Let's Talk Human Rights Blog - January 2018

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    In this month's "Let's Talk Human Rights" blog:

    • Celebrating the life and service of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kim Cheeks
    • The Importance of Including the Voices of Iowa's Youth by Nandini Jayaram
    • Every Woman has a Story: It's Often Unheard by Kristen Corey

    Celebrating the life and service of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    MLK celebration collage 2018

    On Monday, Iowans gathered from around the state to celebrate the life and service of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The theme of the day was "Iowans Growing True Peace, 'Not Merely the Absence of Tension, but the Presence of Justice'' (- Martin Luther King, Jr.) and awards for service were awarded to Rekha Basu and Betty Andrews. 

    The ceremony included a saxophone solo, spoken word poetry, a keynote speaker, an awards ceremony, and the traditional ringing of the bells. Iowa has been celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 1989. http://bit.ly/2DTCwEW.

    To read more about the event, see the articles listed below.

    Sioux City Journal: Iowans call for racial unity
    "Iowans used Monday's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration to press for racial unity in the face of events, actions and words at the national level that continue to drive division. Dozens of Iowans who braved cold temperatures to attend the 29th annual King celebration heard a mix of positive and challenging messages as the state struggles to deal with racial inequities in employment and incarceration rates and a negative image as a place that tolerates 'a quieter racism'."

    To continue reading, click here.

    Radio Iowa: Governor addresses diversity concerns raised at MLK event
    "Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation and spoke at Monday’s Martin Luther King Junior day celebration at the Des Moines Botanical Center. The governor says the day is a great way to honor the legacy of King, but it shouldn’t be the only day that is done. 'We need to reflect his vision throughout every single day,' Reynolds."

    To read the rest of the article, click here.

    Written by Kim Cheeks, Office on the Status of African Americans

    The Importance of Including the Voices of Iowa's Youth


    The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) has taught me the role of youth’s voices in developing public policy. As a third-year member of SIYAC, I serve on the Human Rights Committee. As a member of this committee, I continue to push for passage of a Sexual Assault Legislation (SAL) bill. This bill would mandate a preventative sexual education curriculum in every high school health class designed to teach students the definition of consent and ways to avoid the real threat that sexual assault poses on college campuses. Last year, SAL passed through the Iowa House, but was not successful in the Iowa Senate. I am personally lobbying the Iowa legislators to pass SAL into a law, as this issue is very important to me.

    SIYAC members are appointed by the Director of the Department of Human Rights, and are charged with the responsibility of providing input to the Governor, General Assembly, and state and local policymakers on youth issues. For each legislative session, SIYAC establishes a legislative agenda, which consists of the bills we have drafted and have agreed on as a full Council, and that we are interested in pursuing through state legislature. It is up to the Council and the individual committees working on each bill to find sponsors. These sponsors are state legislators who serve in either the House or Senate, and preferably each bill has one of each.

    On our annual “Day on the Hill”, all SIYAC members go to the State Capitol building and speak to legislators across both chambers about the bills we are advocating for and gauge their interest in hopes of support when they vote. This day requires careful preparation because we have specific goals to attain in this one day we have with legislators.

    Last year, a few other members working on SAL and I had the opportunity to sit in on the House sub-committee hearing of SAL, where we listened to the discussion led by a few Representatives. We were allowed to speak on behalf of SIYAC about our motivations behind working on the bill and why this issue needed to be addressed immediately. This was a very defining moment in my time on SIYAC as I voiced my passion in a completely new setting and was exposed to a different part of the legislative process.

    Working on the Council, especially through my elected position as Vice Chair this year, I have learned to communicate effectively with other members of SIYAC to increase our efficiency, manage conflicts among diverse perspectives, and educate legislators to transform our proposed solutions into laws. We have rallied to overcome the adversity faced in passing bills across state legislature and pushed for creative compromises. Besides affirming the power of youth voices in shaping public policy, SIYAC has taught me to advocate for preventative measures that ensure the collective safety of Iowa’s youth. I am very excited for this upcoming legislative session, and look forward to all that SIYAC can achieve in its legislative efforts.

    Written by Nandini Jayaram, SIYAC, 3rd year

    Every Woman Has a Story: 
    It’s Often Unheard

    I still remember the day perfectly. It was an afternoon during my first several months at my current job that I received a call from a young woman, who was sobbing so hard at first that I couldn’t tell what she was saying to me. Over the course of our phone conversation, I learned that she was 20 weeks pregnant and was told by her doctor that she had to go on bedrest because of complications with her pregnancy. I also learned that her partner had left her when he found out she was pregnant, and she worked an hourly job that required her to be on her feet.

    When she asked for an accommodation from her employer so she could be off of her feet and protect her health as well as the health of her baby, her employer reduced her hours from 40 hours per week to less than 5 hours per week. By the time she had called our office, she could no longer pay her rent and her landlord was preparing to evict her. She was going to be homeless at 20 weeks pregnant.

    A week or so after that phone call, she e-mailed me to update me on her situation. Thankfully, through a few different referrals that our office had made, we were able to find rental assistance to keep a roof over head until the day she gave birth. The day after she gave birth, she was on her own to try to find a way to support herself – recovering from the trauma of childbirth, while also supporting her newborn baby on her own. I still think about her and wonder how she and her small child are doing almost every day I come to work.

    I would like to say that hers is the only call I’ve ever received like that, but sadly, that is not the case. Stories like this one are more common in my line of work than most would like to think. For all of the employers that go above and beyond to support all genders in the workplace, there are also those who disproportionately support one gender over another through the policies and rules they enact.

    Too often in advocacy work, we hear only the horror stories of the terrible things that happen to Iowans. We rarely hear the good stories and have good examples of best practices for other employers. Hearing these stories – both the good and the bad – is the impetus behind a new project our office started, in collaboration with Grand View University, called the “Iowa Women at Work” project. This project was started to give women space to tell these stories and to let their voices be heard. It’s also a space to collect the stories of those employers that are truly supportive of all genders to use as examples for others.

    If you are an employer who has policies you believe are good examples for others or if you identify as a woman and have experiences of your own, we would like to hear them. To learn more about the “Iowa Women at Work” project or to submit your story, visit: https://humanrights.iowa.gov/cas/icsw/iowa-women-work-project.

    Written by Kristen Corey, Office on the Status of Women

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