Taking on the Issues of Our Day
Impacting Our Community Through Advocacy
BY MELANIE MORRISSEY-CLARK
As women, we often find ourselves advocating for others throughout our lives. Those of us who are parents discover early on that we must advocate for our infants, toddlers, children and teenagers as they navigate the worlds of medical care, education and society. We may also find ourselves needing to advocate for an elderly or disabled relative, or for ourselves in the workplace as we try to climb ladders and get promotions.
Defined more broadly, advocacy means supporting a cause or policy. For the past 19 years, the Women’s Fund of Omaha has advocated for issues of importance to women and girls by publishing this magazine, Today’s Omaha Woman. The publication was, in fact, launched with that specific goal in mind, and the topics we have covered have indeed raised awareness about these issues.
But these days, with more challenges facing women and girls than ever before, it’s just not enough. Women’s Fund leadership made the decision last year to prioritize advocacy in a few key areas, and these efforts are starting to have an impact.
“The Women’s Fund has always conducted research, raised awareness and funded solutions on issues impacting women and girls in our community, but now we are broadening our reach with advocacy through our public policy committee,” says Michelle Zych, Women’s Fund executive director. “As always, the end goal is systemic, sustainable change that will improve the lives of women and girls.”
Four priority advocacy areas are outlined in this issue of Today’s Omaha Woman—not only to keep our readers informed about the work of the Women’s Fund, but to raise awareness in general about these timely and important topics.
These areas were chosen by the Women’s Fund in part due to their urgency:
• Sex Trafficking: According to non-profit service providers, individuals ages 17 and under were sex-trafficked 176 times in our community this past year. The Women’s Fund now has a full-time trafficking response coordinator on staff to build a statewide coalition of advocates that can raise awareness, and promote promising practices that are rooted in research.
• Adolescent Health: STD rates in Douglas County are among the highest in the nation. The Women’s Fund now has two full-time staff members dedicated to coordinating our community’s response to lowering these rates, as well as those of teen pregnancy. This dedication of resources was recently instrumental in supporting the Omaha Public School district as they passed new sex education standards to begin to replace their 30-year old curriculum.
• Pay Day Lending: Women ages 25 to 44, with children, who rent rather than own their homes and earn less than $50,000 a year, make up a significant number of pay day lending customers, exposing them to crushing debt and a nearly unbreakable cycle. The Women’s Fund is working with other organizations on efforts to encourage legislation that would lessen the negative impacts of pay day lending.
• Paid Family and Medical Leave: Nationally, only 12 percent of employers offer paid family leave for the birth of a child, family member’s illness or employee emergency. Only those working for companies with 50 or more employees can access unpaid family leave and keep their jobs for 12 weeks. Far too often, women quit their jobs because they have no maternity leave. The Women’s Fund offered support in the way of testimony to the Nebraska Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee hearing on this topic last fall. The hearing was held as part of an interim study on a state paid family leave program introduced by State Sen. Sue Crawford of District 45 (Bellevue).
Read on to learn more about each of these issues, and if you care about them, too, let your lawmakers know, particularly when a bill is being introduced into the legislature. We can all be advocates of our own making, and it takes all of us to make our community better. W