So About that NC Council for Women Move….

At NCWU, we’ve been hearing a lot these past few days about SB 744, in which the NC House Appropriations Committee recommends transferring the NC Council for Women (CFW) staff and domestic violence/sexual assault program funding  from its current home in the Department of Administration to the Department of Public Safety. The NC Council for Women has existed in one form or another since 1963, with a mission of being the NC state government voice for the most pressing issues impacting North Carolina women. Chairing the Domestic Violence Commission, the North Carolina CFW brought together professionals and advocates from around the community and from differing backgrounds to create programs designed to get to the root causes of violence against women – gender inequality, rigid gender roles, patriarchal attitudes – in addition to focusing on how to improve critical crisis intervention services.  And while perhaps most associated with its role in domestic violence prevention and victim/survivor support, the CFW also used its position as a state insider to advocate on issues at the intersections of women’s lives; connecting the dots from the lack of political representation to economic insecurity to lack of access to comprehensive health care to the experience of domestic and sexual violence. Their 2013 Status of Women in North Carolina report is their most recent example of these efforts, and provided a valuable guide for gender equity advocates as we navigated a difficult and contentious NCGA session last year, one in which policy makers often showed a lack of understanding of the reality of so many women’s lives in North Carolina.

The CFW has been a valuable resource and advocate for the women of North Carolina, and we will be watching SB744 closely to determine what the impact – intended or not – the move from the DOA to the DPS may have. While this is being presented as simply a lateral transfer of funds and staff to a new oversight agency, we don’t want to lose the best of what the CFW brings to the policy table on women’s issues merely because we weren’t paying close enough attention. Any move will always create change, and we want to make sure those changes don’t result in decreased or delayed funding to the domestic and sexual violence programs that desperately need it, having already committed to providing these services in their communities. The CFW also keeps detailed databases and records of services provided and clients who have used these services, and it’s possible the move may result in a loss of those records. It also employs regional staff to act as both a resource and the state’s local ear-to-the-ground in an effort to be an advocate for all women in North Carolina, and this aspect of the program probably would be lost with this move. Changes to any of these vital programs would only weaken the ability of the CFW to fulfill its current mission, and our hope is that the move would not threaten any of these unique benefits.

There is much that is still up in the air about this proposed move. Having a state group solely devoted to the issues of North Carolina women is a real asset to the struggle for gender equality here; but we need more than an organization that just has a women-friendly title. Contrary to what some may have you believe, women in 2014 North Carolina lead multi-faceted, complex lives in which their gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, economic status and more intersect to create a unique lived experience for all of us. Our shared struggles as women – pay inequity, dual demanding roles of breadwinner and caretaker, rigid gender norms, the double standards around and attempts to control our sexuality, the sexual and domestic violence so many experience – are compounded by women’s many identities, and our NC Council for Women knew this, reflecting that in their research and advocacy. They knew, as we know, that if we don’t address all these issues of gender inequality in our society, we will never end domestic and sexual violence against women. Never. Providing funding solely for crisis intervention after the violence has occurred (many times, only after severe violence has occurred) is not enough; it doesn’t prevent additional violence from happening and tells women we only take the violence seriously when we can no longer ignore it.   We have to do better.  We will be watching the impact of this proposed change closely, because North Carolina women are worth it.

Update: August 07, 2014:

Our member, the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, shared this news with their supporters and agencies:

“We are writing to let you know that the General Assembly just released the budget and that the grant administration of DV and SA funds will remain with the Department of Administration’s Council for Women. Ever since the House proposed to transfer the grant administration funds to the Department of Public Safety, NCCADV, through our lobbyist, has been talking to numerous chairs of the budget committees, other legislators,  and their staff about the proposal. We have emphasized that the timely disbursement of funds in order to preserve the critical life-saving services you all provide every day should be the top priority of legislators in determining who will administer the DV & SA grants. Legislators have heard our concerns and will not transfer the grant administration funds to DPS this year. In addition, as anticipated, there were NO cuts to DV/SA funding!”

Job well done for our advocates at the NCGA! We’ll still be watching….

Tara Romano, President, NCWU