Victories for Equality: Women on Currency

(An artist’s rendering of a $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, winner of the Women on 20s poll)

In honor of Women’s History Month, Key Elements Group will look at women and organizations that have helped advance the cause for greater equality.

This year, one women’s rights organization oversaw a big victory, getting women on one very public domain hitherto dominated almost exclusively by men: U.S. currency.

Women on 20s – a  501(c)3 nonprofit – has run a wildly popular grassroots campaign to encourage the U.S. Treasury Department to print an important female figure from U.S. history on the $20 bill. The group excelled in garnering press. From The Atlantic to NPR, news outlets picked up on Women on 20s’ unique and well-articulated mission, spurred in part by the wide-sweeping participation in online polling that the group inspired.

Founder Barbara Ortiz Howard sat down for an interview with Key Elements Group last year, in which she discussed her own inspiration for beginning and running a nonprofit dedicated to gender equality:

For me, having role models of great women in our daily lives is important to helping us all conquer stereotypes that limit our perspectives. Seeing women who exemplify the best of who we can be is at once uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Imagine if we were all inspired to be our best selves.

In June 2015, the Obama Administration announced that a woman will appear on the $10 bill in 2020. Scheduled for the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote, the actualization of the bill reflects Ortiz Horward and her colleagues’ hard work raising awareness of this glaring discrepancy in gender representation.

The last time that a women appeared on paper currency in the United States was in the late 1800s, when Martha Washington’s likeness was emblazoned on a silver-dollar certificate.

Key Elements Group will continue to provide snapshots of change makers and groundbreaking nonprofit work for gender equality throughout the month.

Nonprofit Suffers from Land’s End Controversy

(Pictured above: Gloria Steinem)

Land’s End – the Wisconsin-based clothing retailer – provoked controversy recently when it published an interview with renowned feminist writer and icon Gloria Steinem in its spring catalog.

As part of the company’s “Legend Series,” Land’s End intended to underscore the contributions Steinem has made to the advancement of women’s equality. Instead, it attracted the ire of anti-choice advocates who pointed out Steinem’s support for abortion rights.

“Our goal was to feature individuals with different interests and backgrounds that have made a difference for our new Legends Series, not to take any political or religious stance,” a statement from Lands End read.

In response to the interview, some religious schools have announced that they will cease purchasing uniforms and other goods from the company. Anti-choice advocates are calling for a boycott.

The interview was shaped around an appeal for shoppers to donate to the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition (ERA) – an organization whose aim is to pass a new amendment to the United States Constitution to explicitly “prohibit discrimination against girls and women on the basis of sex.” The option to give to the organization now appears gone in the wake of the interview’s backlash.

Unfortunately, the opportunity for a thoughtful and engaging dialogue about the advancement of women’s equality was cut down by the first sign of controversy. Doubtlessly, the ERA Coalition would have stood to benefit from Legend Series initiative. Instead, a worthwhile organization has witnessed another potential revenue stream dry up.

Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) – an anti-abortion organization – made quite a stir last year when it released a series of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing profits made by illegally trading fetal tissue. Activists from the organization posed as employees of a fake biomedical company called Biomax Procurement Services and recorded meetings with workers from the women’s health nonprofit in a campaign to delegitimize the organization. During these meetings, activists proposed fake contracts to purchase fetal body parts, none of which were signed or agreed upon by the Planned Parenthood workers targeted by the scheme.

The veracity of what these videos depict has since come into question, as a congressional hearing designed to uncover wrongdoing at Planned Parenthood instead found an organization working entirely within the confines of the law. Eight state-level investigations have come to similiar conclusions.

Raw footage from the video series actually shows a Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly refuting an activist’s insistence that there was any precedent for selling fetal tissue for research, despite a final edit that altered what the individual in question said in order to mischaracterize Planned Parenthood’s operations.

Even if much of general public remains unswayed by CMP’s smear-campaign, the controversy has had a decidedly deleterious impact. Numerous state legislatures and governors have targeted Planned Parenthood, cutting funding and limiting women’s access to vital health services. In Colorado, a gunman cited CMP’s videos as justification for an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three people. Workers for the nonprofit have spoken out over an increased number of death threats following the videos’ emergence.

Planned Parenthood, however, is poised to strike back. On January 14, the nonprofit filed a suit against CMP, alleging that the organization broke a number of state and federal laws, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The suit seeks extensive monetary reparations for workers who have been forced to move, have been threatened with violence, or have been picketed at their homes. The lawsuit also states that – in the months of July and August 2015 alone – there were 849 acts of vandalism against Planned Parenthood facilities across the United States.

When a nonprofit’s identity and message is hijacked by a hostile party, the basic pursuit of its organizational mission becomes immensely difficult. Especially for an organization that provides life-saving medical services for disadvantaged women, the reckless falsification of evidence claiming unlawful and cruel behavior is, in itself, unlawful and cruel behavior. Nonprofit professionals should maintain a rigorous standard of truth, and abide by a considered approach to uncovering facts. In doing so, they can help marginalize noxious voices in the nonprofit world willing to lie to their audiences in order to achieve their goals.

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