A woman in her twenties moves uncertainly towards the microphone set up in the new meeting room of the Fontana Public Library. Her voice trembling, she describes the abuse she suffered at the hand of her husband, a police officer. She tells us how she found the courage to leave him, only to discover that she was forced to return to her home. She found no safe haven. First she was victimized by her husband. Now, she was a victim of California's cruel cutbacks which resulted in the underfunding of many of the state's domestic violence shelters.
Another young woman sits anxiously bouncing her legs. She's never done this before. She's here in Pasadena to tell her story to the California Commission on the Status of Women. When her name is called, she takes her young daughter's hand and slowly approaches the microphone. She tells us how she's gone from welfare to employment, and due to unfortunate circumstances, is now among the homeless. She struggles to hold back tears. She says she just needs a little help to get back on her feet. But the steep cuts to the state's health and human services, including calWORKS and child care, have made it all but impossible for her to recover.
In San Diego, an eighteen-year-old woman talks of her parents' deportation to Mexico and how she's left to care for her siblings. A proud U.S. citizen who would have been the first in her family to graduate high school has dropped out to care for her brothers and sisters. She hasn't a clue where to turn or how to get any kind of help. She's here to tell her story because the California Commission on the Status of Women is holding public hearings in her city.
All three women head households in California. All three women, and millions more, are at risk of losing the Women's Commission which is a clearinghouse for issues related to women and girls.
I'm former Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission holds public hearings in three cities across the state every two years. It's not much, it's not nearly enough, but it's something. The hearings give the women of California an opportunity to reach out and touch their government. A sense that someone cares, that someone is listening. The personal stories of suffering, frustration and hopelessness are overwhelming. The testimony from these hearings is the source material for a published report, "The Public Policy Agenda and Proposals" the Commission distributes to the Governor and the state legislature. That information has led to the passage of key legislation that's helped to change lives for the better.
However, the 2012/2013 California budget eliminates the Women's Commission.
The Women's Commission is comprised of state legislators and public members. The Commission advocates on behalf of women and girls throughout the state. Because women and girls comprise 57% of the state's population, the Women's Commission would seem to be one of the state's most important agencies.
But it's not.
The Women's Commission (ironically conceived by Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown in 1965, and currently put on the chopping block by his son, Governor Jerry Brown in 2012,) focuses on civil rights, sex equity in education, discrimination in employment, insurance, sexual harassment, sexism, domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, access to health care, reproductive freedom, children and other dependent care, pay inequities, legal rights in marriage and divorce, social security, and pensions.
Mount St. Mary's College and the California Commission on the Status of Women just released "The Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California." Some of the findings include: Women earn .84 cents on the dollar; the poverty level for women and girls is 17% as opposed to 15% for men and boys; single mothers are losing jobs faster than married parents; uninsured women receive less preventive care and fewer recommended screenings; 72% of shelter agencies exceed capacity and due to lack of resources approximately 7,348 victims are turned way from the domestic violence shelters each year.
Oscar award winning actress Geena Davis was just elected Chair of the California Women's Commission. Davis, the "de facto Commander in Chief" and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and official partner of UN Women, is committed to saving the Women's Commission. I can't think of anyone better to fight the fight.
But Geena faces an uphill battle as the state continues to whine about limited resources and the inability to fund the Women's Commission which had been operating on a shoestring annual budget of $465,000. (For comparison's sake, that's what Californians pay to warehouse nine - yes 9 -- prisoners in our state prisons.)
A pittance, yet Governor Brown doesn't believe there's a need for a Women's Commission.
So who is going to be the dedicated advocate for the women and girls in California if the agency is eliminated?
The future of this Commission rests on our shoulders: The girls and women of California. It's up to us. How important is it to help those who can't help themselves? What can we do about women who have fallen on hard times? What if it happens to us?
Are we just going to stand by and let our commission die? Let our voices be silenced? Are we so engrossed in our own lives that we can't lend a hand to those who are in need of state services right now?
The Women's Commission will be eliminated in three weeks. In order to try and save it, we need to flood the Governor's office with emails and phone calls demanding that the Commission survive the budget cuts. Here's the link: http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php. Please help save this very important and necessary Commission.
Follow Lindy DeKoven on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindyDeKoven