The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Strategies for Change
Starting a Municipal Women's Commission
Advantages of a Women's Commission
One way women as a group can have an effective voice in their cities and towns is through the formation of a municipal women's commission. An on-going group representing the viewpoints and expertise of female citizens can, by its accessibility and credibility, exert great influence on the Mayor and City Council and have a measurable impact on events of concern to women. The Seattle Women's Commission, which was established as the advisory arm of city government's Office of Women's Rights, played a vital role in eliminating separate job listing for males and females in Seattle daily newspapers, worked to get more women appointed to city boards and commissions, was responsible for Washington State's 1973 model rape law, and lobbied the state legislature that passed anti-discriminatory credit laws.
The Commission continues to work on issues such as affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment, equal pay, impacting the business community, and improving nontraditional vocational-education opportunities for women.
Method for Establishing a Commission
Setting up a commission requires organizing a dedicated group of women who will press the issue until they are successful. They'll need to work with responsible public officials at the local level to write and pass an ordinance legitimizing their status. Funding can be a problem: Although appointees to the Seattle Women's Commission receive no pay, child care, transportation, and similar expenses need to be covered, particularly if low-income women are to be represented as members. In Seattle, it was particularly difficult to arrange for the Office of Women's Rights and thus the Commission to report directly to the Mayor.
Effective Citizen Participation
Many women who have or could develop valuable skills that could be used to involve them in women's issues censor themselves before they become involved. Some suffer from a low self-image that causes them to doubt their abilities. Other are isolated from other women. Some are afraid of losing male approval and feel that women's concerns are not taken seriously even by other women. Family interests often conflict with other activities.
Groups of women expressing these concerns have found that an effective way to approach these basic concerns is to adopt a problem-solving approach. Focusing on the barriers to involvement individual women experience is an excellent place to begin.
In a group, each woman can propose what she perceives the problem to be. Then, without being judgmental about any suggestion, the group categorizes the proposals into topic groupings. (Topics might be "Problems with Family Responsibilities," "Concerns About Myself," etc.) Small groups can then be formed to work on solutions and, after these are discussed in each group, they are combined as the larger group meets again. This method of working not only encourages women to come up with proposals themselves, it also demonstrates the "town meeting" method of carrying out the very type of work they had initially expressed difficulty in accomplishing.
Informal women's discussion groups can provide support, encourage a better self-image, increase women's awareness about issues, and perhaps lead to individual women choosing to work for greater recognition of women's problems and even developing solutions to these problems.