prevalent is the gender bias within American society, which urges women to take on more of a domestic identity than professional or community leader.  This implicit bias often shapes a woman’s political and occupational experience and work availability which ultimately impacts their success within the political arena.  These factors contribute to the common lack of political ambition among women and girls.   

Furthermore, while women fare well against men in political campaigns, women are often presented with obstacles during the campaign process.  These include bias within political party recruitment, securing fundraising sources, and fewer network connections within the “political pipeline.”  Studies show women are less likely to be considered during political party recruitment and endorsement.  Without party endorsement, candidates are frequently put at a disadvantage.  In addition, men and women candidates usually raise comparable campaign funds; however, women are more likely to have difficulty attracting funders from traditional sources.  These factors derive from the limited access women have to political networking.  With fewer women in politics than men, female candidates lack networking and mentoring opportunities.  This again disempowers women from seeking and obtaining political leadership positions.

Having more female leaders within Connecticut would not only encourage young women and girls to pursue non-traditional professions, it would also benefit the productivity and functionality of our governing bodies.   In fact, female political leaders are more likely to advocate for women’s rights and social justice issues and offer a different perspective in addressing public policy.  To learn more about how CWEALF works to promote women in policy and leadership, read our recap on the 3rd Annual Women’s Policy Day.

Nina Candels is a CWEALF social work intern from the University of Saint Joseph, who is specializing in policy and the Campaign for a Working Connecticut.

Better Child Care to Promote Employment

In the state of Connecticut, barriers to employment impact many workers and jobseekers, including 95% of Connecticut’s 10,000 Jobs First Employment Services (JFES) Program participants.  A prevailing concern is affordable and accessible childcare, as it remains one of the top the barriers to employment within the state.  Childcare is necessary for working families as it provides assistance in the care of a child while the parent works.  Despite the fact that it is important for family functioning, the cost of childcare has increased significantly, making it an impossible option for lower income families. 

In Connecticut, the cost of childcare constitutes one third of the median income for single parents.  Often, this cost is even more burdensome for single mothers due to the persistence of the gender wage gap.  In effort to aid families impacted by this epidemic, the state has created government subsidized programs and tax credits for childcare facilities to help low income families in need of childcare.  Care 4 Kids, for example, provides child care benefits for nearly 24,000 children with in the state.  While these services benefit families, such as the 31 percent of single mother families living below the poverty line, they do not adequately meet the needs of Connecticut’s working families. 

State programs directed towards childcare assistance need to be refined and expanded in order to decrease the number of individuals facing childcare as an employment barrier.  Furthermore, Connecticut workers would benefit from exploring alternative methods of childcare.  According to United Way’s 2-1-1, family daycare centers and state subsidized pre-school programs are often less expensive and more accessible than traditional childcare facilities; however, they hold the lowest occupancy rates within the state.  Through the education of alternative childcare options such as family day care centers, as well as expanding government funded programs, Connecticut would become closer to eliminating employment barriers and recovering from the Great Recession.

Read more on employment barriers impacting Connecticut workers through CWEALF’s involvement with the Campaign for a Working Connecticut.  To learn more about childcare services within the state, visit United Way of Connecticut’s 2-1-1 childcare.

Written by Nina Candels. Nina is a CWEALF social work intern from the University of Saint Joseph, who is specializing in policy and the Campaign for a Working Connecticut.

Bridging the Skills Gap with Sector-Based Strategies


Since the financial downturn that prompted the Great Recession, policymakers and advocates have taken great strides to support job creation and economic development.  Although the national unemployment rate has decreased from 10 percent to 7.3 percent, further steps must be taken to improve employment within the United States. Today’s workforce is faced with several barriers in achieving this goal; the most prevalent being the growing gap in skills and education.  While national and state programs aim to improve the competitiveness of the current workforce, such initiatives are not enough.  Based on these issues, several states have taken steps to form industry partnerships which utilize sector-based strategies as a means to eliminate the existing skills mismatch. 

Sector-based strategies are a workforce development initiative that partners businesses with community organizations and training providers in order to address the needs of employers and workers.  By providing employers with the resources to effectively train under-skilled employees, businesses are able to expand work quality and efficiency while advancing the skills and opportunities of their workers.  Ultimately, sector-based strategies promote job growth and enable a faster recovery from the great recession.  

An example of a successful sector-based strategy initiative is the “Job Ready” program in Pennsylvania.  In 2005, Pennsylvania’s “Job Ready” program was enacted by former Governor Ed Rendell to gain understanding of the basic industry needs and invest in workforce development in an efficient and effective manner. State funding was allocated to nine sector initiatives focusing on industry partnerships and incumbent worker training.  In one year, “Job Ready” established approximately 70 industry partnerships, and trained more than 7,500 workers throughout 900 companies.

Today, state governments are using sector-based strategies as a key element of workforce and economic development policies.  The need for programs such as these within the state of Connecticut is essential for job growth and opportunities.  Read more about the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund’s involvement with the Campaign for a Working Connecticut and sector-based strategies.


Nina Candels is a CWEALF social work intern from the University of Saint Joseph, who is specializing in policy and the Campaign for a Working Connecticut.

Rethinking Connecticut’s Alimony Laws


Ana is the mother of a seven year old son who sought CWEALF’s assistance during her divorce. A stay at home mom during the marriage, Ana was mentally and verbally abused by her ex-husband, and not allowed to control any of the family’s finances. She also faced a language barrier during the proceedings, as she and her ex-husband met in Mexico. After being referred to CWEALF and our Community Advocate, Ana was able to go to court and obtain an alimony award that helped her pay her rent, and an increased child support award. For Ana, alimony means being able to get back on her feet and providing a better life for herself and her son.

On Wednesday, January 29, 2014 the Alimony Commission of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Law Review Commission held a public hearing on the topic of reforming the state’s system of awarding alimony.  The Commission was created by Public Law 2013-213, and tasked with studying the fairness and adequacy of Connecticut’s current system of alimony orders.  Public Law 2013-213 indicated that the Commission should collect empirical data pertaining to alimony in Connecticut, and present its proposed recommendations to the General Assembly by February 1, 2014.

Currently in Connecticut, alimony orders are calculated using a case-by-case method. Judges are required to consider and balance a number of factors including the age, health, occupation, earning capacity, and education of the parties involved in the divorce. In recent years, several attempts have been made to standardize this case-by-case methodology into a set process by imposing a guideline or formula for calculation. Reducing the determination of alimony orders into a simple formula or set of guidelines would be harmful for the financial and emotional security of many women, men, and children, and therefore CWEALF opposes this change. Any proposed formula would likely not take into account the lost earning potential of women who voluntarily leave the workforce to care for children, or the difficulties of maintaining primary custody of a child with inadequate child support payments.

Additionally, an alimony formula would negatively affect victims of domestic violence. Victims with few economic resources could be forced to stay with an abusive spouse in order to stretch their marriage to a sufficient length to obtain alimony payments under the formula. Further, because every marriage is unique and cannot simply be boiled down to a numerical calculation, we support keeping the current system for alimony awards as is, allowing for judicial discretion. In a public meeting on February 4, 2014, the Commission agreed it would not recommend guidelines for awarding alimony orders to the Law Review Commission.

The Commission also focused on issues of cohabitation involved in sustaining alimony orders. Proposals have been made to amend Connecticut’s alimony laws to include a presumption that alimony can be modified or terminated once a former spouse moves in with another person after the divorce. Such a presumption incorrectly assumes that an alimony recipient is bettering their financial circumstances by moving in with someone; further, it would prevent former spouses from moving in with friends or family to help pay the bills or provide care and support. CWEALF supports leaving all modification decisions in the hands of a judge, cohabitation or not.

There is no standardized form of divorce, so it doesn’t make sense that there be a standardized way of determining alimony orders. Each marriage is unique and complicated, and CWEALF supports a model of alimony awards that allows experienced judges to weigh critical factors against each other in making alimony determinations in each distinctive situation.

Photo by Rawle C. Jackman, “Mother & Child.” 03/29/2011. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Kaitlyn Fydenkevez is a legal intern at CWEALF, and a second year law student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. You can read more from her at kaitlynfydenkevez.com/blog/.

The United States STILL Hasn’t Ratified Women’s Rights Treaty

The United States is the only industrialized nation that hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a treaty that was drafted in 1979 to help end international discrimination. There are actually only six others in the United Nations that haven’t approved it and they are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and two Pacific islands.

Women around the world still don’t have the same educational and economic opportunities as men, and don’t have the same access to health care. The treaty affirms that women’s rights are human rights. This is badly needed considering that the United States is 22nd in the world when it comes to gender equality, with pay discrimination and domestic violence being major issues, as well as the United States being the last industrialized nation for maternal health.

Over 100 organizations signed a letter asking the Senate to ratify the treaty during the 113th Congress. There needs to be no more partisan politics, as the country needs to work together to stand up for women’s rights. President Obama has already endorsed and made the treaty a priority.

In response to the discrimination that women face all over the United States and the world, the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) does anti-discrimination work. CWEALF has an Information and Referral service (l&R) that can explain your rights and options to you when it comes to discrimination. They can be contacted online or toll-free at 1-800-479-2949. In the Greater Hartford Area, the number is 860-524-0601. The line is available from 9 AM to 2 PM Monday-Thursday and 9 AM to 1 PM on Fridays. To meet in person in the New Haven or Greater Hartford Area, the number is 860-247-6090. CWEALF also publishes educational booklets regarding these issues – to receive one, call the l&R line or download them on the website.

Photo by Mike Hendren, “American Flag sm,” 2/4/09. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Written by Brittany Estes-Garcia. Brittany is a student at Arizona State University and is a volunteer with CWEALF. 

Math Counts.

This is the simple message that ECSU professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith delivers in the article, “Schools Shouldn’t Subtract Math For Young Students” in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, July 15th.

Trawick-Smith presents evidence from research, and his own practice as an early childhood educator, that indicates that many early childhood programs have dedicated themselves to student’s acquisition of literacy skills. While this is an important focus, literacy development often comes at the expense of the promotion of math skills.   Trawick-Smith suggests that math needs to be at the center of childhood instruction and play and should the responsibility of both educators and parents.   Blocks, board games and puzzles strengthen abstract and concrete learning about numbers and the relationships between them. Educators are responsible for giving math education the prominence it needs; parent interactions with their children, such as (Trawick-Smith suggests) singing “Five Little Pumpkins” or counting napkins on a dinner table, need to occur with  consistency and in the “most natural of ways.”

Math is often the turf on which gender equity struggles are fought. Are girls just naturally math phobic? Do teachers and parents unintentionally broadcast gendered expectations of their daughters’ and female student’s expectations? Some research suggests that this is so. Elementary teachers’ expectations of girls (specifically, female teachers who may not be comfortable themselves teaching math) and fathers’ expectations of their daughters may affect girls’ math learning. It may be even more important to parents and educators to ensure that their daughters have hands-on, relevant experiences that consistently connect math to their daily lives. Pull out the Legos for your daughter (pink, blue or primary colored), make a space for a puzzle, count the number of blocks in the drive or walk to school; but also get to know how your daughter’s schools intend to make sure all students have strong numeracy skills to ensure their success.

At the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), we are engaged in projects which examine the issues of math and gender; offer girls opportunities to explore math through our Girls and STEM Expos and online activities; and, connect parents and educators to important research and resources.

Written by Lucy Brakoniecki. Lucy is the Research & Evaluation Director at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).

#GivingTuesday - Women and Philanthropy; Who Gives?


In the course of our work for both the Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls and the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) has been gathering data on women and giving in the state. Research suggests that women’s giving is an important part of the philanthropy story; and one not often told.

Couples and families are the largest philanthropic givers; however women play an important and impactful role in philanthropic giving.  Women make up over 40% of the top wealth holders in the United States, have equal or greater say in giving decisions in most households and live longer and tend to donate more of their money than men. Older women, the Baby Boomer generation and senior women give the most; however young adults are becoming more active in philanthropic giving.  Women and men also give differently, and for different reasons.  Women are more likely to give to organizations and causes with which they have a relationship or social connection; however, women tend to vary which organizations they donate to over time.  

Connecticut is a wealthy state – it is ranked highest in the nation for average household income, women in full-time wage and salary positions have the highest median weekly earnings of women nationally and suburban, Caucasian and high-income women in Connecticut are the most likely to donate.  However, the wealth of the state and its women doesn’t directly translate to the state’s philanthropy. Even though women tend to give more than men, women and girls make up a minority of those receiving grants and aid. Connecticut is 22nd in terms of the top 1000 foundations nationally tracked by The Foundation Center, and about half of the states in the country are ranked higher than Connecticut in terms of gross income donated.  When focusing specifically on women and girls funding, only 3% of the Connecticut Foundation funding is awarded to women and girls grants, as opposed to 6% nationally.

Organizations or parts of organizations that specifically provide funding to women and girls programs, called women’s funds, were established in Connecticut in 1993. Since then, they have been working to engage women and men around the state to invest in programs that impact the lives of women and girls in their communities.  In the last 10 years, women’s funds assets have grown from $2.9 million to $18.7 million and grants have grown from $150,000 to $986,000.  While more can always be done, these funds have been used to support positive change for women and girls across Connecticut. 

Where are you planning to give on this #GivingTuesday? Consider giving to CWEALF if you want your funds to go towards helping women and girls in the state of Connecticut!

Written by Amy Muslim. Amy is a Research Consultant at CWEALF; one of her current projects is an assessment of the needs of women and girls in Hartford County for the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation. 

Who ever said Volunteering your Time wasn’t Glamorous?


A couple of years ago, I was a new mom and moments to myself were rare but I was having one of those days where I just had to get out of the house. Guiltily, I browsed the aisles at my local craft store – hiding and enjoying some time away from my hectic schedule. That was when I saw a fellow shopper with a carriage full – I mean full – of craft jewels. They were all so colorful and sparkled. I wondered if she was a coupon guru, like the ones on television, who used one coupon to buy hundreds of cans of tomato soup only to pay $1.15 at the check-out counter.

So I asked her what she was going to do with all of those jewels. That was when she told me about Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and their G2O initiative – Generating Girls’ Opportunities by providing programming to encourage girls’ enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math. CWEALF holds five expos each year for girls to participate in a day-long program where they can learn and experiment. It turns out that the jewels are used to decorate their safety goggles.

That day a couple of years ago, I thought I went to the craft store to disappear for a while from all the demands and responsibilities that I was trying to juggle. But, instead of disappearing, something really valuable appeared and no, I don’t mean the rare jewels that are used to decorate the girls’ safety goggles. What I found was the opportunity to help give back and make a difference in girls’ futures. Volunteering was always an important part of my life and I was disappointed that I hadn’t spent much time doing that and really wanted to get involved again but my life was different  - I was a new mom with a busy work life  – and I wasn’t sure who or how I could help. CWEALF and G2O were the perfect choice for me.

Since then, I have volunteered at multiple G2O expos and have had so much fun at each of them. The programming is diverse and interesting and the girls who participate leave each day with a sense of pride in what they achieved in that day’s program and full of chatter about what they wanted to do next. Oh, and of course, they also leave with a pair of bejeweled safety goggles. After all, science, technology, engineering and math – and volunteering – are pretty exciting and even glamorous!

Written by Nicole Salomone-Bates. Nicole works for ING and has been a G2O Volunteer for over a year.

Upholding Title IX

In 1972, the United States introduced a law known by most people simply as Title IX (Title Nine). Title IX is an educational amendment authored by Congressman Patsy T. Mink with the purpose of ensuring that no person is denied participation in or the benefits of any educational program based upon their gender. After the Civil Rights Act was introduced in 1964, women’s activist groups picked up steam and began fighting harder for greater observation of women’s rights, too. Although Title IX pertains to all educational programs, the greatest impact was felt by those participating in athletics programs at the high school and college level.

Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) advocates for the rights of girls and women fighting against discrimination based upon gender. In addition to providing information and resources, CWEALF advocates help women understand their rights and options when dealing with these issues regarding Title IX:

  • Involvement in Sports. Despite progress made, only 36 percent of money spent on athletics programs at the high school and college level is spent on sports including women. Involvement in sports translates into areas of a young girl’s or woman’s life, creating a greater impact than just the involvement in physical activity. The benefits of sports involvement offer emotional and social strengths, as well. During the school years, sports involvement has shown to reduce teen pregnancy, while increasing grades and raising self-esteem. Participation in school sports is one factor that can contribute toward success later in a young woman’s life. The enforcement of Title IX ensures that women’s rights to actively participate in sports programs are preserved.
  • Pursuit of Higher Education. Although the area of sports participation is closely guarded by Title IX activists, it’s not the only area of concern where educational opportunities are concerned. The desire of women to pursue higher education in vital areas such as medicine, science and mathematics is still occasionally met with difficulty, even 40 years after Title IX was first introduced. Over the years, advocate groups such as CWEALF have worked to ensure female students’ rights in this area and encourage young girls to become involved in these important areas of academia.
  • Inclusion of Parents and Pregnant Students. Not long ago, pregnancy often meant the end of a woman’s participation in higher education. As times have changed, these expectations have given way to the expectation that women can continue in school or in the workplace throughout and shortly after pregnancy. Title IX helps protect pregnant women and parents from discrimination based upon these issues.
  • Protection Against Sexual Harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace or school should never be tolerated. The advocates at CWEALF are available to help those dealing with sexual harassment so they understand their rights and options. Should sexual harassment be experienced in any form, the Title IX coordinator at the school should be notified immediately, act accordingly and follow up on the situation. The gender or sexual preference of a student should never be an issue in any school or work-related matter and a right to protection against sexual harassment is a vital component in the Title IX educational amendment act.

As progress continues to be made concerning the issues of equal treatment and accessibility to educational programs for women and those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, CWEALF continues its efforts to advocate for equal opportunities in education. Whether the issues you face pertain to sexual harrassment or other Title IX issues, CWEAL advocates are available to meet in-person or help you online or over the phone so you understand your options and rights when dealing with issues related to Title IX.

Works Cited:



R. Singh

Teens' Experiences of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


CWEALF has been examining teens’ experiences of sexual harassment in school over the last three years. Extending beyond the school, it seemed unfortunately plausible that the same acts could be occurring in workplaces for youth. Following a literature review, and seeing the lack of attention to this important issue, we decided to take a look ourselves. Sexual harassment is legally denied as the unwelcome attention of a sexual nature, occurring through verbal and/pr physical interaction. These acts can be persistent or one time occurrences, but the key is the lack of consent from the person being sexually harassed[1].

About 140 students from 15-18, in different areas of Connecticut, and in both school sponsored and non-school sponsored workplaces took the anonymous survey. The goals of the survey were to measure knowledge, experiences and attitudes related to sexual harassment of students in the workplace.

We found that 40% of students experienced unwanted comments about their clothing, body, or experiences, 30% reported someone making sexual gestures or facial expressions at them, and 25% were touched, kissed, or stroked in a sexual way. While some findings were comparable whether students were in non-school sponsored or school-sponsored workplaces, incidence rates of some specific types of sexual harassment were higher in non-school sponsored workplaces. In non-school sponsored workplaces, twice as many students had been promised an employment incentive in exchange for sexual favors (9.4% in non-school sponsored workplaces v. 5.1% in school sponsored workplaces) and more respondents reported being threatened if they did not comply with a sexual request (11.6% v. 6.5%).

Another troubling finding was found in data reflecting youths’ attitudes around such behaviors. 30% of students did not think certain behaviors constituted sexual harassment, including coworkers’ unwelcome comments about body/appearance or sexual identity, and watching inappropriate videos near them.72% felt that how a person dresses or behaves can precipitate sexual harassment in the workplace. Further, for students who experienced sexual harassment but did not report it, the majority (75%) felt that it was not a big deal or they didn’t think anything would come out of it.

Findings which point to a victim-blaming belief can affect the ways in which a student perceives the perpetrator’s actions as sexual harassment, if s/he will report and how peers respond to the individual’s experiences. This could also reflect some of the students’ beliefs that the event was not a big deal or that nothing will change. Realizing the high rates of sexual harassment and that the majority of high school students over 16 are employed in some capacity[2], it is even more concerning.

CWEALF has already begun taking action by following through with our recommendations. Contracting with a local nonprofit in Hartford, students are developing outreach audio messages to be played on the radio and on school systems. Additionally, we are recommending additional training within  the required workplace safety training,  so that teachers and students will have more information on sexual harassment. CWEALF is also offering its I&R services for students to call for assistance with sexual harassment in the workplace experiences. These measures should help facilitate training and sensitivity to the issue while informing students of their rights. Our hope is that these efforts will reduce the barriers associated with asking for help, empowering students to be able to advocate for themselves, and for teachers and supervisors to create a supportive culture which protects all employees.

Photo by UNDP in Europe and Central Asia, “Youth led solutions for youth problems in Montenegro.” Retrieved on May 12, 2014. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the HTPPI faith study.

[1] Hansen, G.L., & Mallory, W.W. (2005). Eliminate sexual harassment. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved from http://www.agnr.umd.edu/nnfr/adolsex/fact/adolsex_harass.html

[2] Steinberg, L. (2002). Adolescence. (6th Edition) New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.