The cost of being a woman

 

Two headlines caught my attention this week. One focused on the luxury tax for tampons that is part of the law in 46 of the 50 states. The other headline was buried in all of the news about the Republican sponsored Health Care Act.  Tom Price, head of HHS, would like to see the co-pay for contraception reinstated. As part of the ACA, contraception is free under the majority of health care plans. Both of these costs are charged to women. On a monthly basis this may not seem too costly. But let’s look at the average sum that a woman would need to pay over her lifetime for both tampons and contraception.

Tampons: an average woman uses 30 tampons for each menstruation. A box of 36 tampons costs $7 at Target. That amounts to 360 tampons per year or $70. When multiplied x 35 years that costs a woman $2450.

Contraception: Prior to the ACA, an average co-pay per month for birth control pills was $30. If a woman were to start pills at age 20 and continue to age 45 it would cost $9000 for contraception.  The average family size is 2 children, so you could subtract $1000 for the time it takes to become pregnant and the pregnancy itself. I would argue that there are other costs during that time that offset the $1000 (maternity clothes, nursing bras etc…) but those are probably considered “luxury items” by society standards.

$10,450 is the total cost of tampons and contraception for a woman during her lifetime. But some of our lawmakers want to extend this burden even further, questioning why men should have to help pay for maternity care as part of health insurance. Despite the backing of Ivanka Trump, I doubt that the current legislature will approve any bill that provides for paid maternity leave. Women caregivers are the norm for elderly parents who need assistance and many choose to decrease their paid work commitments to provide this care.

At what point will our society honestly discuss the financial inequalities that exist between men and women?  Male partners should share the finances of contraception – much cheaper than the cost of supporting  a child to age 18.  Women should not be the only members of society that are burdened with the cost of maternity care.  Removing the luxury tax on tampons is a no-brainer as I have never heard any woman describe her period with the work luxury.  And I have heard many words used to describe periods! Paid maternity leave is present in  every  country in the world other than the US and Papua New Guinea. If we want to make this country great, maybe we should start with the women.

 

International Women’s Day #Be Bold for Change

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The message for today, International Women’s Day, is to call on yourself and others to work together to forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world. As I write this entry, I am reflecting on the headlines this week that are not exemplary of that aim.

  1. Stories about nude photos of female Marines that were published without consent to secret websites.
  2. Moves to defund Planned Parenthood – an organization that provides contraception and cancer services to low-income women
  3.  A potential ban on refugees, the majority of whom are women and children,  from war-torn countries.

Discouraging to say the least. But them I remind myself to take a look at the world now as compared to 50 years ago, both for myself and for women throughout the world. When I finished my Ob/Gyn residency in 1991, 22% of all Ob/Gyn providers were female. Currently 85% of Ob/Gyn residents are female and since 2003 female applicants for medical schools have outnumbered male applicants. Most college campuses are 55-60% female. Women are making their way up the ladder in education and the next mountain to scale is the workplace.

In the greater world, extreme poverty has been markedly reduced over the past 25 years. Women and children are disproportionately represented in this sector so will see a greater benefit when they have enough food to make them more productive workers. Educational opportunities for women in the developing world are increasing at a rapid rate and with education comes the ability to control the size of your family and participate in higher earning jobs.

We still have work to do in this world to equate opportunities for women. #Be Bold for Change within your neighborhoods, places of worship, social environments and workplace to create equality for women,  because when we all have the same opportunities everyone benefits.

Traveling with an Immigrant

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Last weekend, we left Minneapolis for Seattle. At the time the plane departed, the 3 judge panel was still deliberating the enforcement of the travel ban imposed by President Trump. When we landed 4 hours later the news had changed. The judges had unanimously ruled against the travel ban and our country was now in legal limbo. I looked at my traveling companion, an immigrant to this country 17 years earlier, and thought about how differently her life would have been if she had not immigrated to this country. Her parents on both sides of the Pacific made financial and emotional sacrifices so that she would have education and life opportunities that were not available to her in her home country. This immigrant is my daughter, born in a Korean society that does not have social support for single, unwed mothers and their children. We were visiting a college in the Pacific Northwest, far from her home in Minnesota but closer to her birthplace both in terms of geography and culture. I hastily brushed away tears as we grabbed our luggage to exit the plane (those tears might be the reason I forgot the umbrella in the overhead compartment), thinking about stories of families in the news that had been denied entry to America earlier in the week and who would now be reunited with family members already here.

Unlike the immigrant families from the 7 banned countries, my daughter is the beneficiary of white privilege. My husband and I were able to afford the adoption fees because we had the advantage of college educations and professional jobs. She grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood and attended above average public schools. She has participated in extra curricular sports and activities, attended summer camps and traveled throughout the United States and internationally. A college education is expected by her parents and peers and she has many excellent choices. Her high school friends are multi-racial and from many different socioeconomic backgrounds. Unfortunately, the majority of this would not be possible if she happened to be from a Muslim majority culture. Why does the color of your skin in this country dictate what your future may hold? When will Americans be able to look past skin, hair and clothes for the qualities of the person underneath?

Today, February 16th, immigrants are trying to remind us of the contributions that they provide this country by staying home from work and school. Ethnic restaurants are closed, children are staying home from school and college and adults are staying home from work. Some service businesses will have a difficult time functioning, but isn’t that the point? Until we realize the contributions of immigrants in our daily lives, only then are we better able to understand how these new immigrants can benefit America.

I received a phone call from a friend this morning, torn between staying home with her husband and children in solidarity vs feeling guilty about her job that is difficult to fill on last-minute notice. She is a citizen of this country, born here to an immigrant mother. Her husband is a Dreamer, brought to this country illegally as a child by his parents. Despite multiple attempts to obtain citizenship, he has not been successful. He has worked full-time since his teen years, supporting his family and contributing to the American economy. These are the difficult stories behind the majority of immigrant families. They are not here to bring in drugs, commit crimes or spread terrorism. They are fleeing their home countries due to these problems, looking for a better life in a country that was founded by immigrants. What would this world look like if white privilege meant that those of us who are bestowed this advantage by birth use it to offer a helping hand to guide others as they ascend the mountain of life? That is the world that I would love to live in.

My upcoming Caribbean vacation – Haiti and warmth!

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I am sitting in my kitchen in MN this morning contemplating all of the errands that I need to accomplish before I journey to Haiti in 3 days. The current temperature here is -8 with a projected high of 0 degrees. The heat and humidity of Hispaniola (collective term for the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) is appealing, but this is far from a beach vacation. Our team of 14 will be performing surgery for 5 days as well as participating in a distribution of 114 menstrual pad kits to local school girls. However, the most worthwhile portion of the trip will be connecting with Haitian friends that we have not seen for a year.

In 2006 when I participated in my first surgical mission trip, I thought it was worthwhile, that we helped many people and that I was not going to do this again. It was a checkmark on my bucket list and I could start moving on. I failed in that I have returned 1-2 times a year to the island and my bucket list has only grown longer with fewer checkmarks. Sometimes failure is good.

My understanding of this island nation has increased dramatically since that first trip, while my perception of issues as black and white has changed to various shades of grey. For every beneficial initiative, there can be a downside. Initiating a HIV program in a hospital and hiring additional staff – beneficial. Existing staff now wants to be paid extra to take care of HIV patients because they believe there is additional outside dollars to support this. Bringing toys and new clothes for the orphanage kids that attend a local school – beneficial. More children are abandoned at the orphanage because poor Haitians see orphanage kids having a better life than they can provide. These are only a few of the examples that I have seen over the years.

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Father Charles organized a meeting of all ladies in the microloan program in Ranquite. “I teach them the way to use money, they share their experience, how the microloans service is benefit for them, it helps them to take care their families. It’s was an appointment of brotherhood.”

Our current microfinance program that lends women money for growth of their small business (Helping Haiti Work) is not without concerns. I do not live in Haiti and administer this program, so I have to rely on others to be truthful about distribution of the funds and respectful coaching of the recipients. The other arm of this program involves employing Haitian seamstresses to construct reusable menstrual pad kits for sale in the community. The average Haitian woman who needs this product is not able to pay enough to cover the cost of supplies/wage to seamstress. Do we distribute the kits for free and continue to depend on donations to subsidize the program? Or do we focus on selling to NGOs that have more funds and can cover our costs?

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Seamstresses assembling 300 menstrual pad kits

While these competing interests are playing tug of war in my head, I am gratified to report that we finished 2016 by granting 25 new loans and started 2017 by filling an order for 300 menstrual pad kits that will be distributed to school girls near Gonaives. Sometimes it is more important to think like a Haitian – appreciate today and don’t worry so much about tomorrow. That means I need to try to appreciate this cold MN weather while trying to finish all my errands today.

 

The Culture of Sexual Assault in Sports – U of MN football scandal

ct-minnesota-football-boycott-20161216I loved football in high school and college. I knew all of the rules, hung out on the sidelines rather than in the stands at high school games and was one of the few girls on my dorm floor to attend Saturday college games. Beyond college I started to become aggravated with professional football. The salaries were high, the leadership and role models few. Scandals have increased over the years so that now they seem to be expected each season. The recent U of Minnesota football scandal hit a bit too close to home, occurring in the same city in which I live.  As a woman who is known for criticizing professional football,  I realize that my comments around this incident will be seen as an outsider who is looking for every excuse to slam college/professional sports. I  wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a man who loves sports, even though they may share the same thoughts. The thoughts of a fellow blogger, Paul Baudhuin, articulate what I have thought and would like to express on the topic of sexual assault and football. He is a guy who loves sports, a graduate of the U of MN, father, husband and minister. He was the former youth director at my current church. Read his post and then, more importantly, share it with the men/boys in your life. The video at the end of the post should be mandatory for all college freshman.

 

A Quick note: So here’s my rant on the situation with the Gopher football team. It’s not brief, it’s not as coherent as I would like, and if you’re thinking, “nah, I don’t want to read all that”, I get it. But then all I ask- if you are a man- is that you at […]

via #WeHadEnough of Sportsballs Perpetuating Sexual Assault. — The BelgianFriar

Working Together to Make a Better America

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November 2015. Paris Bombing by Islamist militants. The beginning of hatred and false rhetoric against Muslims. One year later and the presidential election is finished. The amount of hatred and falsehoods have only increased. Although I couldn’t have foretold the future, I am fortunate to be a person of action and reacted with an email one year ago. The email was sent to a local mosque and a few days later I was meeting the mosque’s youth director for coffee, discussing opportunities to partner with other women to form an interfaith group. At the same time a third woman from the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community reached out and we soon had interest from many different faith communities. We branded ourselves as Tapestry – women promoting religious understanding and acceptance through dialogue between women and youth of many faiths while providing service to the community. Thru this group I have formed new friendships and learned the daily practices of various religions. We have been hosted by a mosque, compared eastern and western Christian traditions, heard from teen immigrants, studied genealogy and will be visiting a Jewish temple in January. Tapestry has coordinated an interfaith youth food drive, packed refugee health kits, donated used clothes to an inner city food shelf and educational toys to a refugee agency.

This week was our first meeting since the election and I was concerned about attendance. Would the members of Tapestry feel that the divide in America was too great and that the friendships that had been formed could not be sustained?  I had tears in my eyes when 40 women showed up for a planned service project at Feed My Starving Children. We competed with the youth from a local National Honor Society to pack meals for Cuba. Feed My Starving Children is a Christian organization and many of our non-Christian women had neither heard of it or were familiar with the concept. Packaging meals interspersed with conversation made 2 hours go by quickly. An added benefit was the example that we communicated to the youth – adults of many faiths and beliefs working together for the benefit of others.

Our email list has swelled to almost 150 women. Volunteers at local non-profits have increased dramatically since the election. While acts of division and hatred have increased, so have acts of kindness and inclusion. Tapestry has been my beacon of hope in the swirl of post-election fear and division.

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This articulates my emotions over the past week. “What You May Have Accidentally Done When You Voted For Trump”

Dear Trump Voter, I can’t say that I know why you voted for Trump, but I have a pretty good idea, and I get it. I’m not saying I voted for him, but I see that there are plenty of legitimate reasons…

https://zachhelton.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/what-you-may-have-accidentally-done-when-you-voted-for-trump/

Source: What You May Have Accidentally Done When You Voted For Trump