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Progressive Voice: Advancing the Status of Women

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Krysta JonesThink for a second… how would you describe “the status of women?”

In Arlington, we have a Commission on the Status of Women that helps foster a community conversation about the status of women and how best to advance their interests in our community and society.

Arlington follows the lead of President John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 created the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

Chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the commission studied employment policies and practices, political and civil rights, and “services for women… including education, counseling, training, home services, and arrangements for care of children during the working day.”

The resulting 1963 report noted a need for “increased access to education for women, aid to working mothers, child care services, equal employment opportunities, equality of rights under the law, and a wider role for women in government.”

Today, most would agree that the status of women has improved, but issues such as political leadership, pay equity, and the continuing prevalence of rape and domestic violence remain relevant.

Fortunately, Arlington has taken a leading role in addressing these issues.

Rape and Domestic Violence. In 2011, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of rape and domestic violence and found that nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or experienced an attempted rape. One in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner.

As the Arlington community works to reduce violence against women, it is good to see the County remains dedicated to helping survivors. In the FY 2015 budget, the County Board funded a new sexual assault hotline in Arlington. The County also helps support social service groups that assist survivors, including Doorways for Women and Families.

This builds on long-term County efforts that have helped to reduce and address the effects of domestic violence. Through the efforts of leaders such as Barbara Favola, Arlington developed Project Peace — a coordinated community response to domestic violence.

Women in Politics. These days, the media has constant coverage about Hillary Clinton and whether she will seek to become the first woman president. While there are more women engaged in politics than the celebrated “Year of the Woman” in 1992, national numbers remain low. Women occupy only 18.5 percent of congressional seats; and minority women occupy only 4.5 percent of those seats.

Yet research shows that when women run, women win. That is particularly true in Arlington, where women hold top leadership spots as County Board and School Board members, Commissioner of Revenue, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and state senator.

Historically, women have played a key role in Arlington politics — from Elizabeth Campbell on the School Board to pioneering legislators like Mary Marshall and Elise Heinz. County Board leaders Ellen Bozman and Mary Margaret Whipple were key Metro board members and leaders in Arlington’s groundbreaking smart growth planning.

Pay equity. Equal pay for women remains elusive. Today women make 77 percent of what male peers make in wages. And the National Committee on Pay Equity has noted that many of the underpaid women “are the sole support for their families.” Everyone in society is harmed by wage discrimination.

Arlington is working to address the persistent gap between men’s and women’s wages. Since 1974, Arlington’s Commission on the Status of Women has worked for economic parity. Today, the Commission promotes entrepreneurship among women, honors “Women of Vision,” and administers a scholarship in the name of Del. Mary Marshall, who represented Arlington County for 24 years in the Virginia General Assembly.

Former state senator and County Board Chair Mary Margaret Whipple served as the Women of Vision Awards keynote speaker in April 2014. She talked about how the status of women has changed since she was a young woman during the Kennedy era: “Working women provide our girls with many role models, helping them expand their dreams. Our community as a whole is more diverse and welcoming; we have more opportunities, and yet our principles remain the same — to support women in Arlington; to promote higher education; and to network and foster a sense of sisterhood that gives women the power to succeed.”

There is no doubt that the United States has advanced the status of women since the 1963 presidential commission. As our nation continues to develop the potential of its women, I trust that Arlington can continue to be a leader in those efforts.

Krysta Jones is Chair of the Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women and also Founder and CEO of the Virginia Leadership Institute, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to increasing the number of black elected and appointed officials in Virginia.

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