Last week we announced that 20 community based and nonprofit leaders have been selected as Class of 2015 Women's Policy Institute fellows. Our CEO Surina Khan talks about the impact this program has had over the years and why it’s so crucial for women to become involved in the legislative process.
What’s the mission of the Women’s Policy Institute?
In California and nationwide, women are missing from the legislative process both as policymakers and as policy influencers. For example, a study conducted by Grassroots Lab and the Leadership California Institute reported that California women held 28 percent of state legislature and county government positions and just 25 percent of city government positions. Meanwhile, women represent more than half of the electorate.
We believe that, in order to achieve lasting social change for women and families, we must teach and equip women with tools they need to influence public policy and legislation. Now in its 12th year, the program brings women’s voices, leadership and expertise to the state legislative process with the aim of increasing the number of policies that address the needs of low-income women and families.
Tell us more about the Class of 2015 fellows.
This year, we have chosen 20 leading social justice advocates working within communities and nonprofits across the state to participate in the program. Fellows learn how to become effective policy advocates by articulating and shaping policy solutions to the challenges their communities face.
This year’s fellows come from counties from across the state including Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Sacramento counties. Through the course of the program, they will focus on four issue areas of critical importance in the state of California—health, criminal justice, domestic violence and workforce development.
Why is it important for women to participate in the legislative process?
When women have a voice in shaping and driving policy change, everyone benefits. For example, women lawmakers are more likely to prioritize families and children, and work out compromises, thereby resulting in better policy outcomes for everyone. We need more women involved—as elected and appointed officials, as voters, and as advocates—in shaping all aspects of the laws and policies that govern our lives.
What impact has the Women’s Policy Institute had so far?
To date, the program has trained more than 300 women from throughout California to become effective policy advocates and our fellows have contributed significantly to the passage of 23 laws that have strengthened communities and positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of women and their families across California.
In fact, Gov. Brown signed three bills in 2014 that were shaped by WPI fellows.
Assembly Bill 2102 facilitates data collection on the language capability of physicians and dentists, along with other demographic information, to help create a workforce better equipped to meet the needs of California’s diverse population.
Assembly Bill 1579, known as the “Healthy Baby Act of 2014,” allows eligible pregnant women in their second trimester to receive CalWORKs assistance, replacing previous legislation limiting benefits to women in their third semester.
Assembly Bill 420 bans the use of suspensions or expulsions of kindergarten through third-grade students for “willful defiance” in California public schools.