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March 3, 1998

Organizations that Lend a Hand

by Harbinger staff

Several organizations lend institutional support to women who are willing to enter the political process. These institutional resources play an important role in providing information and attracting the attention of policy-makers and the public to women's issues.

The League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 to "finish the fight" after women won the right to vote. It aims at ensuring that citizens are informed about the issues and prepared to play a role in community-building and government. The Alabama League of Women Voters earned its credentials early on as a committed champion for child labor laws, equal pay for women, and other important causes. They have been advocates for international peace building and tireless foes of discrimination in education, employment and housing. Currently they are leading the effort to wipe out remaining obstacles to voter registration in America. Through candidate debates, issue reforms, and receptions for elected officials, the League of Women Voters of Mobile helped the public arrive at answers to issues of local, regional, and national concern.

The Alabama Women's Commission

The Alabama Women's Commission, established in 1971 by an act of the Alabama Legislature, was set up to be a voice on effective policy and legislation in areas affecting Alabama's women. The commission is composed of three members of the House of Representative, two members of the Senate, and ten members appointed by the Governor.

The statutory functions of the commission are generally to study the status of women in Alabama and to make recommendations to the Governor and legislature annually for constructive action in the following specific areas:

  1. Public and private employment policies and practices;
  2. Labor laws dealing with hours, wages, and working conditions;
  3. Legal rights and responsibilities;
  4. Policies and practices with regard to education, counseling and job training;
  5. Citizen volunteers; and
  6. Home and community.

Priorities and objectives of the Alabama Women's Commission are established by the commission based on public input from public hearings and identification by Commission members through their interactions with the public, state agencies, and state officials.

The Commission has an annual budget of approximately $10,000.00 from the General Fund of the State but no paid employees or paid members. Thus, women appointed to the Commission serve on a volunteer basis and are not reimbursed for the hours or time spent traveling the state to listen to women's concerns.

The annual reports of the Alabama Women's Commission are distributed to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and members of the legislature. Whether these reports are actually read and considered in establishing legislative priorities is unknown because the statute does not provide for government response. A growing number of critics lament that despite its hard work, the Alabama Women's Commission gives women the illusion that they have a voice, but no guarantee that their voice will be heard, nor any assurance that their concerns will be translated into public policy. Others view the Commission with suspicion as an empty facade designed to quiet feminists across the state.

The Alabama Women's Commission reports for 1995 and 1996, both written by Chairman Lenora Walker Pate, offer recommendations which if enacted, would greatly improves the status of Alabama women and their ability to care for their children and families. These reports recommend a special session be called to consider welfare reform, adoption of the legislative agenda of the Voices of Alabama Children, and enactment of the Children's First legislation, among other things.

The 1996 report notes that the number-one concern by women was health insurance, and the number-one priority in need of change is an increase in current wages. This is not surprising, considering Alabama women make approximately 61 cents for every dollar that men earn. Elder care and child care are cited as growing concerns for Alabama's working women, with the majority of Alabama's working women being a part of the "sandwich generation," caring for children and parents at the same time.

In advocating enactment of welfare reform, the report specifically requests transportation, job creation, job training, quality child care, and other incentives to facilitate individuals leaving welfare for work. The Alabama Women's Commission Report also recommended legislative initiatives providing for health care for women, including mandatory insurance coverage for mammogram screening for women over ages 40 and up, and prohibition of discriminatory denial of health insurance benefits based on genetic abnormalities that predispose certain women to cancer.

The Women's Commission works in conjunction with the Alabama Women's Leadership Database to identify and train qualified women in Alabama to seek public appointment to the many commissions, boards, councils, authorities and committee open for public appointment. Training sessions have been held in Montgomery, Birmingham, Dothan, Jacksonville, Florence and Mobile.

According to Judy Martin, former head of the Alabama Women's Leadership Database, there has been no training since 1996 due to lack of financial and administrative support, as well as low participation. While Martin agrees that women need a stronger voice in policy-making, she and other former members of the Alabama Women's Commission know that until women network, lobby, and get into positions of power, this will not occur.

Last Fall, Lenora Pate and the other Democratic women serving on the Alabama Women's Commission were relieved of their positions, apparently to make way for Governor Fob James' new appointees. Will Governor James hold off on his appointments until his campaign determines the time is right to court the female vote?

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL