Armed with ideas and giant notepads, more than 100 people from across the state brainstormed Saturday about how to improve women’s lives in Missouri.
Via teleconference, the largely female groups gathered in Columbia, Kansas City, Kirksville, St. Louis and Springfield to discuss how to change public policy as part of the Alliance for the Status of Missouri Women’s “A Call to Action.”
The conversation in Columbia, held at the Academic Support Center at MU, floated from concerns about education to the Equal Rights Amendment to Title IX, a federal attempt to equalize athletic opportunities for men and women in high school and college.
Young and old, black and white, conservatively and eccentrically dressed — all participated. Each had his or her own concerns that fit into the larger conversation about women’s issues.
“It’s a grass-roots movement,” said Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, who served as moderator.
The impetus for the virtual roundtable was a 2002 study done by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, a non-profit think tank. The study served as a framework for four areas of discussion about women’s lives: political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, and health and well-being.
“While many Missouri women are witnessing real improvements in their economic, political and social status, it is clear that serious obstacles to equality remain,” Missouri First Lady Lori Hauser Holden said in a video address relayed to all the teleconference sites.
Providing universal access to health care, promoting progressive women in politics and equalizing pay for historically female professions were the primary needs cited by most of the delegations.
The alliance, on April 30 in Jefferson City, will draft a revised document outlining specific goals for public policy that were discussed Saturday. The intent is to eventually convert those goals into policy.
Some fault state government for failing to make women’s issues a priority.
“It’s primarily a failure of the Republican members of the General Assembly, who have recognized the budget crisis and have taken it out on women,” said Carolyn Sullivan, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and member of the alliance.
“A lot of worthwhile programs are being cut. Health care for women and children — a lot of babies are being born dead, and it could be prevented with proper nutrition and health care,” said Linda Tremaine, a community member and women’s activist.
Problems facing women in Missouri, according to background information provided by the alliance, include the elimination of the state’s family-planning program, which provided some 30,000 women preventive health-care services, and the infant mortality rate, which has risen 14 percent since last year. Missouri also ranks 49th in state subsidized Child Care Assistance.
Clayton Hayes was the only man to attend the Columbia conference. He said he shares many of the women’s goals.
“I want my daughter to be able to be a senator or president or be whatever she wants to be, but the current climate won’t allow it,” he said. “My objective is to change that before I die.”
Jean Brand, who wore a pendant of the female symbol of Venus, predicted that privatization will destroy Medicare and Social Security, and argued abortion rights are being taken away.
What women need to protect their rights and interests, she said, is “eternal vigilance — don’t let them take it away from us.”