Progressive Voice: Women’s Issues Key in 2015 Election

Michelle WoodsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

Labor Day is the traditional start of campaigns in Arlington, and the time between now and Election Day will be full of candidate debates, forums, joint appearances and neighborhood events.

Arlington County is attractive to many because of its history of smart growth, walkable urbanism, a population with the highest levels of educational attainment, and an unemployment rate half the size of the nation’s average.

At the same time, however, Arlington can be a transient location for millennials, young couples looking to start a family and families headed by single women, due to steep housing prices and other high costs of living.

I believe 2015 will be a year in which issues that resonate particularly with women will be an important feature of the campaign season. These issues involve some of the greatest opportunities to improve the welfare, quality of life and advancement of Arlingtonians.

We all need to work together to ensure a safe community. A recent series of attempted sexual assaults in Arlington show us we cannot take safety for granted. The three different failed attempts reported by Arlington County Police Department in July have made many women in Arlington, like myself, reconsider our everyday decisions about how to most wisely travel from location to location.

In addition to greater mindfulness about risks and supporting the efforts by law enforcement officials and officers on the street to deter assaults and apprehend those who have committed assaults, we should address gaps in justice for survivors of sexual violence.

One important priority is ensuring the availability in Arlington of SAFE kits and SANE programs, and reducing backlogs in the processing of rape kits.

Another priority is supporting and monitoring the County’s work with nonprofit organizations to extend the County’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline services to sexual violence hotline and companion services. We also need to ensure sufficient staffing of our Violence Intervention Program.

Quality of life for women and families in Arlington is about more than safe communities.

Economic opportunity for women often depends on access to affordable and stable housing options, quality schools and lifelong learning opportunities for their children and themselves, and sensible child care options.

Housing stability is a key consideration for women and men of all ages in Arlington. Rising rents and home prices create concerns that people will be forced out of their communities. Our economic vibrancy, and our capacity to attract business and employers, depends on the continued economic and generational diversity of our residents.

Renters, young people and older residents seeking to “age in place” share common cause in preventing displacement and ensuring that we continue to proactively and innovatively address the issue of housing affordability and the continued presence of affordable units.

While child care in Arlington sets the quality standard in Virginia, our young families are bearing the burden of very high costs for that care. These costs often drive young families, and single mothers in particular, from our community.

Arlington childcare costs, like much of Northern Virginia, are a quarter to a third higher than in the rest of the Commonwealth. This issue is a result of a supply gap. Without sacrificing quality, we can find ways to reduce costs and address the child care supply gap by pursuing flexibilities in zoning to attract new child care centers.

Finally, Arlington should continue to pursue progressive values that help make it such an attractive place to live and a model community in many respects. For that reason, we should continue to build on our emerging collaboration with statewide reproductive choice advocates to ensure our zoning practices are friendly to the location of women’s health centers closest to our community.

We have much to be proud of and much to accomplish in Arlington. We can continue to address important priorities for women in ways that are innovative, cost effective, and both family-friendly and taxpayer-friendly.

I look forward to hearing more from our candidates on these important issues.

Michelle Woods is the Women’s Caucus Chair of the Arlington Young Democrats.

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