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empowering women, girls and their families to achieve equal opportunities in their personal and professional lives

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The Connecticut Girls Collaborative Project is a vital resource for organizations in Connecticut that nurture girls’ interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The goals of the CGCP are to assist girl-serving organizations in sharing resources (and creative IDEAS!), to strengthen organizational capacity by sharing promising and best practices in content and pedagogy, and to leverage relationships to create synergy and become “the tipping point for gender equity in STEM.” The Connecticut Girls Collaborative Project is based upon a model developed by the National Girls Collaborative Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, and is one of thirty regional (mainly statewide) collaboratives across the country.

The CGCP was launched by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut (GSofCT) in 2008. Its project director, Ellyn Savard, Program Initiatives Manager at GSofCT, has over the last 6 years assembled an effective Collaborative Leadership Team and Champions Board, facilitated many successful conferences and overseen mini-grant awards to many Connecticut organizations. But beyond that, Ellyn has led the charge to create enduring connections between the people who care deeply about girls and women and their participation in STEM.  In a time of scarce financial resources and scarcer time, working together has become ever more important to programs serving girls in STEM.

Ellyn and the GSofCT have decided to step down from coordinating the CGCP, and while we can never thank them enough for initiating such an important program, we can honor their work by picking it up from here and working hard to ensure it continues and grows.

To that end, CWEALF will now be the lead agency for the CGCP.  While the details are still being worked out, CWEALF plans to convene existing partners, add others and shepherd the growth of CGCP. We are not certain of precisely what that means, but we are, in the ongoing spirit of the collaborative work that formed CGCP, looking to our partners to be engaged - as the community of women always is - to enhance girls’ interest in and pursuit of all things STEM. CGCP fits with our mission, and more importantly, with our passion.

Kudos to Ellyn - we will rely on her continued engagement.  And to our Leadership Team, we will count on their creativity and partnership.

Here’s to an exciting new project for CWEALF - you’ll be hearing more soon!

For more info on the CGCP, click here

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I can’t believe I’ve been at CWEALF for almost a year! It feels like I just started here as a first-year MSW student at the University of Connecticut. I came to CWEALF overwhelmed with beginning graduate school and not fully believing I could do any of it. Those jitters quickly vanished. The staffs’ warmth and kind approach put me at ease while empowering me to reach my full potential. Having the privilege of being in an open door environment—one in which I can ask anyone questions or ask to be a part of their projects—enabled me to try experiencing new roles.  I soon realized that while CWEALF has helped thousands of families through research, advocacy, and its legal education program, I too was someone who needed and benefited from CWEALF. 

Being at CWEALF has not only opened doors for possible career paths, but has also greatly expanded my skill set. I was able to target my weaknesses and work on projects that aligned with my interests. My supervisor often asked me what I wanted to accomplish rather than strictly giving me different tasks. The internship and my work always felt intentional through her guidance. I grew personally and professionally, and CWEALF went above and beyond to foster my development and growth. I learned countless lessons of how to be an effective social work practitioner which has led me to pursue subsequent opportunities. I was lucky enough to be asked to continue on during the summer as part of their Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and will miss them dearly as I go on to my second year of graduate school. 

Nicole Seymour is a CWEALF Research & Policy intern entering her final year in her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Connecticut.

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This week the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a startling blow to women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care.  The Court weighed in 5-4 on the side of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., saying their health plans do not have to cover contraception for their female employees, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hobby Lobby’s female employees of all religions who want to use contraception — which can cost more than a minimum wage earner makes in a week — will now have to pay for it themselves. 

Hobby Lobby objected on religious grounds to covering certain types of contraceptives its owners believe are akin to abortion, including IUDs and the “morning-after” pill, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.  While at first it seemed that the Court’s ruling applied narrowly to only these types of contraception, the Court clarified on Tuesday that its decision applies to all methods of contraception covered under the ACA.

Contraceptive coverage is crucial to women’s health and reproductive freedom.  Not only are contraceptives used by women to prevent pregnancies, they also are prescribed to help women with medical problems that are unrelated to sexual activity.  The belief that women should be able to make their own personal health care decisions has been further eroded.  Now some employers have the right to deny their female employees access to contraceptives if those employees can’t afford it themselves.  

In this case, the Court extended freedom of religion protections traditionally possessed by individuals to corporations, as well. The idea that corporations should be treated as “persons” has been long debated, with various outcomes.  For example, should companies be able to finance campaigns?  To vote?  To bear arms?  While freedom of religion is a fundamental tenet of our country’s founding, it is odd to consider a for-profit company as having “beliefs.”  Must shareholders vote on each belief?  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Profit making companies do not exist to further religious goals, and their employees are drawn from a multitude of faiths.”  In this case, the majority’s efforts to preserve a for-profit company’s religious beliefs have transformed into a mode of discrimination against women. 

The Court said this decision applies only to coverage of contraception for employees of closely-held corporations – in this case, family-run.  However, most companies fit this definition.  Studies estimate that as many as 90% of corporations are closely held, employing more than half of the total workforce. It is not hard to see how the Court’s reasoning could be extended in the future to deny all organizations’ workers other types of medical coverage.  Groups representing women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population fear it will open the door to further court decisions allowing employers to assert their religious beliefs to control other aspects of their lives.  If, for example, a corporation’s owners religious beliefs object to lesbian, gay, or transgender people, can the owners argue they should have the right to refuse to hire a qualified gay employee?  It is disappointing and scary to watch as yet another Supreme Court ruling erodes the ability for women to access health care and control their own bodies.  This is a serious step backward for women and the LGBT community, and may have devastating consequences for years to come. 

Written by Sheree Levine, CWEALF volunteer, and Catherine Bailey, Legal and Public Policy Director

Photo: Planned Parenthood for Action 

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“Twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first century policies.”  President Barack Obama recently spoke these words, telling the story about the challenges he and the First Lady faced in raising and supporting a young family early in their careers.  At the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23, he discussed his own story frankly, acknowledging the even greater challenges of families around the country earning minimum wage, subsisting on the income of a single-parent, and often needing time to care for family members.  

Last week, the White House Summit on Working Families attracted workers, business leaders, union representatives, advocacy organizations, and elected officials throughout the country.  Topics of the day included fair wages, earned sick days, paid family leave, union activity, caregiving, business success, and leadership for women.  

First Lady Michelle Obama continued the President’s narrative, not only about their family’s situation, but how we need a “shift in dialogue” to change the conversation on a larger level.  She cited the need for flexibility and paid family and medical leave as essential workplace policies.  “There is no excuse for American to be following on this issue; we should be leading this issue,” she said. 

Working family challenges resonate close to home, too.  With this week marking the third anniversary of Connecticut enacting legislation mandating earned sick days for workers, the public is now setting their sights on the recent bump in the minimum wage and the Legislature-appointed task force studying a paid family leave system.  State Representative Mae Flexer, a long-time champion for issues affecting women and families, attended the Summit.  “I’m proud that Connecticut has been a nationwide leader in implementing paid sick days and increasing the minimum wage; policies that will support working families.  I hope to continue this leadership with a paid family leave system so that workers don’t have to choose between their families and their jobs when crisis strikes.” 

At the Summit, Maria Shriver highlighted the importance of supporting workers as a best practice for business, advising that “we need to catch up to who the American family is.”  No longer is the American family a one-earner parent and one-caregiver parent household with two children.  Families are increasingly complex, some led by single parents, some with multi-generational households containing siblings, stepparents, and grandparents, all working together and caring for each other. 

As an attendee at the Summit and co-chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, I was thrilled to hear issues like the gender wage gap and paid family leave receive national attention.  The State of Connecticut is lucky to have strong leaders representing us in these policy discussions, including Summit participants Congresswoman Rose DeLauro, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lori Pelletier, and Representative Flexer.  Let’s continue this momentum to build 21st century policies to meet the needs of workers and their families.

Catherine Bailey is the Legal and Public Policy Director at CWEALF, and co-chair of the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave.

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“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/

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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. 

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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.

This year we asked CWEALF supporters to contribute towards our Generating Girls’ Opportunities Initiative by funding the lovely bedazzled safety glasses modeled above.
Donations are still being accepted at www.causes.com/CWEALF

This year we asked CWEALF supporters to contribute towards our Generating Girls’ Opportunities Initiative by funding the lovely bedazzled safety glasses modeled above.

Donations are still being accepted at www.causes.com/CWEALF

CWEALF’s Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initative engages girls, parents, and teachers in expanding girls’ educational opportunities.
Read more on our website!

CWEALF’s Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initative engages girls, parents, and teachers in expanding girls’ educational opportunities.

Read more on our website!

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The Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) has a variety of opportunities for volunteers, ranging from projects that span a few months to some that can be done in one day. One of these opportunities is volunteering within our Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initiative. Most of our G2O volunteers help by attending Girls and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Expos which are hosted at different college campuses around Connecticut. These are day-long expos where we invite young girls to participate in hands-on activities to expose them to careers in STEM. Volunteers attend these expos to help staff set up for activities, distribute goodie bags and t-shirts, as well as take the girls to different classrooms on campus for each workshop. Learn more about G2O volunteer opportunities here.

For Women’s History Month, we asked CWEALF staff and volunteers what inspires them. In case you missed it, check out our Facebook for the captions to go along with these pictures.

Who inspires YOU?

For Women’s History Month, we asked CWEALF staff and volunteers what inspires them. In case you missed it, check out our Facebook for the captions to go along with these pictures.

Who inspires YOU?