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The first Women’s Commission originated on the presidential campaign trails of John F. Kennedy. He vowed to examine the issues and concerns facing women, established the first National Commission on the Status of Women, and in 1963 appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as the Commission’s first chairwoman.
The result of the investigation into women’s status revealed a staggering number of laws, regulations and traditions that actively discriminated against American women. Many states, including California, soon followed the national lead and created state commissions to investigate how the state governments hindered women’s full and equal status. But for some areas of the country, the commitment to equality stopped at the state level. Few, if any, local level commissions were created. But, as in many other areas of endeavor, Marin County was a trend setter. The Marin County Commission on the Status of Women was created by Ordinance #2078 by the Board of Supervisors in April, 1974.
By authority of the establishing ordinance, the Marin Women’s Commission is committed to:
- Study and investigate conditions where gender discrimination and prejudice exists
- Advise Marin County Board of Supervisors and other governmental and community agencies on the needs of women
- Advocate and advance economic independence and parity for all women
- Recommend legislation that positively impacts quality of life for women and families
- Recommend programs and practices to insure equal rights and opportunities for all women
- Develop community assets and facilitate access to resources for women in Marin County
- Mediate conflicts and disputes and conduct public hearings within the scope and function of the Commission
Consisting of eleven members, two women from each Marin supervisor’s district plus one at-large representative, the first commission in 1974 set the tone for all those that followed. Many problems were identified, the most significant being the way in which unequal practices at the county government impacted women. The Commission lobbied for the establishment of affirmative action guidelines in the county government’s hiring and promotion procedures. This led to the creation of an Affirmative Action Advisory Committee as part of the county’s Personnel Commission. One result was the elimination of employment recruitment through “Male Wanted” and “Female Wanted” segregated categories. Another was the removal of artificial sex-based practices in hiring. Eventually, the Affirmative Action Committee changed the way managerial career tracks were developed and how salary levels were established, including “equal pay for equal work” and “comparable worth” policies. To this day, Commission participation in this area continues.
Another area of concern was the impact of criminal justice procedures. Within a year of the Commission’s investigation, the county established the women’s facility at the Honor Farm, which brought women’s treatment while incarcerated into parity with that of male inmates.
Another criminal justice issue was women’s experience in the system as victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In 1977, the Commission worked in conjunction with the Marin chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to lay the foundation for the establishment of an abused women’s shelter. Within a year, the Marin Abused Women’s Services (MAWS) had been created.
The Commission has formed partnerships with other agencies to improve the status of women in several areas:
- Re-Entry Services of the College of Marin – developed advocacy and programs to address the needs of women re-entering the workplace after an absence of many years
- Marin Women’s Services Coalition – in 1981, the Commission was the catalyst to creating a consortium of women-serving agencies to share information, identify resources and suggest solutions to common problems
- Along with groups such as NOW and the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Commission has lobbied for women’s right to safe and legal abortion, for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and for the creation of Women’s History Week (now called National Women’s History Month)
- The Marin Women’s Hall of Fame grew out of an original partnership between the YWCA and the Commission in 1987. That partnership grew to include the American Association of University Women the following year. The success of the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame has served to celebrate and document the contributions of local women.
In 1982, Commission members decided to expand their information base on the needs of Marin women. Receiving a small grant from the San Francisco Foundation, they hired a consultant and began to review the areas where women’s needs were not addressed. Public hearings were conducted in each district and each agency in the county was queried about the level of service provided to females. As a result, new programs were put into place, including:
- Family Law Center for Women and Children
- Displaced Homemaker Program (DHELA)
- Marin Women’s Resource Card
- Health care services for low-income women
In 1994, in response to a growing workload, the Commission was expanded to seventeen members-to include three representatives from each supervisor’s district and two at-large members. The Commission was also renamed the “Marin Women’s Commission”
Recent efforts on behalf of Marin women have been in the area of economic parity. After an extended study, the 1996 Commission report “Where Do We Stand?” documented the continuing gap between men and women in regards to economic resources and access. In 1998, the Commission released a “Salary and Workforce Analysis” with results of a systematic survey of salaries and workforce practices at the county government. The recommendations included in this study are now a permanent part of the hiring and employment policy for county employees.
In 2001, the Commission focused on the high incidence of breast cancer in Marin County. In partnership with Marin General Hospital’s Breast Cancer Center, a translator training project was implemented to support non-English speaking women. The Commission also participated in “Beyond Breast Cancer Awareness”, in collaboration with the Breast Cancer Coordinating Council and the Board of Supervisors, to pay tribute to the dedicated organizations in Marin supporting women with breast cancer.
Today, the Marin Women’s Commission continues to promote equal opportunity, economic independence, and access to resources for Marin County women through advocacy, research and partnership with agencies that serve women.