Failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, erasing the State’s earned income tax credits for low wage working, eliminating tax deductions for contributing to your child’s college funds, and cuts to public education are just a few examples of how women and children are being impacted by the 2014 election.
While many middle class and low-income families are paying more in taxes, the wealthiest North Carolinians received a $10,000.00 per year tax break. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and other in-home care programs for seniors have also been cut in addition to increasing their tax burden because the medical expense deduction was also removed.
Republicans also introduced House Bill 465 which seeks to ban abortion training in medical schools across the state. Both activists and medical professionals agree this legislation will not only affect access to reproductive services, but it will also comprise the training of medical students and residents throughout the state.
In an interview with Tara Romano, President of North Carolina Women United (NCWU), I had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges specifically impacting women in our state.
SWH: Tell us about North Carolina Women United (NCWU) and your work to improve outcomes for women.
Tara: North Carolina Women United (NCWU) is a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social, and economic equality of all women across North Carolina. Since the late 1980’s, NCWU’s goal has been to bring women’s voices to the policy table. With women still making up less than 25% of elected and appointed public officials, lawmakers need to hear from women about their experiences and concerns to inform policies that will benefit women and families across NC. We see our role as bringing a gender lens to state policies, and also looking at how multiple issues intersect to affect women, bringing those intersections to policy decisions. For example, it is critical to adequately fund domestic violence crisis services, but regressive tax cuts that leave the state short on revenue will impact that funding; also, without adequate safety net programs in place – such as affordable housing and health/child care, access to paid family leave, and jobs that pay living wages – many domestic violence victims may stay with their abusers because they can’t afford to leave.
NCWU is a non-partisan, all volunteer, nonprofit that includes members and supporters from across the state. Our focus is on educating women on how to be effective citizen advocates; this includes issues education as well as education on how to be fully engaged in our democratic process, from the importance of voting to the role citizens play in creating government policies. Our members provide us with our issues expertise, and we cover four main issue areas: violence against women, access to health care, civic participation and equality, and economic self-sufficiency. It’s a large umbrella, and we are always looking for new partners and supporters who can let us know what other issues may be important to women and that we need to consider.
SWH: What legislative and policy issues do NCWU Support, and what actions are you taking to effect change in North Carolina?
Tara: We advocate for the full equality of all women across North Carolina and take a progressive approach to the policy solutions we look for. We believe that women still face barriers in society because we are women, and we look for policy solutions to remove those barriers. As caretakers, breadwinners, mothers, educators, workers, and partners, women fill multiple diverse roles in NC in 2015, and we need policies that recognize those realities; affordable child care and housing; protection from discrimination on the job; access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care; pay equity; increased protections from sexual and domestic violence; and an accessible way to bring our voices to our democracy are just a few ways we can support women to achieve our highest potential. We also believe women face additional barriers due to race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, age, and disability status; we are committed to an agenda that is anti-racist and anti-oppression as the means to lift up the status of all women across North Carolina.
Our member organizations provide us with the expertise on specific policy issues to help us develop our agenda every other year during the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) long session. Our members are service organizations, advocacy groups, and member organizations that use research and constituency feedback to develop positions on proposed and anticipated legislation coming from the NCGA. On Women’s Advocacy Day (WAD), women from across the state come to Raleigh for a day of issue education, advocacy training, networking, and the opportunity to bring our voices to the policy table. Also on WAD, we will be discussing our 2015 legislative agenda and top priorities. Whether you are a regular at the NCGA, or are speaking to your lawmakers for the first time, WAD is an engaging and impactful day.
SWH: What are some of the challenges and barriers NCWU faces in connecting with North Carolina women?
Tara: As an all-volunteer and somewhat “virtual” organization, a big challenge for NCWU is getting our information out to women across the state. With our members’ expertise, we are able to provide informative and useful documents and tools for advocacy, but it’s not as easy for us to get it out to women. Also, women face numerous barriers and issues across the state, and we know there are issues that we do not have deep expertise on, and therefore aren’t highlighting them as much as we may need to. We are always looking for new members and partners, which is why we officially joined the HKonJ coalition (the organization behind the Moral Mondays movement). It can also be a challenge, as we join with other coalitions, to keep certain issues considered “women’s issues” – like child care – on the overall movement agenda.
SWH: How can women and other allies both in and outside of North Carolina support and engage with NCWU?
Tara: As an all-volunteer organization, we try to do a lot on limited resources, and we feel the women of North Carolina (and our allies) are our biggest resource. There are many ways to be involved with our work, including joining us on the board or on our committees, donating to our work, supporting us financially with donations, amplifying our message on social media, coming out to our members’ events, or bringing your voice with us to the General Assembly. Join us for Women’s Advocacy Day at the North Carolina Legislative Building on April 21, 2015.
You can also watch the interview with President Tara Romano, Directors of Policy Emma Akpan, and Felicia Willems for all you need to know about WAD including more on how we put together our agenda and what to expect during the day.