Category Archives: economy

Vote for Healthy: School Lunch Campaign

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

A lot of attention in the media is currently focused on the importance of healthy food for children and adolescents. Coverage ranges from Michelle Obama’s presidential initiative to lower childhood obesity in the nation from a staggering 20 percent to just 5 percent by 2030, to more local initiatives with new school regulations for serving healthier food. Since teens spend a great deal of time at school, healthier food in the cafeteria is an important change.

According to Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based organization working with Latino youth and families to end destructive cycles of poverty, health inequities, and lack of educational and professional opportunities among the Latino community, there is definitely much left to be desired in the average school cafeteria. For example, a recent crackdown in Cambridge Massachusetts for lax inspections in public school cafeterias yielded numerous health code violations, including animal droppings around the storage rooms of a cafeteria and a school freezer that was rusted and rotting.

While this situation may be extreme, it’s very common for the food offered in school cafeterias to be less than ideal in terms of being healthy. In response, youth activists at Sociedad Latina have taken on this issue and they are working to create healthier food options in school cafeterias in Boston public schools.  Vickie Miranda and Achly Esparra are two teen representatives for Sociedad’s School Lunch Campaign. According to Miranda, the School Lunch Campaign was launched with a mission focused on “eating healthy in schools because that’s where we spend most of our time, besides home. If we don’t eat [at school], we don’t have the energy to learn.”

Last year’s controversial finding by councilor-at-large John R. Connolly, that several Boston public schools had been storing foods past their expiration date,and serving them to students, was one of the catalysts that initially drove the Campaign.

Both Miranda and Vickie believe that most Boston Public School (BPS) students don’t even eat school lunch. They explained: “Some students skip lunch altogether and some leave school to go to Burger King or Subway to get food, and then come back to school.” Either way, they aren’t getting a good lunch.

Esparra’s role as a dancer is one of the reasons she feels that working on the Campaign is incredibly important. “I got involved because of my dancing. I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and all things that involve healthy habits…especially eating, because I love food!” Miranda said: “I got involved because I eat school lunch. I eat at school because I know I won’t be able to eat anything else during school hours. And for me, I want to eat healthy. And if the food at school isn’t healthy, meaning that the food that I eat most of the time isn’t healthy, then I’m not healthy.”

The girls would like to see more healthy and great-tasting foods in their cafeteria. Esparra noted that they “want healthy food that tastes good, not just healthy food that tastes awful.”  Miranda added, ”In my school we have fruit, such as oranges and apples, but I would prefer more variety of fruit. Like at one point we had grapes, but then they disappeared.”

You may wonder how a teen-led campaign facilitated change in public schools. First, the teens started talking about what they wanted to change, and how they thought they could make that change. From there, Esparra and Miranda passed out 300 surveys at schools and in the community that asked students directly what kind of food and changes they would like to see in their cafeterias.  More than 70 percent of the respondents were in favor of establishing a salad/fruit bar in their school. Esparra and Miranda, alongside their peers, then began having conversations with their school cafeteria managers and principals to build support. In the early fall, they presented their idea to expand the salad bars in high schools to the director of the food and nutrition services.

The Campaign has been very successful. It has established salad bars in two new high schools, with more planned for the future.  In fact, Miranda and Esparra have secured a commitment from the BPS director of food and nutrition services to establish salad bars in all BPS high schools.  Miranda believes that they are off to a good start, but said:  “There are millions of others schools, millions of other students, who are still not eating healthy, not eating while at school, or leaving school to eat.  It is really important to try to get healthy foods and to try and keep students in school and keep them awake in classes.” In addition, Esparra would like to more see more food prepared in the cafeteria, as opposed to microwave meals, because she believes that “cooking real food is also part of eating healthy.”

Miranda and Esparra attribute much of the success of the School Lunch Campaign to Sociedad Latina’s genuine concern for the health of young people.  And they feel it’s important for girls to be activists in their own communities because “it shows that we’re trying to do something—we’re trying to make a change [for the better.] When people see that a girl is doing something about [a problem], it makes them think that at least someone cares about what’s going on in the community.”

Miranda complemented the thought: “Since we’re teenagers, people think that we don’t take anything seriously.” Miranda often sees the ‘she’s-not-gonna-take-this-job-seriously-because-she’s-a-teenager’ mentality. She stated: “But then, people see what we do here and they see how we take it seriously, so they see that the stereotypes aren’t correct.”

Sociedad staff member Melissa Luna reflected:  “I think it’s very important for adults to act as allies for our young women and encourage their leadership and participation.  In most schools, students and their abilities are taken for granted.  Every youth has the potential to become a leader and make their school a better place.  These young women have take on this charge and created a positive change for both themselves and their peers.”

Esparra advises: If you want to inspire change in your own community, whether it’s in your school cafeteria or elsewhere, “find an interest…My interest is me; I want to be healthy; I want to be fit. I think that finding motivation is the first move, the first step that you need to take to move forward.”

So do some reflective thinking, girls, and decide what you want to change in your community, then figure out your first step.  By moving one step at a time, in collaboration with others, you too can change the negative stereotypes of teens—and create positive change in your community.  Go to it!

For more information on efforts to increase healthy lunches in schools, see “The Secret Life of Lunch: Teen Voices Goes Beyond the Mystery Meat” in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the Teen Voices print magazine (pp. 19-21).

For more information on Sociedad Latina and their School Lunch Campaign, see: http://sociedadlatinaschoollunch.blogspot.com/p/sociedad-latina-school-lunch-goals.html

President Obama and the Paycheck Fairness Act

By Jillian Martin, Editorial Assistant

On January 24, President Barack Obama made his annual State of the Union address. In it, he touched on important issues that will come up in the next few months as he campaigns against the Republican candidate.

While discussing his plan for economic growth, this year’s top priority, he said, “You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country.  That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.” This statement, short as it is, is important.

While women may have the right to vote, and sexual discrimination when hiring and at the workplace is illegal, women in the U.S. continue to earn less than men for equal work (approximately 78 cents to every one dollar. And let’s not forget about women of color, who are paid even less. The National Women’s Organization reports “African American women earn only 61 cents and Latinas just 52 cents [compared to every one dollar men earn for equal work].”

Since the beginning of his term, the President has been dedicated to this issue of pay equity. In fact, in 2009, the first bill that Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. When Lilly Ledbetter neared retirement, she learned that her male co-workers were paid more for equal work. The case went to the Supreme Court where the Court ruled that the statue of limitations had passed—she should have filed the suit within 180 days of the first sign of pay discrimination. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says the suit can be filed 180 days after the most recent paycheck that shows discrimination, thereby making it much easier for women to file for claims in cases of pay inequity.

Art by Angelica Garcia, 17, Illinois

Obama’s support of the Lilly Ledbetter Act three years ago was critical to its transition from an idea to a legally enforceable mandate.  And this year, Obama is making it clear that he is still committed to pay equity.  Two days after his State of the Union Address, Obama uploaded a video to YouTube explaining why he signed the Lilly Leadbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law and why he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182/H.R. 12), which some have called the “next step” toward equality and ‘closing the wage gap.’ This bill passed the House in January, but still needs to pass the Senate before it becomes a law.  The act looks to remedy pay discrimination based on sex.

If it were to pass, the Paycheck Fairness Act would work to end the discrimination of pay between women and men by implementing specific regulations and creating more opportunities for women to be paid equally, and to protest when they are not. Some of these regulations include requiring education, training, and work experience as determinants in or reasons for a change in pay or position. Additionally, employees would be legally allowed to discuss their wages with co-workers, if they so wished, which would enlighten someone if he or she was being underpaid. Women would be given the chance to participate in negotiation training, where they would develop skills to negotiate their salary. On a broad scale, the bill would bring a great change to the workforce practices in place today.

While it is heartening that the Paycheck Fairness Act has been reinstated for debate in Congress since our blog entry: “Congress Votes Down Paycheck Fairness Act” in November 2010, there is still a long way to go before this bill becomes law. As young women, this law may not seem relevant to you yet, but it is. Over the course of your lifetime, it could mean millions of dollars more in your pocket.

As the 2012 Presidential election approaches, we hope to see this wage gap issue and other women’s rights issues discussed among the candidates.

For more on the Paycheck Fairness Act and Obama’s policy on equal rights, visit the following websites: the National Organization for Women, the American Association for University Women, and The President’s Record on Equal Rights.

Congress Votes Down Paycheck Fairness Act

By Ashley Morris

On Wednesday, the Paycheck Fairness Act was voted down. What exactly does this mean for the future of women’s wages? American women continue to earn less than men, and the Paycheck Fairness Act would have addressed the loopholes employers have used to keep women from earning less.

Hillary Clinton, then a senator representing New York, introduced the 2009 Pay Check Fairness Act to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In our April blog post, April 20 Is Equal Pay Day, we discussed the importance of a bill like this becoming law.

Fifty-eight voters approved the bill and 41 were against it.  It would have taken just two additional senators’ votes to pass the bill. But despite the bill’s failure by such a small margin, the fight for equal pay is far from over. The bill can be reinstated, but will have to go through both chambers of the new Congress next year.

On Wednesday, President Obama expressed his disappointment with Congress’s failure to pass the act, and said, “My administration will continue to fight for a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work.”

News like this is a great incentive to get more involved in finding out what your state elected officials are supporting when it comes to women’s rights and equal pay. Spread the word! The American Association of University Women suggests adding a pay equity web sticker to your website or blog to promote equal pay action. If you‘re looking for more ways on how to get involved, you can download a Pay Equity Resource kit at aauw.org. And write to your senators! Your voice can inspire those around you to become supporters for change in the fight for equal pay rights.

For more information on pay equity, visit aauw.org and opencongress.org.

San Francisco Museum Highlights Women as Agents of Change

photo by Ariko Inaoka now on display at the IMOW

by editorial intern Kimya Kavehkar

It’s important to recognize women who are doing admirable things in the world – especially when they’re taking action that isn’t highly publicized. San Francisco’s International Museum of Women is doing just that with Picturing Power and Potential, a new exhibit showcasing women from around the world who are effecting change. Featuring work from 50 different artists, the large-scale photographs spotlight women who participate in their local economy – in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

Photographer Anne Hamersky shows us a group of American women called Cultivating Change, who grow plants, fruit, and herbs to make fresh and healthy food available to their families and neighbors. One member of this group is a teenage girl who plants a crop of tomatoes to sell at a nearby farmers’ market.

Another incredible story comes from Gujarat, India. Photographer Ariko Inaoka shows a young girl dressed in the colorful and ornate clothing typical of her lower caste. The beautiful detailing of her outfit juxtaposes the often brutal working life of women in her caste. According to the IMOW website, “More than ninety percent are self-employed, with few labor laws to protect them from exploitation. However, since the early 1970s, the state of Gujarat has set up the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to protect women from usurious lenders, corrupt police, and an indifferent justice system.”

With 48 more inspirational stories left to read and more stirring photographs to view, it is definitely worth the trip to the museum to check out this free exhibit. And luckily for those of us not in the San Francisco area, the photographs and stories can be seen on the museum’s website.