15 October 2010

On-the-Ground Leaders Explore the Economic Downturn

As we've repeatedly written, the effects of the economic downturn on women and families have put lie to the claim that we are suffering a 'mancession.' According to the National Women's Law Center and its analysis of 2009 Census data, poverty among women has climbed to 13.9 percent, the highest rate in 15 years, and rates are even higher for women of color and single mothers. More than 15.4 million children lived in poverty last year, over half of them with single mothers.

Last week in New York City, the Ms. Foundation brought together a group of dynamic grantee organizations working to address the urgent priorities of women and other workers who remain largely invisible in conversations about the economic crisis. Attending were Childspace CDI, Community Voices Heard, Jobs with Justice, LAANE, Legal Momentum, LIFETIME, Multistate Working families Consortium, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women's Law Center, Parent Voices, Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United), and Wider Opportunities for Women. Together they brought to the forefront the voices of women and families nationwide that have been rocked by foreclosures, job loss and insecurity, and cuts to essential social services.

Those solutions, they insist, must place gender and social justice at the center. In addition to examining the gender dimensions of the crisis, says Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Worker's Alliance, we have to "look at how gender actually opens solutions and pathways to power," and bring the strength of the social justice community and women's organizations together to form a larger base of support and build new power.

Groups discussed the need to deepen their connections with the broader social justice community as well as how to deepen their connections with one another – across issues, organizations and geography. Ernestine Ward from ROC noted, "We are multifaceted and try to look at every aspect of the problem to see how it all relates. We must remember as we work hard on our different issues that there is a possibility of a strong collaboration with other groups."

These collaborations are already beginning to happen. The Excluded Workers Congress -- a collaboration among numerous groups including, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Community Voices Heard, Jobs with Justice and the National Day Laborers Organization, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United -- brings together nine sectors of workers (including restaurant workers, taxi drivers, work-fare workers, formerly-incarcerated workers, farm workers, guest workers, gas workers, domestic workers, and workers who receive less pay in the South) who are excluded explicitly or implicitly from labor laws. The congress unites traditional labor, workers' centers and social justice advocates to fight for a common dream of an economy that respects all work and offers justice to all workers. Sarita Gupta, of Jobs with Justice said, "We must get people to start thinking about broadening the worker rights movement and find collective ways in which to fight for an economy that works for working people."

It was gender-justice solutions like this that grantees then brought the following day to Reinvesting in Women and Families: Developing an Economy for the Future, a summit organized by the National Council for Research on Women. And as Sara K. Gould, Ms. Foundation President & CEO, said in her opening remarks at the summit, their expertise is crucial: "Those most directly affected by the problem have to be part of the solution."

We and our grantee partners know that women, families and communities must be at the center of the dialogue and that we must address the current economy with a holistic framework that takes into account a diversity of experiences, needs and solutions. Together, our grantee partners are creating new pathways to power and security for all workers and an economy that ensures justice for all.

Photos by Kasia Gladki. Ms. Foundation grantees meet to explore gender, jobs, and justice, October 7, 2010.

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