Op-Ed: Who Will Speak for Women?


By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

Governor Jerry Brown has defunded the California Commission on the Status of Women, eliminating its $265,000 in funding in the proposed 2012-2013 budget released Thursday.

Although Brown’s victory in the 2010 governor’s race was shaped by a 16 percent gender gap, he previously cut funding for the commission (CCSW) from $465,000 to $265,000 in the current, 2011-12 budget.

With future funding in doubt, it now is likely the 47 year-old Commission will close its doors in April.

In the last few weeks, a call to action went out across the state on behalf of the commission, encouraging women to send emails and call the Governor’s office.  An effort is also underway to raise money to fund the commission through June. The current Executive Director of CCSW is retiring which will further reduce the commission expenses, leaving a staff of two.  But can the commission survive?

What the commission does: Across the nation, a shifting political landscape is reducing the opportunity for women’s voices to be heard as well as support for the programs and services they need.

Commissions on the Status of Women are unique agencies.  They are advocates within the institutions of government, their members are appointed by elected representatives or are public officials themselves and their mandate is to advise on issues affecting women.  They exist throughout the country and are a result of President John F. Kennedy’s Council on the Status of Women that in 1963 recommended each state form a commission on the status of women.

Established in 1965, the California commission has a long history of advocacy for women in Sacramento.  Their motto is “No Woman Forgotten.”  To that end, the CCSW holds numerous statewide public hearings every other year; they are well attended and give women the opportunity to tell their stories and testify about the issues most concerning them.  The resulting information is translated into a “Public Policy Agenda and Proposals to the Governor and State Legislature.”

The commission analyzes bills, sponsors legislation and holds policy briefings for lawmakers each year.   Through their web site and emails they provide women with information affecting their daily lives.

Led by Executive Director Mary Wiberg, the Commission has successfully supported legislation to improve the lives of California women.  A partial list of CCSW-endorsed bills passed and signed by the last two governors include health insurance coverage for maternity care; protection for victims of domestic violence; eased requirements for In-Home Supportive Services recipients; sexual orientation materials for public school instruction; child custody proceedings; a crackdown on human trafficking and a gender based master plan for women in prison.

Why it matters: Women have advanced significantly since getting the vote, but are a long way from full equality.  They still have not gained equal pay for equal work; experience domestic violence in great numbers; provide the primary care for children and the elderly; need paid leave to balance work and family concerns; lack equal representation in public office and on corporate boards of directors, and face the potential of losing their reproductive freedom.

According to the California Budget Project, the current recession has resulted in a greater number of women losing their jobs; thus, more families are facing reduced incomes and loss of health care.

Next year’s proposed budget already will impact the day-to-day lives of California women, children and the poor.

In a Jan. 6th article on the Governor’s 2012-2013 budget, the L.A. Times reports that it will cut deeply in the following areas: public schools ($4.8 billion), childcare services and welfare ($1.4 billion), Medi-Cal ($1 billion) and children’s healthcare ($64 million).

Governor Brown’s refusal to fund the CCSW is a false economy. The annual budget of the commission has been $465,000.  With a population of 37 million women and men in California, the per capita cost to fund the commission is slightly more than one cent for each citizen in the state.  No lobbyist in Sacramento is more cost effective.

Few other voices: There are few voices for California women in the public arena.  Around the state, other Commissions on the Status of Women are struggling also. According to Suzanne Doty, Secretary of the Association of California Commissions for Women, there are approximately 15 commissions left statewide with varying degrees of support.  Most of these programs lack paid staff and are run by volunteers.

California Women Lead is a non-partisan organization whose mandate is to increase the number of women running.  Executive Director Rachel Michelin tracks current statistics in the state showing the status of women currently in office.  According to her findings, the number of women on California boards of supervisors and in the state legislature has decreased or remains static.

Mary Hughes, founder of The 2012 Project, (a non-partisan campaign to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures) reports there are 30 California state legislative districts with no incumbent running and no women candidates.

Without gender equity in public office, the need for the California Commission on the Status of Women is stronger than ever.  Sandy Gleysteen, chair of the Commission, provides an answer: “Women are bearing a disproportionate part of budget cuts, especially women of color and the underserved.  Now more than ever, women need to be represented in Sacramento.”

Brown falls short: Women who chose Brown over Meg Whitman in 2010 because of his record and commitment to women’s issues may well be surprised by his actions.

The governor wrote in last year’s budget message that he wanted to fund only “core functions” of government, but the commission works to support existing state programs that provide services for women, children and the poor.

Without the commission to serve as an in-house advocate, who will speak for women?

Susan Rose is a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor and served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women.  She was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve elected and appointive office.

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  1. avatar tegrat says:

    I would remind Jerry that one of the core functions of government, if not THE core function, is to protect and empower the people. Seems to me that, in this age of constant erosion of women’s rights – especially reproductive rights – and a clear erosion of their political status as measured by CWL, it is doubly important to fund agencies such as this commission. Jerry should know better.

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