Sacramento County prioritizes commitment to gender equity

women's commission meeting photo by The Sacramento Bee

Blue Ribbon Commission to establish a Sacramento County Women’s Commission meeting. Photo by  The Sacramento Bee

The circumstance of the past 20 months has challenged county governance like no other time in modern history. Grappling with a deadly pandemic, uncertain economic conditions, the on-going complexities of homelessness, and addressing long-standing social and racial inequities has been daunting. Some might conclude all is doom and gloom in Sacramento County judging from the growing list of challenges.

But not so.

If ever there was a recent example of just how uplifting and promising local government can be, it was on the evening of November 9th. That’s when we made history . . . err, “herstory” rather, when nearly 100 people gathered remotely via Zoom for the inaugural convening of the Sacramento County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

Comprised of 15 members, including three youth seats, the Commission will advise the board of supervisors on issues of gender equity and women’s and girls’ well-being, and serve as a clearinghouse for resource data. In the course of making recommendations to the board, the Commission will hold public meetings, publish reports, and suggest programs, policies and legislation to promote and ensure equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in Sacramento County.

Of course, a “women’s commission” is hardly a novel approach to establish an advisory construct with the board of supervisors (25 other California counties and the state itself have women’s commissions), but it is long overdue for our community.

Like my experience in 2011 when first learning about the demoralizing history of disproportional African American child deaths (an experience that led to The Black Child Legacy Campaign), I sought to be equally deliberate in understanding the merit of a standing commission focused on women’s and girls’ issues.

That’s why when a local group of community leaders – all of them women – approached me two-and-a-half years ago with the idea for a women’s commission, I considered it a “no brainer” and set in motion the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) to study the idea further.

It was the momentum following the 2017 Women’s March, however, and the question “How are the women and girls in Sacramento County?” that really inspired the earliest interest in a local women’s commission; a question also at the center of so many BRC community ‘listening circles.’

Responding to the inquiry, it became clear to many that it is a question that shouldn’t be addressed only at a single point in time. Instead, it should be a concern that continually occupies our community’s collective consciousness, and that is best addressed with structured consideration vis-à-vis a standing, dedicated county commission.

During the inaugural meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, it was obvious from attendees’ comments, including those from the likes of Congresswoman Doris Matsui, that there is much work to be done to advance gender equity in Sacramento County and elsewhere. And whether it’s improving access to reproductive and midwifery services, expanding childcare opportunities, establishing policies, and finding resources to reduce sexual harassment and domestic violence, or nurturing women and girls of color to aspire to leadership positions – all in attendance agreed that the newly formed Commission can and will apply careful focus on these and so many other critical issues directly affecting 51% of our population.

As speaker after speaker addressed the Commission that evening, the common tone was evident. It was one of seriousness to be sure, but there was also a palpable sense of pride, progress, and optimism. And while I am extremely proud to have played some small part in that moment, it will only be after our Commission on the Status of Women and Girls begins its work in earnest that we can truly celebrate Sacramento County’s commitment to gender equity.

With the memory of my late mother in mind, and the future of my niece and Goddaughter at heart, I know we’ll get there. We must.

– Phil Serna

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