Changemakers – Empowering Women at the State Capitol

State hearings are not for the faint of heart. It takes strong, empowered advocates to push for policy change. Luckily, there is a group of women leaders in California with the skills and confidence to rise to the challenge – The Women’s Policy Institute fellows. This year, we had the opportunity to see them in action at a mock hearing at the State Capitol. During the hearing, the fellows presented an actual bill set to be introduced in the coming legislative session. Seeing these women leaders from all over the state come together in the policy arena, and hearing them speak with such conviction in front of an intimidating, albeit simulated, committee, was truly inspiring. 

Since 2012, Blue Shield Against Violence has supported the Women’s Foundation of California to run this unique program, which takes women community leaders from across California and puts them through a one-year experiential training, called the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI).  The women who are chosen undergo training on every aspect of the state policy process - from understanding how a bill is formed, to conceiving of policies, to gaining legislative authors, to figuring out how to defend against potential opposition. This year’s fellows include Mariya Taher, Maria Caprio, Melodie Kruspodin, Julia Parish, and Nicole Marquez.

Fellows select policy projects in a variety of areas that affect women and families, including healthcare workforce issues, criminal justice, college/career access, and safety net programs. Among them, are a group of fellows funded by the Foundation to participate with a focus on domestic violence. Since its inception, the WPI has resulted in the passage of 20 new laws on behalf of women and families in California. 

A critical piece of the WPI training is the aforementioned mock hearing in Sacramento. This year, the domestic violence legislation the WPI team spearheaded is AB1579 (Stone), which, if passed, would allow a currently-childless woman to access financial aid and services from CalWORKs, (California’s welfare-to-work program), immediately upon the medical verification of her pregnancy. This bill is important because domestic violence, more than any other cause, results in significant health problems among pregnant women. As it’s written today, the law doesn’t allow CalWORKs benefits until the third trimester. That means that low-income pregnant women with few resources or alternatives are more likely to endure abuse, threatening long- and short-term harm to themselves and their unborn babies. Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, you can be sure that these fellows’ advocacy efforts will continue, and the field of domestic violence will be stronger because of them. 

(photographer: Nader Khouri)