Juanita Millender-McDonald

Expanding the Reach - April 6, 2002

Juanita Millender-McDonald
April 06, 2002— Los Angeles, California
Women's Empowerment Conference
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Good Morning,

I would first of all like to thank my colleague, Rep. Diane Watson for her kind words. It is indeed a pleasure to be here this morning to be part of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee.

The theme for today's Women's Empowerment Conference "Expanding the Reach" is very fitting when one looks at the challenges that African-American women face in today's society. We are grateful for the privileges and rights that we have, in comparison to our predecessors. However, the struggle which our leaders started is far from over, there are still challenges that we must overcome and there are boundaries that we must cross.

The rights of women in general have often been addressed in every aspect of daily and public life in all levels of society. Women are no longer confined from participating in public policy making, and are free to express their needs and concerns. However, the challenges that women still have to overcome are tremendous.

We have come to realize that women work longer hours than men, taking into account household and economic activities, in order to achieve the same standard of living. This situation is made worse when reductions occur in public expenditures on social services. Very often women pay the price for these cuts through increased workloads and responsibilities. In addition, women do not always have full control over their most basic asset - their own labor. It is also widely admitted that women have greater difficulties in breaking free of poverty, given their larger share of family and domestic responsibilities and the existing inequalities in access to education, training and opportunities in the labor markets and decision-making.

The lack of access to, and control over, resources needed for one's livelihood, the lack of economic and political strength to compete with other interest groups for a better share of resources, and the inability to influence the decision-making process create a vicious cycle among women in their attempts for achieving the well-being of their families and themselves. Breaking out of such a heinous cycle demands more than getting a job, acquiring training, or being approved for credit. It implies being able to carry out one's own decisions and initiatives. It implies empowerment.

Black women experience the effects of both racial and gender inequality having the least access to resources and opportunities. African-American women, in particular, constitute the majority of the poor. They are found in the lowest paid jobs and continue to bear the brunt of poverty, illiteracy and poor health, including HIV/AIDS.

However, the empowerment of African-American women has to go beyond just merely providing for their families, and their well-being. The empowerment of women must include their political participation, be it directly or indirectly. African American women's participation in politics is vital in order to empower, ensure the welfare, and ensure the rights of other African-American women. In order to treat the issue of gender in the history of African American struggles for political equality one cannot just "add women and stir." Rather, we must incorporate women into the processes, into the political arena to support individuals and issues that address the African American community.

There needs to be more policy and legislative interventions to approach the process of addressing the patent imbalances faced by women, in particular women of color.

Recognizing the challenge posed by such a call, as a Member of Congress, the Democratic Co-Chair of the Women's Caucus and an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I shall continue to propose and support initiatives in this score.

I commend the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee who have taken up the challenge to educate our community regarding the political process so that the electorate can make informed voting decisions on issues their well being. I congratulate them and would like to extend my support for their initiative in establishing the Los Angeles African American Women's Public Policy Training Institute. I truly believe that through this initiative we will together be able to move forward and empower the African American Women in our community and elevate them in the political arena.

In the conference today, I hope that we will be able to identify the key issues and aspects that we can together focus on and act upon in order to make it a truly effective outcome.

To conclude, let me borrow the words of Maya Angelou to capture the resilience of African-American women;

Angelou writes:

"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise
I rise
I rise

Thank You.