Posts Tagged 'Women’s Rights'

Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos

When People Ask Me
by Carolina Gonzalez
Public Information Officer

ImageWhen people ask where I come from, I always say “I come from a country of beautiful people who are murdered every 30 minutes” (According to El Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). That country is Venezuela. As many people in my country, I had been witness (an even victim) of violence due to common delinquency, and with the hope that things can change I started orienting my professional career towards social justice and humanitarian work.

 One of the biggest social artistic projects that I developed in Venezuela with a team of colleagues was “Esperanza” (Hope), which featured 52 mothers who had lost one or several children due to violence, and who wish to send out a message of peace. Our presentation included large installations of images of these mother’s faces blanketing Caracas as an outcry for peace. Our intention: to give a face to the hope for the end of violence.

I arrived in the United States three years ago as an International Student, following the dream of receiving artistic education that will allow me to continue using art to improve people’s lives. When I first came to this country I spoke very little English and it was very challenging for me to understand the classes. At the beginning I had to do the assignments at least four days in advance and then take money from my pocket (with a student budget) to take it to an editor that would correct it and make sure that what I had written was understandable. Studying took me twice as long as the average person because of the language barrier. Nevertheless and despite all the obstacles I got my degree Summa Cum Laude.

After having sat in a classroom being just a listener, I have now become part of the ACLU team as Public Information Officer. I think my testimony is an example of the strength and perseverance that immigrants have when they come to the United States, who not only overcome the cultural barriers and achieve their personal goals, but also contribute to American society. Therefore, to me it’s a real honor to have the privilege of being part of the ACLU and fight for the rights of these people. I consider that this organization has made an indelible line of social justice in the history of United States and even it has been an inspiration for other organizations around the world. 

I will always be grateful to ACLU for allowing me to be part of its fight.

Cuando las personas me preguntan de dónde vengo, siempre respondo “Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos” (Según cifras del Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). Ese país es Venezuela. Al igual que muchas personas en mi país, yo he sido testigo (e incluso víctima) de la violencia debido a la delincuencia común, y con la esperanza de que las cosas pueden cambiar, comencé a orientar mi carrera profesional hacia la justicia social y la labor humanitaria.

Uno de los proyectos artístico sociales más grandes que desarrollé en Venezuela con un grupo de colegas fue “Esperanza”, el cual retrató a 52 madres que han perdido a uno o varios hijos a causa de la violencia, para hacer un clamor de paz. Nuestra carta de presentación fueron las gigantografías de sus rostros que tapizaron la ciudad de Caracas. Nuestra intención: ponerle cara a la esperanza por el fin de la violencia. 

Yo llegué a los Estados Unidos hace tres años como Estudiante Internacional, siguiendo el sueño de recibir más formación artística que me permitiera continuar utilizando el arte para mejorar la vida de las personas. Al principio hablaba muy poco inglés y para mí era muy retador entender las clases. De hecho, al principio tenía que hacer los trabajos y tareas con al menos cuatro días de anticipación para poder enviarlas a un corrector de texto que se asegurara de que lo que yo había escrito se entendiera (incluso tomaba dinero de mi estrecho presupuesto de estudiante para poder pagar estas correcciones). Adicionalmente, estudiar me tomaba el doble de tiempo que a un estudiante promedio debido también a la barrera del idioma. Sin embargo, a pesar de todos estos obstáculos obtuve mi título Summa Cum Laude.

 Luego de haber estado sentada en el salón de clases, siendo solo una oyente, ahora he pasado a formar parte del equipo de La Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles de la Florida (ACLU). Creo firmemente que mi testimonio es un ejemplo de la fuerza y perseverancia que tienen las personas inmigrantes cuando vienen a Los Estados Unidos, quienes no sólo superan las barreras culturas y alcanzan sus metas personales, sino que también contribuyen con la sociedad americana. Por ello, para mí es un verdadero honor el tener el privilegio de formar parte del ACLU y luchar por los derechos de estas personas. Considero que esta organización ha marcado una línea imborrable de justicia social en la historia de los Estados Unidos, e incluso ha servido de inspiración a otras organizaciones alrededor del mundo. Siempre le estaré agradecida al ACLU por permitirme formar parte de su lucha.

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Cartoon: Wading into the Inspirational Messages Swamp

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed a law inviting local school boards to allow so-called “inspirational messages” at mandatory school events. The ACLU of Florida and others have warned local districts that allowing organized, sanctioned school prayer and other similar messages may be nothing more than an invitation to expensive litigation.

ACLU recognizes Defenders of Women’s Rights

Ron Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Advocacy Coordinator

Joyce Hamilton Henry, ACLU of Florida Mid-FL Regional Director, presents the award to Representative Reed.

In 2012, Florida joined fifteen other states in establishing explicit protections in state statutes for incarcerated pregnant women. The effort was championed by two tireless and steadfast Florida legislators – Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Betty Reed – both from Tampa.

Moving this legislation through both chambers of the legislature, maneuvering through the resistant waters of the legislative process, battling against the tide of sometimes tough opposition from representatives of both law enforcement and corrections agencies, and negotiating with each committee chair along the way was no easy task. The resolve of these two women shines through in their success in pulling together so many others to stand behind them in passing this bill, from the Speaker of the House all the way to a grassroots coalition of advocates urging its passage.

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Sen. Joyner and ACLU of Florida Mid Florida Regional Director, Joyce Hamilton-Henry

Representative Reed told me that she wanted to pass this bill because it was “all about the babies.” She grew up the oldest of her siblings and had to care for them when her mother passed away. She remembered the young ones being helpless and needing all the care she could give. She read the stories that came into the ACLU office about the women shackled in Florida’s jails and she dedicated two years to ensuring no woman or baby would have to suffer because of this cruel and archaic practice. Both Sen. Joyner and Rep. Reed knew what was at stake in passing this bill – not just the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women, but the dignity of all pregnant women in our society. These legislators exemplify the essence of that dignity.

This year, the ACLU of Florida recognizes Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Betty Reed as the 2012 Defenders of Women’s Rights.

Ending “Florida’s dirty shameful secret”

ImageMaria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

It was Florida’s dirty shameful secret:  for decades, Florida women who entered jail when pregnant often gave birth under extraordinarily inhumane conditions, with their hands and feet cuffed, and sometimes, with leg irons.  Doctors’ and nurses’ pleas to remove the restraints fell on deaf ears, as the corrections officers called the shots.

 In 2009, I received a letter from a woman in jail on the west coast of Florida; she told me that during labor, both of her hands and one foot were cuffed to the hospital bedrails.  During active labor, when it was time to push, she couldn’t pull up on her legs.  Ask any obstetrical nurse or physician:  that’s bad for the woman, and bad for the baby.  Then, after her baby was born, her handcuffs prevented her from holding her newborn.  Again – bad for the woman; bad for the baby.  

 This was just one letter I received from women in jail – there were many others, all of which told the same stories of the woman’s restraint during labor, delivery, and recovery.  Not all county jails subscribed to this cruel practice:  some had compassionate birthing practices that involved midwives and doulas.  However, there were no uniform guidelines, no statewide standards.  Whether a woman was shackled during labor and delivery depended on where she was incarcerated, and whether the corrections officer showed any compassion.

 But thanks to a bill awaiting Governor Scott’s approval, that’s all going to change.  The bill, sponsored in 2012 by Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and Rep. Betty Reed (D-Tampa) is named the “Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act,” and bans the use of restraints on prisoners during labor, delivery, and recovery unless they present a true security risk or flight risk.  In 2011, the bill, sponsored by then-Senator Tony Hill and Rep. Reed, passed the Florida Senate unanimously but stalled in the House.

Jail is a terrible place to be pregnant.  Now, however, women in Florida’s jails who have the misfortune of giving birth during their jail terms will at least be free of the hobbling restraints that were the norm rather than the exception across Florida.  Better for the women; better for their babies.  Thank you, Senators Joyner, Hill, and Rep. Reed, on behalf of all the women behind bars who can’t convey to you their personal thanks. We’ll tell them how you, and the entire Florida Legislature, stood up for them and their babies.