Kick Open the Door — then Go Forward


By Elizabeth Barajas-Román, Valerie Bassett, and Ann Bookman

As directors of organizations working to elevate women’s civic leadership, we salute Sec. Hillary Rodham Clinton on the historic and courageous campaign she led as the first woman to run for president of the United States as the nominee of a major political party.

But to come, are the highest stakes our nation has faced since its founding. How do we ensure the door of opportunity not only remains open — but opens wider — for women of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants, as well as including low-income white and rural residents who feel left behind?

As the results of the recent election show, the majority of our elected officials do not look like the population they represent. In Massachusetts only 25.5% of the total seats on Beacon Hill are occupied by women. Throughout the history of the United States, 1,917 men have been elected to the Senate, whereas only 46 women have held this post; until now, only two of whom were women of color. In the 115th Congress, the overall number of women will remain the same, but nine new women of color, will enter Congress in 2017, three in the Senate and six in the House.

That’s why the work of our organizations is more critical than ever before. The Women’s Fund of Western Mass. fuels progress toward gender equity by funding the most promising solutions, collaborating with results-oriented partners, and by elevating the collective power of local women to take charge, and to lead with purpose. The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Mass. creates pathways for women to economic independence through funding and leading a regional agenda for change, advocacy, and education. The Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School has a dual mission:

• To advance the political leadership of women in both the public and nonprofit sectors, with particular focus on women of color; and

• To design and implement public policies that will advance economic security for all women and their families by raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, providing caregiving supports, and other critical issues.

Together, we are creating hope, higher expectations, and alliances among diverse women that are essential to helping create the America we believe in.

So where do we go from here?

Prioritize the work of organizations serving women. Organizations like ours have paved the way for significant milestones reached over the past year, including a new equal pay law. We’re also working at a direct service level to increase women’s access to financial literacy or negotiation training, building cross-sector partnerships at the community level that encourage solutions-orientated dialogue often with local businesses, and investing in research that can be used by advocates and policymakers to drive systems-level change. Organizations like ours amplify the power of women to transform their lives, and the lives of the people in their community.

Support policy advocacy efforts and train women to lead the way. Research shows that high-visibility political campaigns by women make girls think differently about their own futures: they begin to imagine they too, could one day lead. The goals for political leadership are broad: More women in elected office, appointed positions, and more women leading nonprofit organizations and grassroots campaigns. While progress on policies that impact women’s lives may be stalled on the federal level in the foreseeable future, we are optimistic about action and change on the state and local level.  In fact, state and local action — coordinated across New England — is now likely to be across the most fruitful avenue for policy change; and

• Invest in cross-racial, cross-class, and cross-gender alliances. Millions of women sit at the center of several overlapping and intersecting social identities – and they suffer the related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination that come with the territory. Investing in the visibility and inclusion of all women is the only way to ensure success. We will go forward truly together or not at all.

We celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. We rest from the recent flurry of campaigning and retool for the campaigns and social change work ahead. Most importantly, we must continue to grow a broad and diverse coalition to fight for equity and economic justice for all. Count us in.

Elizabeth Barajas-Román is CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Mass.; Valerie Bassett is executive director of the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Mass.; and Ann Bookman is director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, and Clinical Professor, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, McCormack Graduate School.

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