March 3, 1998
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 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:
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?