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Study: Ballot proposition bad for women in Michigan

Related story:
Coleman: Affirmative action synonymous with progress>

A proposed amendment to the state Constitution could hurt women in Michigan by eliminating important programs and services, according to a study released March 11.

The study, prepared by the Center for the Education of Women (CEW), explores the potential impact of the passage of Michigan Civil Rights Initiative's (MCRI) proposal, which has been submitted for the November 2006 ballot. The MCRI seeks to prohibit all government entities, including schools, from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, public education or public contracting.

The amendment is nearly identical to Proposition 209 in California, where researchers found that its passage has eroded access to education, job training and other important services for women.

"People may not understand the potential impact of this ballot proposal on gender," says Susan Kaufmann, CEW associate director. "They may think it's only about race, but it's not. Women are at risk under this proposal."

The CEW report, titled "The Gender Impact of the Proposed Michigan Civil Rights Initiative," was presented during the Michigan Women's Summit 2005: Challenges to Equity—a statewide event that kicked off a public education campaign on the benefits of affirmative action and outreach programs for women. President Mary Sue Coleman joined Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the presidents of Michigan State University, Western Michigan University and Lake Superior State University for the event held in Dearborn. (See related story above)

CEW researchers have determined that, based on the California experience, approval of the amendment drastically and negatively could affect programs and policies that benefit the lives of women, their families and their communities here in Michigan.

If the initiative passes in Michigan, some of the programs that could be vulnerable include:

• Gender-specific community or public health programs, such as breast, cervical and prostate cancer screening, or prenatal smoking cessation;

• Science, math or technology programs for girls;

• Recruitment and support programs for high school and community college students in career education programs that are nontraditional for their gender, such as men in nursing or women in skilled trades;

• Apprenticeship, education and training programs for non-traditional occupations;

• Higher education funding for minority health professionals, who are more likely to practice in under-served communities;

• Outreach and funding for women and minority math, science and technology teachers;

• Review systems designed to monitor and address barriers to achieving full participation, such as discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age or disability;

• Government outreach programs that ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses have a fair chance to secure government contracts;

• Scholarships, fellowships and grants for women and minorities at all levels of education.

"The proposal does not provide for exceptions for the health and well-being of affected populations," the report states, "but instead seeks a blanket ban on targeted programs based in gender, race and ethnicity."

The study found numerous programs for women and minorities in California that were negatively affected after the 1996 passage of Proposition 209. Programs for girls and women that were challenged, eliminated or amended included assistance with reading, science and math; apprenticeships in the skilled trades; higher education funding for minority health professionals; and outreach and notification of bidding opportunities for women and minority owned businesses.

A lawsuit filed in California seeks to eliminate government funds and programs directed to women, including breast cancer screening and domestic violence programs. An earlier attempt to eliminate domestic violence programs was unsuccessful because of a California statute that protects programs that serve women in order to conform to state anti-discrimination law, but that statute now is being challenged along with services. Since Michigan does not have such a comparable statute, its programs could be at greater risk.

Another effect of Proposition 209 has been a drop in the number of women faculty at California colleges and universities; women enrolling in and completing computer science and technology programs; and women entering the science and technology fields.

The report says these declines likely are due to the elimination of recruiting, admissions, outreach, counseling, tutoring and policies that take race and gender into account to increase participation. The study says that there still are barriers in education and high-paying careers, which make such programs necessary.

"Women still lag significantly behind men in the physical sciences, computer technology, engineering and business degrees and therefore in related jobs," Kaufmann says. "But those are the growth areas of the economy."

In addition, women in Michigan are earning 67 cents on the dollar compared with men, yet, if the California experience is any indication, it will become even more difficult for women to close the gap if the MCRI passes.

"When women achieve education and well-paying careers, it benefits everyone, including their families and communities" Kaufmann says. "Their full participation and success is essential to the economic health of the state."

The study also found that, immediately after Proposition 209 passed, there was a decline in the direct awarding of state government contracts to women-owned businesses and in the communication of such opportunities. The authors of the report say the impact in Michigan—where in 2004 women received 6.79 percent of the 10.76 percent of Michigan Department of Transportation funding earmarked for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises—could be severe for women business owners interested in government contracting.

The California experience also suggests that the number of women in skilled trades could decline in Michigan. After Proposition 209 representation of women in the skilled trades dropped by a third at a time when their ranks were growing nationally, and when overall skilled trade jobs in California were on the rise.

"Evidence from California suggests that Prop. 209 has eroded access to services, education, job training and other opportunities for women," the report concludes. "There is ample evidence to support expectation that passage of the MCRI in Michigan would result in a similar pattern of lost services and restricted opportunities."

For the full CEW report, go to:

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