NOW Newsline

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney, Publications Manager and staff contibutors

NOW, Feminists Call for Equality

NOW's National Board voted at the 1998 Women's Rights Convention and Vision Summit in July to join allies in a renewed effort to press for a women's equality amendment to the U.S. Constitution. During the 150th anniversary celebrations in Seneca Falls this summer, the National Council of Women's Organizations presented a draft of guiding principles for a National Women's Equality Act for the 21st Century. The drafting of the document was led by Eleanor Smeal, former NOW president and current president of the Feminist Majority.  The act calls for advances in the areas of education, employment, retirement security, health care, the military, the media, family care responsibilities and the criminal justice system.
NOW is also demanding equal representation in Congress. "Women comprise 51 percent of the country. Why aren't we 51 percent of the Senate?" asked NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Quota queen Bean counters. We'll hear it all.  It won't be any worse than the names thrown at the first feminists when they issued their unheard-of call for votes for women."

English-Only Education Takes Effect in California

In a June 2 election, California voters approved Proposition 227 which amends the California Education Code and eliminates bilingual education. The current programs will now be replaced by a one-year English-only immersion program after which limited-English proficiency (LEP) students will be mainstreamed into English-only classrooms. The following day several opponents of the initiative filed an action challenging Prop. 227 under federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution.
Upon hearing the case, U.S. District Judge Charles A. Legge ruled that the court would not enjoin the implementation of Prop. 227, stating that federal law did not require bilingual education or prohibit so-called immersion classes as a way of teaching English. On July 31, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied, without comment, the request by bilingual education advocates for an injunction that would prevent the measure from taking legal effect on Aug. 3 with implementation scheduled for September.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with other civil rights and education groups, also filed an 11th-hour lawsuit against the initiative in Los Angeles stating that California school districts were not prepared to begin teaching children through English immersion in the academic year 1998-1999. However, U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird refused to block the nation's second-largest school district from proceeding with a new teaching plan aimed at complying with Proposition 227. This ruling cleared the way for Los Angeles Unified School District to start a program on August 3 which plans to educate 312,000 LEP students without the benefit of teaching them in their native languages. And the California School Board agreed to begin implementation of programs that comply with Prop. 227 at 50 year-round elementary schools that opened in August.

Susan B. Anthony Kicked Off Dollar Coin

On July 29, U.S. Treasury Secretary announced that a new dollar coin will bear the image of "Liberty represented by a Native American woman, inspired by Sacajawea," thus removing the Susan B. Anthony coin which first appeared in 1979. Sacajawea was a young Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean.

Pennsylvania NOW State President Barbara DiTullio appeared before the Dollar Coin Advisory Committee on behalf of the NOW Foundation to encourage the committee members to put Anthony on the new coin. As DiTullio pointed out, the Anthony coin was not a success because of its confusing similarity to the quarter and derogatory publicity upon its introduction. The NOW Foundation does not oppose issuance of a coin with the image of a Native American woman selected by Native American groups. However, none had requested a coin honoring Sacajawea and the Foundation objects to the use of the abstract "Liberty" in place of a specific woman leader. Di Tullio's statement noted, "Like the men whose political leadership is honored by portrayal on U.S. coins, Anthony is to be recognized for her own achievements as well as representing those of innumerable women who have participated in the ongoing fight for women's right to equal protection of the law."

The new coin, which will start circulating in 2000, will be colored gold and have an edge unlike a quarter in order to avoid some of the problems the Anthony dollar faced.

Military Reconsiders Adultery Sanctions

This summer the Pentagon took another look at the Uniform Code of Military Justice which prohibits adultery by any service member and relaxed the requirement that any soldier in violation of the code be court-martialed. A panel convened by Secretary of  Defense William Cohen last year after the Air Force's dismissal of  Lt. Kelly Flinn recommended downgrading the crime.

NOW President Patricia Ireland faced retired Lt. Oliver North on CNN's "Crossfire" to debate the merits of rethinking the military's strict standards. While North was gung-ho for courts-martial across the board, Ireland noted that the military has thus far been unable to enforce this rule effectively or fairly. Male officers have frequently been given weak reprimands or no sanctions at all while Flinn faced court-martial. Ireland expressed her concern that sexual misconduct rules are disproportionately applied to women, including the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy which has resulted in a much higher ratio of lesbians than gay men being kicked out of the military.
The new guidelines from the Pentagon state that criminal charges against the offending party should not be sought unless the misconduct disrupts the order of or discredits the armed forces. NOW's Vice President Membership Karen Johnson, a 20-year Air Force veteran, commented on the military's revised code, "NOW hopes that this change in policy will lessen the chance of a service member, particularly a woman, losing their career over consenting sexual conduct. However, we are still not confident that the military will make just decisions when determining who to charge and who not to charge. Women must not be the scapegoats for a military that has long ignored adultery, the use of prostitution and other improprieties."

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