17 September 2008

Equality for All: The Importance of Women's Commissions

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Bonnie Coffey, the President of NACW, National Associations of Commissions for Women. In 1961, President Kennedy commissioned a study on the status of women headed by Eleanor Roosevelt. The result is a network of 220 state commissions that work as advocates for equality and justice for women and serve their local communities in a myriad of ways. As president, Bonnie focuses on providing the resources necessary to allow women's commissions to thrive.

I became aware of the power of women's commissions this June at our Silverdocs screening. Both the Washington D.C. and Montgomery County commissions came out in droves to support the film screening. Their enthusiasm for the film and the film's message is empowering to us as filmmakers and is the type of solidarity we continue to build amongst women in this country for the eradication of global poverty. Now we have another great partner to support our efforts as we role the film out at festivals across the country and to theaters nationwide this spring.

It has been great to learn more about what the commissions do. Bonnie told me that they battle legislatures who believe the commissions are past their prime, but her counter argument is that without commissions there are a lack of advocates for the underrepresented. In New Mexico, they are working with young women to film stories of the struggles girls face around the state. In Montgomery County, the commissions provide vital counseling services. It is this type of activism that shows the health and economic needs for women and girls in this country.

Bonnie truly feels that women's voices are vital to family and children in the communities. By empowering women, the commissions make sure that equal pay, healthcare, education, and childcare issues are brought to the legislative table. Without commissions in communities around the country, government tends to forget about the necessity for these basic family needs. In this country, women make up 51% of the population, yet they are underrepresentated in leadership roles in private sector jobs and government. Around the world, women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, yet earn only 10% of the income. This is a key message in the film. There is an inequality when it comes to women, but it is women who tend to be the protector and fighter for families and communities.

Bonnie really made an impression on me in her determination to fight for women around this country. We connected in our desire to strengthen the common bond among women to help a world in need. At the end of the conversation, Bonnie told me that you really "judge the success of a nation by how it treats women and the underprivileged." As filmmakers we took a similar stand that it will be the solidarity and strength of women around the world that ensures the underpriveleged are taken care of and global poverty eradicated. Bonnie seconded that notion at the end when she told me, "Women cry when they hear of injustice because the value of women is not where it needs to be. We are woven from a common cloth and hold up half the sky." I could not agree more.