By Sharon McElhone
Dear Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese,
Thank you for holding a meeting dedicated to women’s issues. For the past six years, I’ve been addressing concerns related to women and the affordability of childcare through my column and at the local and state level. More solutions to childcare, domestic violence and sexual harassment as well as championing women’s professional sports are needed. This open letter outlines my concerns and offers possible solutions for issues facing women today. I feel this is a great opportunity to share with leaders of Santa Clara County what issues I think are important.
- Affordable childcare needs to be made a priority. Healthy families are at the core of any healthy city and society. Statistics are showing that affordable childcare is not accessible to all parents. The majority of parents need to work in order to provide food and housing, but if there is no access to affordable childcare, a parent can find her or himself left out of the work force. Women have historically taken the responsibility of caring for children and they continue to take on that responsibility at the expense of their health, careers and education after they have children. The cost of childcare has gotten so expensive that middle class and lower class families are being put under more stress than ever to afford it along with housing and other expenses. If we want equality and a high quality of life in the bay area, we as a community need to get behind more solutions for affordable childcare so the burden of childcare is lifted off women and available to everyone.
a. Subsidized neighborhood centers that provide free or low cost childcare for all. The Childcare model run by many European countries has proven to be very successful and has allowed its citizens the freedom to work in a healthier community environment. Our expenditures on prison systems and on defense and war have far outpaced our expenditures on childcare and it is time to look at this disproportionate spending and spend more money on programs that benefit women and children and American families.
b. If government subsidized childcare is not an option, another viable option is changing the childcare business model to be more universal so childcare becomes more affordable and more accessible. The hours are also important since most people in the Bay Area work long hours. Americans pay anywhere from $180-$3500 a year for access to premier athletic clubs and gyms, some available 24 hours a day, while parents pay on average $22,000 a year for two children in California for childcare. A better business model needs to be found. Affordable childcare needs to be seen as a right for all Americans and not as a luxury.
2. Re-entry into the workforce for mothers who chose to stay home or must stay home to care for children is also a main concern upon which we need to focus. It has been difficult for many women to re-enter the workforce after they leave it to become caregivers. Women have not only carried the majority of the burden of providing childcare because we do not have a universal childcare system, there is also not enough support for re-entry into the workforce after childcare needs subside. I’ve heard too often that women who leave the work force cannot keep up their skills and then are not able to compete for jobs later on when childcare is no longer needed. Women who stay home to provide childcare are providing something essential. They need to be treated and recognized more like veterans and given opportunities to re-enter the workforce after serving time taking care of our young children.
a. To offer schooling/programs to caregivers that allow women to keep up or catch up with their industry of choice while or after they stay home with children for a period of time.
b. Partnering with non-profits that support women needing to re-enter the workforce.
c. Encourage companies to have internships and/or re-entry training available.
d. Running awareness programs to encourage corporations and other businesses to hire parents who provided childcare at some point and who are now ready or need to go back to work because their children are in school. Destigmatizing the work of caregivers is so essential.
e. Creating campaigns that encourage all companies and industries to have flex hours so that parents can balance childcare/volunteering responsibilities without fear of losing their jobs or being frowned upon.
3. Having universities oversee Title IX/Student Affairs is a conflict of interest. The relationship between students and universities is a non-peer relationship: It is not an equal relationship in power. The managing of these departments is done through the university, and students report incidences through the university. When the responsibility to decide on cases brought against the university or employees of the university lies with the university itself, it is a conflict of interest. Universities have ready access to legal council that exists to protect the university. The individuals who handle the reports are employees of the university and paid by the university. Students are at a disadvantage when reporting bullying, sexual harassment or rape to universities. In addition, due to the overwhelming number of cases these departments have, students are under obligation to wait for the university to make a decision on a case. After a student files a complaint, she or he must wait. It’s one sided and an outcome can take months or years to deliver depending on the caseload. Not all students have the finances to hire legal council and that also creates disadvantages.
a. The creation of an independent third party to oversee Title IX and Student Affairs. Transferring these departments outside the university is needed to ensure impartiality. It’s crucial for creating an equal relationship between students and universities when handling reports such claims of harassment or bullying.
b. The implementation of standard deadlines to respond to complaints and make investigations is also needed. Keeping all parties aware of the status of a case is important, ethical, provides dignity to both parties and maintains the integrity of the case. For example, Real Estate agents are held to standards by law to ensure timely outcomes of property sales. The responsibility to practice due diligence, request time extensions, give notices to perform, and adhere to a certain number of days allowed to complete investigations are all part of the standard RE law. University language to students includes “we are reviewing the case,” “we will get back to you shortly,” “We have received your documents and we will let you know the outcome,” among other non-defining, non-standardized language. Holding Title IX and Student Affairs offices to standards is important in instilling confidence in those students it represents. It provides an awareness to how the process works and helps all parties understand their responsibility to help complete any investigations in a timely manner. It also allows students to participate in accountability.
- Creating a safer environment for young girls means addressing body boundaries in schools. One in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused by the time they reach age 18 and we have a systemic problem with youth and violence. All children have the right to know that their bodies belong to them. As a volunteer for Project Cornerstone, which is a wonderful program, I appreciate schools supporting anti-bullying programs. However, this program does not go far enough to teach children body boundaries and I personally feel that knowledge is power even for a child as young as four or five. We are overlooking teaching our children how to protect themselves by not coming up with a universal program that will help children understand their rights to their own body very early on. I believe it will decrease the rate of sexual abuse, suicide, depression, and violence among youth if we implement a school wide initiative to engage students about how to protect their bodies and also carry the knowledge that they are in charge of their bodies. When all members of a community know, including children, what their rights are and that their bodies belong to them, it is harder to commit offenses because we have begun to weave a common understanding. We challenge the notion of shame. We have the opportunity to teach young girls (and young boys) from a very young age to resist and protect themselves from unwanted touches and to empower them to say no. Any body boundaries education can be done on age appropriate levels starting with four and five year olds.
a. Include the subject of body boundaries in schools starting from Pre-K
b. Partnering with Project Cornerstone to implement more awareness of body boundaries and personal rights
c. Creating a program that develops children’s recognition that they have the right to say no to unwanted touches.
5. Making Silicon Valley more friendly to Women’s Sports Teams. Promoting women’s professional sports and female athletes is a great opportunity for Silicon Valley to show its progressive nature and for it to create more equality. The South Bay has welcomed three major men’s sports teams in the last ten years, which is great. However, we are also fostering an environment that is promoting inequality. Athletes like Brandi Chastain, who lives in the bay area, have yet to see the kind of support for women’s professional soccer that the Earthquakes have received for example. I think we have an opportunity to lead in this area and the opportunity to embrace healthy change. Creating positive images around women for our youth is very important for the bay area as a whole. It helps nurture the idea of respect and creates awareness about the many accomplishments of women in sports and many other areas.
a. Supporting more countywide campaigns that promote women’s teams in the bay area including the following: university women’s basketball, water polo, soccer, softball, rock climbing, surfing, etc….
b. Inviting a women’s professional team to make its home in Silicon Valley.
c. Earmarking resources to fund a professional women’s team stadium.
d. Promoting girls programs such as Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, Bay Area Girls Unite, Girls At The Top, Girls Leadership Institute, Bay Area Girls Rock on a county level to create more visibility and awareness and to promote healthy activities for young girls within the county.
I appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing the outcome of this very important meeting on women’s issues.
Writer and Mother