04/12/2008 03:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Perspective from L.A.: Empowering Women in the New Economy

It's no secret that our economy has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past three decades. In Los Angeles and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been replaced by service sector jobs, many of them low paid. This shift has contributed to the rapid growth of poverty and inequality.

Women janitors, grocery clerks, and food service workers are increasingly the face of the new economy. This economic transformation underscores the need for strong women leaders - and not just in Congress, in our statehouses or on our city councils. We need ordinary women to become leaders in their workplaces and in their communities.

Fortunately, in Los Angeles, we have an abundance of women willing to take risks and stand up for their beliefs. Los Angeles is a capital of working poverty, with almost 40 percent of residents not earning enough to meet their basic needs. But it is also the center of cutting-edge policy and organizing. Women are taking the lead in campaigns to raise workers' wages, fight corporate polluters and win major agreements from developers. They are standing up to some of the most powerful corporations in the world--and winning.

Some of these women leaders are well known. Others are up-and-coming. Altagracia Perez, a fiery pastor from the city of Inglewood, stood up to Wal-Mart and won. (She was featured in Robert Greenwald's 2005 documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.) Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles Labor Federation, is one of the most dynamic labor leaders in the country. Less well known is Enedina Alvarez. A single mother, Alvarez engaged in a seven-day, water-only fast to demand a living wage for workers at the LAX Hilton and other hotels near Los Angeles International Airport even though she knew her own job was on the line.

LAANE launched a tradition several years ago of celebrating women's leadership with the annual Women for a New Los Angeles Luncheon, which brings together women of all backgrounds to talk, plan and reflect. This year, we are thrilled to be honoring political commentator Arianna Huffington. Previous honorees include actress and activist Jane Fonda and author Barbara Ehrenreich.

The women who come to this event are professors, entrepreneurs, movie producers, clergy, attorneys, managers, community and labor leaders, philanthropists and artists. They know well the challenges of the glass ceiling, the difficulty of finding the balance between work and home, and the importance of staying engaged in a complex and constantly changing world. They also know the importance of sisterhood, of supporting and being inspired by women like Alvarez.

And they know the urgency of the task ahead. In Los Angeles, one in five L.A. County children (573,000 kids) lives below the federal poverty level, 46% of them in households headed by single women. Meanwhile, the social safety net has been eroding, with increasingly fewer families eligible for public assistance.

These issues demand our attention, and LAANE's Women for a New Los Angeles Luncheon is one way to strategize and bring together women as part of a broad movement for economic, social and environmental justice. What's clear is that we need powerful women if we are going to create broad prosperity and an economy that truly reflects our values. For more information about the women's event, please click here.