Category Archives: Press

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: New Year Hope: Fewer Victims of Sex Assault, Harassment — Jan. 1, 2019

AAUW Honolulu member Serena Del Mundo and women’s rights attorney Elizabeth Fujiwara penned this opinion piece about sexual harassment and assault in Hawaii.

Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.


New year hope: Fewer victims of sex assault, harassment
By Serena Del Mundo and Elizabeth Fujiwara

January 1, 2019

With 2019 here, it’s time to reflect on the past year and work to improve this year. We’d like to see the state of Hawaii resolve that paradise is no place for sexual harassment or assault.

The issue of sexual harassment was in the spotlight during the last legislative session, when former state House Speaker Rep. Joe Souki admitted to the state Ethics Commission that he touched and kissed “more than one woman in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome” and made sexual comments, including comments on physical appearance, to more than one woman. Souki was forced to quit.

This was just one example of sexual harassment at the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed charges of sexual harassment in 93 cases in 2017. This was from an overall total of 294 charges — or nearly a third of the agency’s total filed in Hawaii.

However, in 2016, the EEOC also reported that about 75 percent of sexual harassment cases go unreported. Even more distressing: the EEOC estimates anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women experience sexual harassment. Industries that are male-dominated, service industries and women in low-wage positions all have higher instances of sexual harassment, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Women in low-paid service jobs in Waikiki seem to demonstrate the findings of the law center.

The EEOC took action against numerous Waikiki bars for their hostile work environments, and one of the issues fought for by the hotel workers in their recent 51-day strike were policies to better protect service staff from sexual harassment from hotel customers.

According to the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, 601 cases of rape were reported statewide in 2016, making up 17.4 percent of the violent crimes reported for the year.

But like sexual harassment, many rape cases go unreported. A National Institute of Justice report found that only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported in a study that looked at statistics from 1992 to 2000.

The NIJ study also found the reasons for not reporting rape or sexual assault were self-blame or guilt; shame, embarrassment, or the desire to keep the assault a private matter; humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions; fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime, and lack of trust in the criminal justice system.

Those reasons could also be why so few sexual harassment cases are reported.

It’s important that with this new year, the state understand that sexual harassment and rape cases are complex matters. Victims need to be safe, feel safe and be taken seriously. Reports of the backlog of rape kits yet to be processed by the Honolulu Police Department, some of them older than the six-year statute of limitations for rape, does not serve the victims or the justice they seek.

The U.S. Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos, is proposing changes to the policies regarding sexual harassment. Under DeVos’ proposal, sexual harassment would not be reportable unless it’s so severe and pervasive that it “denies” a student’s access to education — i.e., the student has been forced to drop out of a class or out of school altogether.

We urge Hawaii to ensure that current federal Title IX guarantees are also state guarantees.

While most of the exposure Title IX receives is through high school and college sports, such as the recent class-action lawsuit involving Campbell High School’s female student athletes, Title IX also ensures girls and women have procedures in place and rights when dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault issues in any school that receives federal funding.

Our sincere hope is that in the coming year, a real, meaningful change for the better can be made and there will be fewer victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Initiatives challenge pay gap for women — Sept. 16, 2018

AAUW Honolulu President Joanna Amberger and Sultan Ventures Financial Analysis/Operations Associate Katarina Poljakova co-authored this op-ed about the importance of programs that offer women professional development.

Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.


Initiatives challenge pay gap for women
By Katarina Poljakova and Joanna Amberger

September 16, 2018

With salaries falling below the national average and a notoriously high cost of living, it’s no secret that Hawaii can be a tough place to make it financially. According to recent research from AAUW, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls, it’s even tougher to make a living if you’re a woman in Hawaii. AAUW reports that women here earn about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men — better than the national average of 80 cents on the dollar, but still not equal.

For minority women, that pay gap widens even more. For example, AAUW reports in 2017’s “The Simple Truth” that in 2016 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women earned just 59 percent of what white men were paid on a national average. AAUW also found that women are more likely to take out loans for higher education and college debt, which reduces their potential net earnings even further. Additionally, women are more likely than men to make career sacrifices to accommodate having a family.

Further, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, men were twice as likely as women to be in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which are typically higher paying.

What can be done to level the financial playing field and reduce the pay gap? A combination of nonprofit and private initiatives in Hawaii are finding ways to help give women an economic boost in the form of grants, scholarships and professional development programs.

For instance, AAUW Honolulu’s recently launched Career and Leadership Development Grant aims to provide women with opportunities to further careers that might otherwise be too costly to pursue. The grant helps women pay for certifications, training, seminars or other activities to advance in their careers; it’s also available to graduate students and women working in academia who plan to present their research at professional conferences. AAUW Honolulu also continues to offer scholarships and salary negotiation workshops for both students and those already in the workforce.

In the private sector, local venture firm Sultan Ventures is dedicated to providing Hawaii’s community with equal access to entrepreneurial opportunities as a compelling way to secure an economic advantage in an increasingly competitive job market. In an industry where only 10 percent of all venture funding went to startups with at least one female founder in 2017, Sultan Ventures is working to close the gender gap by offering multiple programs that empower women to bolster their financial future. Its XLR8HI program offers scholarships for women and minorities to attend entrepreneurship workshops, helping them gain the creative and critical thinking skills for a competitive edge in the workplace.

To inspire changemakers in the community, motivational stories of female and minority founders making a difference are featured on Sultan Ventures’ podcast, The Startup Catalyst. The firm also hosts the annual InnovateHER Challenge, a pitch competition that champions products and services with a measurable impact on the lives of women and families. These initiatives help promote greater inclusion in the business community and aims to democratize onramps to economic self-sufficiency not only for women but for all of Hawaii’s residents.

Investing in the advancement of women doesn’t just benefit women; it benefits Hawaii as a whole. According to AAUW’s research, if employed women in Hawaii were paid the same as men, the poverty rate would be reduced by more than half, as would the poverty rate among employed single mothers. Working to reduce Hawaii’s pay gap not only elevates women but also strengthens our families, our communities, our businesses, our economy. That’s a cause we should all get behind.