Category Archives: Service / Advocacy

What’s Going on with Title IX? Better or Worse for Women in Education?

by ZontaDoris

Betsy DeVos

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act has come up for intense scrutiny this year with the change in presidential administration and appointment of Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education. DeVos, pictured at right in her official photo, has proceeded quickly to re-craft the policies and protocols for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses.

DeVos explained her intent in this Washington Post article by Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson published in September:

…she vowed Thursday to replace what she branded the “failed system” of campus sexual assault enforcement, to ensure fairness for victims and the accused.

“Instead of working with schools … ,” DeVos said, “the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights.”

“We must do better because the current approach isn’t working,” she said.

In the same article, victim rights advocates reacted to Devos’ proposing a turnabout from the 45-year history of Title IX and recent Obama administration’s expansions of protection in this way:

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center  called the speech “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault. . . .  It sends a frightening message to all students: your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”

Catherine Lhamon, who headed Education’s civil rights office under Obama, said, “The speech pretty clearly sent a message that sexual assault will not be taken seriously by this administration. That could not be more damaging.”

This controversy made me realize how little I really know about the 45-year history of Title IX and how we became ensnared in the current ditch it/keep it polemics.

I began researching Title IX. One thing I learned is that athletics did not start out as its primary focus. Nor was it sold on the basis of stopping sexual violence against women per se.

Rep. Edith Green, and later Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Sen. Birch Bayh offered the legislation to extend the reach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to encourage gender equity in educational programs receiving federal financial assistance. I recommend this article by Steve Wulf writing for ESPN detailing the history of Title IX. It started with a part-time lecturer who wished to enter the tenured faculty track at the University of Maryland. The history shows how single-minded individuals can launch enormous waves of social and legal change.

When Congress approved Title IX of the Education Amendments, and President Nixon signed it into law in 1972, it did not mention athletics. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education offers this excerpt from the new law:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

This Title IX website explains that Title IX protections apply to ten different areas in education to ensure educational equity in men and women’s access to 1) Higher education 2) Athletics under Title IX 3) Career education 4) Education for pregnant and parenting students 5) Employment 6) Learning environment 7) Math and science 8) sexual harassment 9) Standardized testing and 10) Technology. 

Clearly, without Title IX, our educational settings would be very different and less supportive of women’s safety, growth, and opportunities.

For instance, not nearly as many women would have been able to become professional athletes, enroll in engineering and medical programs, or even been able to complete high school. Why? Because women’s sports opportunities in K-16 education prior to Title IX were limited. There was no on-ramp to college or professional sports for women. Biased standardized tests that women did not perform as well on as men kept them out of certain graduate programs. Low expectations for women to do well in fields dominated by men also foreclosed women’s entry into these professions. Women are nurses, men are doctors stereotypes flourished. And  because they were already parents or about to give birth while in high school, many girls had to drop out because the schools did not want them to continue or because there were no programs to support young parents with academic ambitions.

Because Title IX protections were and are critical to millions of girls and women, this is the first of three blog posts on the topic. This post speaks to the history of Title IX as captured in the narrative above and timeline below. The next blog post will discuss the impact of Title IX, especially as it relates to athletics, the best documented area of change. The third blog post will delve into the arguments offered by DeVos and others who wish to “reform” Title IX to make it work more fairly for victims and the accused.

In this way, I hope we Zontians, and our friends reading this blog, will be able to speak from a deeper  perspective as challenges to Title IX pop up in Washington, DC and elsewhere. I finished growing up as Title IX came to be. The next generation of women did benefit and I intend to help the best parts of Title IX survive to enable subsequent generations of girls and women realize their dreams, too.  

The timeline details the biggest threats and opportunities to Title IX over its  45-years of existence. Sources that I relied on are listed below.

Resources used for this blog:

ESPN, “Title IX: Thirty Words that Changed Everything, Steve Wulf, April 2012.

Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Policy Guidance, Dear Colleague Letters and history of Title IX website, History of Title IX

Washington Post, “DeVos decries ‘failed system’ on campus sexual assault, vows to replace it,” Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson, September 2017.

Wikipedia, history of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX

Pictures of Yes/No signs and pregnant woman from Pixabay

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Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb

Stopping Child Marriage Around the World Including Florida

by ZontaDoris

Sometimes our club focuses so much on local needs of women that we don’t always appreciate that our club is chartered by an international women’s service and advocacy  organization.

Fortunately, a member suggested that we go to the movies at our November meeting to learn more about Zonta International’s work in developing countries.

ZI offers videos on its website to show how it provides “training, education, health, sanitation, agricultural and micro-credit assistance to women, primarily through projects implemented by the agencies of the United Nations and other recognized non-governmental organizations.”

One of the touching videos concerns Zonta’s efforts to delay marriage for young girls in Niger. A majority of girls are married before the age of 18 in that country. Child brides are also common in Yemen, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Girls forced into marrying so young are robbed of many things. 

For instance, their education usually stops when they marry; dropping out of school at age 12 or 14 forecloses economic opportunities and choices for themselves and their children. Their health suffers as they become pregnant much too young; their bodies are often not able to bear a child without complications or injury. The young brides may be isolated from their parents, siblings, and peers. Many become a ward of much older adult men who may abuse and torture them without consequence.

The <4 minute video below horrifies and saddens. Please watch it anyway to get informed. Then keep reading below for a look at child brides in this country.

Yes, you read the last statement correctly.

Child marriage happens across the United States because our state laws allow marriage under age 18. There is sometimes no minimum age specified in law. Parents may consent to a young daughter marrying the man who has impregnated her. If a girl is already pregnant or has borne a child, she can marry with a judge’s approval EVEN IF HER PARENTS SHOULD DISAGREE WITH THIS ACTION. More likely, the parents will approve of the marriage because they blame the girl (AS IF she is the responsible party!) and want someone else to take care of her and her child.

Unchained at Last, a national organization created to outlaw child marriage in the U.S., has analyzed the frequency and reasons for child brides here. Their data show that between 2000 and 2010, Tennessee allowed girls as young as 10 years of age to marry. Florida has let 13 year old girls marry. And these girls aren’t marrying 13 year old boys. They are often marrying men who are in their twenties.

Unchained at Last is leading a statewide coalition to change Florida laws to prohibit all marriages for girls and boys under 18 years of age. The coalition includes the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Palm Beach, Human Rights Watch, AHA Foundation, FIU’s Initiative Against Gender Violence, NOW-FL, The Children’s Campaign and Surly Feminists for the Revolution. The Zonta Club of Pinellas County also joined. Other Zonta Clubs are being urged by the ZI District Advocacy Committee to get involved, too.

HB 335 (Nunez, White) and CS/SB 140 (Benacquisto) were approved easily in the first committees of reference. Now they await  discussion and votes in the Judiciary Committees in the House and Senate. House bills may be tracked here and Senate bills on this website.

The week of December 4th is the last committee meeting week before the Legislature convenes in January. These bills are not scheduled for committee review next week which means they won’t come up again in committee until early in 2018.

Nevertheless, keep checking back on this blog to get updates. As soon as we know committee agendas, we will urge you to contact state lawmakers to encourage them to approve the bills as is–to make 18 the minimum age for marriage in Florida.

Remember, girls should not be forced into marriage by their parents because the girls are pregnant. The girls were molested by predatory men. If any legal action needs to happen, the men who impregnated the girls should be charged with child molestation and sexual assault.   

Girls who are pregnant do not gain legal rights by marrying. They are still minors who happen to be married and are unable to divorce abusive spouses. 

Too many examples exist of girls who marry before age 18 being abused. Unchained at Last has documented that girls who marry are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who marry at age 21 or later.

This recent article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune outlines why our elected state representatives should update our laws to protect our  girls from the legal barbwire and abusive practices of child marriage. We all need to help our blooming young women finish growing up before they marry. 

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The UNICEF picture of the child bride is located here.

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb


A Story of Women in Florida

by ZontaDoris

We recently published a post on Hidden Figures, the book and movie about the African-American women who worked for NASA and its predecessor agencies in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The surprise we club members had was magnified many times over by millions of Americans learning that brilliant minority women had contributed mightily as mathematicians and computer scientists to our country’s aeronautical and space explorations.

These unsung women from impoverished and socially restricted circumstances, reminded us of this quote from the Homegoing book by Y’aa Gyasi on 300 years of history of two families originating in Ghana.

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?”

FWFA_2017-07-17_1459The idea of finding and capturing missing voices in this quote emerged for me recently as I learned about the Florida Philanthropic Network (FPN) and its affinity group–Florida Women’s Funding Alliance. The purpose of the FWFA–funders banded together under the FPN–is to “convene, connect, educate, leverage and elevate Florida women’s funders in order to elevate and empower leadership, expertise and investments in women’s issues.”

The end result is to help women and girls thrive in Florida. 

In order to improve our strengths and reduce our vulnerabilities as a gender, we need to know more about the status of women in our state.

FWFA is helping us understand the story behind women’s well-being in Florida.

The FWFA commissioned studies on the status of women in Florida, looking at four measures of women’s economic security:

  • health care coverage
  • poverty and gender wage gap
  • college attainment and
  • business creation.


FWFA enlisted the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, featured in this blog in September 2016, to do the research.

A full report and one-page infographs on the four topics were released only a few months ago. I am lifting sections of a one-page infograph available under Key Findings on the Women’s Foundation of Florida’s website and from the one- page infographs for this post.

Best news first on Business Creation

Women in Florida own more businesses and are growing more businesses than women do in most other states. In fact, Florida is 5th in the country on this measure. We are clearly entrepreneurial!


Poverty and the Wage Gap 

We are in the bottom third of states for women 18 and older living in poverty. Five Florida counties have abysmal rates of poverty for women. If the gender wage gap were corrected, the poverty rate would be reduced by more than 50% for all working women and especially so for working single mothers. Wage gaps matter for one’s current standard of living and in retirement as Social Security benefits and savings stream from one’s earnings history.


Attaining College Degrees

With regard to educational attainment, women in Florida trail women in other states.


Women’s Health Care Coverage in Florida 

The worst measure is how women in this state are supported, or not, to maintain or regain their health.


This situation makes me SCREAM in frustration! We are last in the country–50th!–on the percentage of uninsured women under age 65. In fact, 1/5 of all uninsured adults in the country reside in Florida. We also have big disparities in women’s accessing health care coverage depending on their race and ethnicity.

This gap exists because our Governor and Legislature choose repeatedly not to expand Medicaid eligibility. They wish to go the other way to reduce access to Medicaid benefits. The working poor don’t earn enough to get subsidies to purchase their health insurance and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The outcome: these folks delay health care until they have to go to the hospital emergency room for care. They have no one negotiating lower rates for them with the hospital so they pay top dollar for the most expensive medical care.

Consequences of not having health care coverage: women (and men) suffer from undiagnosed illness and injuries. Their functioning is eroded or slashed dramatically. Women (and men) die prematurely. Women (and men) teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Many have to file for medical debt protection because they have no other way of digging out of the financial hole they have fallen into.

We enable our elected officials to ignore the scope and depth of the problem when we don’t speak up loudly and consistently to expand health care access.


1. Learn from work sponsored by organizations such as the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance in the Florida Philanthropy Network. Follow their Facebook page to learn from new studies and reports. 

2. Stay informed on consumer health issues in Florida by subscribing to the Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network) and following its Facebook page

3. Use your voice to say we can, and should, do better as a state. Our state representatives and senators are only an office visit, phone call, or email away. We elect them to help Floridians thrive. Call or visit them today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.  Access our representatives in the U.S. Congress here.  

It’s on all of us to make Florida a better home for women and girls, and their families. 

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Scrapbook picture from Victorian Lady at Pixabay

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb