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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.

"When a pipeline leaks, we don’t blame the water. We fix the pipe and design the next one to leak less. Why do we blame women who leave STEM fields?"

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Frances Hocutt (via scigrrrl)

Interesting question!

(via gender-and-science)

Source: scigrrrl

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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.

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Most people have several experiences with getting hired, promoted, or even fired from a job during their lifetime.  Because of this, various federal and state laws have been passed in order to protect employees from facing discrimination during routine employment procedures. Despite the seemingly broad reach of both state and federal legislation, there are certain categories of discrimination that are notoriously absent from protection. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two of them. Currently, in 29 states, it is perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or promote someone on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The same can be said about 33 states regarding gender identity protections- in those states, workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender identity are allowed by law. Connecticut is one of the few states that presently offers protection against discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are numerous federal laws that, at present, protect employees from facing discrimination in the workplace. The most sweeping of these protections is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Further, federal laws currently exist that protect employees from discrimination on the basis of age, disability status, and genetic information.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency tasked with administering these laws, as well as adjudicating complaints made against employers. In addition to federal laws, 47 states have their own agencies tasked solely with adjudicating employment discrimination claims under relevant state law, as well as assisting and referring with claims made under federal law. In Connecticut, the state agency that handles discrimination claims is the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Anyone who feels that their rights have been violated at work; whether through hiring or termination procedures, harassment, retaliation, or denial of opportunities for advancement- can file a complaint with their appropriate state agency or the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination.

Currently in Congress, there is a proposed measure to provide nation-wide protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, entitled the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). On November 4, 2013, ENDA cleared a major procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate, garnering both Democratic and Republican support in order for it to pass the Senate three days later. Currently, the bill has been sent to the House of Representatives, where it will stay pending until the Speaker of the House decides to call it to the House floor for a vote. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this will happen during the 2014 legislative session. Despite this bleak outlook, there is an opportunity for President Obama to issue an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for all federal contractors. This would represent a significant step towards achieving a discrimination-free workplace for all.

Photo by Jo Guldi, “Nurses at Work.” 6/3/2007. 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/.

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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.

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As our nation’s elderly population grows, challenges will undoubtedly increase. Approximately 50% of workers plan to care for an elderly parent within the next five years alone.[1] Caregiving responsibilities are certainly not just a women’s issue, though females are more likely to be responsible for this unpaid labor. Of caregivers taking care of elderly relatives, wives and daughters comprise 67% of that work.[2]

Laws and benefits to support caregiving, however, have not kept up with the need.  The current Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12-16 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for employees to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, a sick child, spouse, or parent, or to care for themselves.[3] Although this has made strides to assist families, there are structural flaws. Under the current act, 45% of workers do not qualify[4] and some cannot take a leave of absence without compensation.[5] In response to the unmet needs, several states have enacted statutes that offer some paid leave for families, including Rhode Island and New Jersey. In Connecticut, family medial leave insurance (FMLI) has been proposed to offer such assistance. CWEALF currently co-chairs the Connecticut Campaign for Family Values at Work, along with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, to support the creation of an insurance system in Connecticut for paid leave.

Below is an interview with Betty* a self-described “baby boomer”, mother, and advocate of social justice issues. She describes the stress and demand of caring for an elderly parent.

Several years ago, my sister and I were caring for our parents. My mother has since passed and I continue to help my father. I feel a great deal of uncertainty due to the uncertainty of caring for an ailing elderly parent, especially someone who has a long-term illness.  The associated level of time and energy needed from caregivers to maintain continuity of care was daunting, especially while attempting to sustain employment. As a caregiver, I became responsible for knowing my parents’ medical insurance, medication requirements, medical history, and current symptoms. These were in a constant state of flux, depending on my ailing parent’s care needed and other particular circumstances. The caregiver must tend to each of these needs, often in roles that they have never experienced before. In a matter of weeks, I was saddled with this situation, in addition to the daily family obligations of my spouse and children.

It is difficult to quantify the changes that happen during this period of time. I found myself undeniably linked with my mother; if she was having a good day, I did as well. If she experienced new symptoms then I experienced an increased level of anxiety. Besides the day-to-day emotions of elder care, is the realization that the ailing parent will never recover from their associated illnesses. My family had the added challenge of caring for the other, healthy parent concurrent with tending to the ailing parent. Then, after the death of my mother, coping with my father’s grief at losing a spouse of 62 years, has been another difficulty.

During a time that has resulted in the loss of a beloved member of our family, the additional financial weight was a constant burden. Medical bills and supplementary purchases such as food and medications not covered by insurance, were added to our tight budget while our income remained the same. Giving families financial peace of mind when there are so many issues - emotionally, financially and behaviorally–to deal with, FMLI supplemental assistance would greatly aid those faced with the daunting task of caring for an ailing elder parent.

Adapting paid family leave in Connecticut would supplement the worker during a difficult time and is vital to the maintenance of the inter-generational family structure. FMLI would acknowledge that we live in an aging society that needs to embrace real family issues. Compensating the employed worker would allow children to take family leave without the fear of losing a portion of their salary. The incredible energy, labor, and stress wears down a caregiver; but paid leave would allow families to be able to spend quality time with their loved ones concurrent with financial compensation in the short-term. Realistically, elder care may extend beyond the 12-16 week limitation where care is needed in the long-term. However the benefits proposed would surely alleviate the caregiver’s financial strain in undertaking the arduous task of taking on the responsibilities associated with the care for an ailing parent.

We hope you support this proposed expansion to the current reach of the Family Medical Leave Act. If you are interested in joining the CT Campaign for Family Values at Work, contact Catherine Bailey at cbailey@cwealf.org for information.



[1] Aumann and others, “the elder care study: everyday realities and wishes for change.”

[2] Kathleen M. McGarry, “Caring for the elderly: the role of adult children.” In David A. Wise, Ed., Inquiries in the Economics of Aging (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998).

[3] United States Public Law 103-03. 103rd Congress. First session. 5 February 1993. Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

[4] Commission on Family and Medical Leave. 1996. A Workable Balance: Report to Congress on

Family and Medical Leave Policies. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau.

[5] http://ctfmli.org/why-fmli/

*Name changed to protect the privacy of interviewee.

Photo by Mark Adkins, “Elderly Care.” January 29, 2013. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

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.

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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.

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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.

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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/.

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As the Connecticut General Assembly enters the 2014 legislative session, government officials will once again seek opportunities for job growth within the state.  In fact, in late January, Governor Malloy announced his long term plan to assist the state’s job seekers and the unemployed.  Within his three part plan was the establishment and preservation of statewide job readiness programs; an initiative that the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) has supported for many years. Since its inception, CWEALF has been dedicated to advancing rights and opportunities for women and low income individuals.  In today’s society, these efforts include workforce development due to the profound impact adult illiteracy and the widening skills gap has had on the state of Connecticut.

Basic literacy skills are not only essential for job attainability and advancement; they also influence an individual’s ability to lead a productive and sustainable life.  Today, 20 percent of Connecticut’s population does not have the literacy skills necessary to succeed in the current workforce.  Urban areas, such as the City of Hartford are most impacted by this skills gap with an illiteracy rate of 65 to 70 percent.  As a result, individuals are unable to find employment and often fall into or remain in poverty and become involved with the judicial system.  This epidemic, in turn, has adverse effects on the government’s welfare system, and Connecticut businesses.  

In the absence of workers with basic reading, math, and other transferable skills, jobs go unfilled.  In fact, there are approximately 1,000 manufacturing jobs within Connecticut that have gone unfilled because businesses do not have the resources to hire and train individuals to fill those positions.  This will slow Connecticut’s recovery from the great recession by delaying job creation and the overall job recovery rate. 

Through our work on the Campaign for a Working Connecticut, CWEALF has supported the preservation and expansion of training programs such as the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) Program, Subsidized Training and Employment Program (Step Up), Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program, and Connecticut’s Incumbent Worker Training (IWT) Program.  These programs have yielded promising results by providing thousands of Connecticut workers with job training opportunities. For information on adult literacy and the skills gap within Connecticut, read more about the Campaign for a Working Connecticut and its 2014 legislative agenda.

Nina Candels is a CWEALF policy intern specializing in the Campaign for a Working Connecticut, and is a social work student at the University of St. Joseph. 

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Nilda Rivera has been with the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) for 10 years this month. She has spent her time at CWEALF as a Bilingual Community Advocate, helping low-income clients navigate Connecticut’s legal system when they are left to represent themselves. She provides legal information, help clients understand paperwork, and can even accompany clients for moral support. Below, we ask her a few questions:

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?

A: I enjoy helping people because the legal and social service systems are complicated and intimidating at times. As our mission states, it is extremely important to empower women and their families and one of our tools is through our Legal Education Program which I am a part of.

Q: What is something you have learned over the years?

A: After years of providing services to different communities, I have found there is always a need for advocacy. This kind of advocacy would not be possible without the collaboration of attorneys, interns, volunteers, and other community partners.

Q: Why is collaboration so important?

A: I hope that through increased collaboration we are able to expand our services throughout the state as I know many could benefit from them. Also, as a non-profit organization we always appreciate contributions from those in the community.

Thank you, Nilda for your years of hard work!