Two Views: Cuts and the Governor’s Commission on Women

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Commentators Libby Sternberg and Cheryl Hanna offer Two Views of the recent debate in Montpelier concerning budget cuts and the Governor’s Commission on Women.

Here’s Libby Sternberg.

Imagine a public policy with which you strongly disagree. It could be anything – tax policy, abortion policy, Act 60 reform, even the Champion Lands deal.

Now imagine that your tax dollars are being used to fund an organization that is lobbying AGAINST your point of view.

How would you feel? Irritated? Annoyed? Maybe even a little angry?

For many Vermont women, check “all of the above.” That’s how some women I know feel about the state’s continuing funding of the Governor’s Commission on Women.

Such a commission would be fine and dandy if it weren’t for the fact that it is using our tax dollars to lobby for policies we don’t want and against ones we do.

Take parental notification, for example, a policy where the state would require abortion providers to notify parents when their minor daughters seek an abortion. You would think a commission on women, concerned about education and child care and similar issues, would support mothers in this regard. But no, the Governor’s Commission on Women lobbies AGAINST parental notification.

While lobbying AGAINST this policy, the Governor’s Commission promotes other policies some of us don’t support. They are promoting a spring seminar on “universal health care” which for many people is code language for a system that includes more and more government control of health care resources.

The Commission does other things that I think are valuable. They provide information on sexual harassment issues, on how women can be appointed to boards and commissions, and the legal rights of women in Vermont.

But shouldn’t it be possible to roll those good things into the responsibilities of another state agency, such as the Human Rights Commission?

In a time when the state is looking for ways to cut the budget, the Governor’s Commission on Women seems a good place to start. There may have been a place and time when it was needed. But now it uses tax dollars – dollars that are needed for programs many consider far more valuable – to promote and lobby for policies not all taxpayers support.

This is Libby Sternberg from Rutland.

And I’m Cheryl Hanna.

It’s ironic, don’t you think, that during March, which is Women’s History Month, some legislators began efforts to effectively dismantle the Governor’s Commission on Women, arguing that we don’t need it anymore because women have achieved equality with men.

No doubt women have made enormous advances since 1964, when the commission was established. But it’s na¿ve to think that centuries of discrimination and disenfranchisement have been reversed in just a generation. Despite more than three decades of law reform intended to level the playing field, women still face unequal treatment, particularly when it comes to balancing work and family. We continue to hit the glass ceiling in issues ranging from equal pay to access to health care.

Most sex discrimination isn’t intentional, just as most racial discrimination isn’t. But it is discrimination none-the-less. Just because a law is gender neutral on its face, it doesn’t mean that it won’t unfairly impact women and their children. We still need an independent government agency to pay special attention to the impact public policy will have on women, especially those who don’t travel in the soccer mom set.

Let’s be honest. This isn’t a debate over gender, but politics. Those who want the commission’s doors closed are angry that it supports issues like reproductive rights and civil union. True, not all women agree on these issues. So let’s disagree to disagree, and debate the commission’s policies and the function we want it to serve. But let’s not sell out our sisters by claiming gender no longer matters when we all know that it does.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

–Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont. Before her, we heard from Libby Sternberg, a freelance writer active in education issues and former Chair of the Rutland County Republican Party.

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