Tag Archives: Minnesota Women’s Consortium

A Mix of Modes for Commemorating Women’s Equality Day

When Representative Bela Abzug introduced the bill designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1971 the emphasis was on equal opportunities for women in employment, education, childcare – and the focus was on women in the U.S.  In the four decades since the first Women’s Equality Day many American women have made progress – for many women the struggle continues.

A quick search locates an array of resource materials on the topic and on the day itself. One of the most robust is http://creativefolk.com/equalityday.html, a commercial site on which sponsored have gathered a wide range of relevant materials, music, books, videos and links to key players.

To an extent, the movement for women’s equity has expanded its focus to reflect and incorporate more global concerns. These data from US Aid express the urgency of embracing the needs of all women in the movement:

Around the world 62 million girls are not in school. Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9. Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications.

While women make up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labor force only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, that number is only 3 percent. And despite representing half the global population, women compromise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.

Putting women and girls on equal footing with men and boys has the power to transform every sector in which we work. (https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment)

It is with this perspective that women will gather on August 26 to commemorate the significance of the day and the movement.

Minnesota activists, representing ERAMN, will be marching in Washington, DC in support of ratification of the ERA. The four-mile march will be capped with a press conference and rally on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. (http://www.eramn.org/home/press-release-minnesota-activists-join-era-march-in-dc-on-womens-equality-day)

Closer to home, the Minnesota Women’s Consortium will host a Women’s Equality Day gathering from 4:00-5:30 in the Women’s Suffrage Memorial Garden on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol. Theme of the event is “Pivoting Towards Equity: A Women’s Equality Day Conversation.” State Senator Sandy Pappas, State Representative Rena Mora and Sia Her, ED of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans will discuss how to incorporate ideas of equity into the movement for women’s equality. [NOTE: The thoughtful presentation will be topped off with complimentary ice cream sundaes, courtesy of “feminist-friendly” local business Dar’s Double Scoop — a destination landmark on North Rice Street in St. Paul.]

Members of the National Organization of Women (http://www.mnnow.org) and guests will be celebrating with a Women’s Equality Day happy hour, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Honey, 205 East Hennepin in Minneapolis.

If you can’t participate in any of these public events, take time to reflect on the words and thoughts of some noted women writers, selected for just this occasion by the editors of Mental Floss – a little of everyone, from Erica Jong to Pearl Buck to Erma Bomback (http://mentalfloss.com/article/52360/celebrating-womens-equality-day-quotes-13-influential-women-writers-sponsored­)


A Tribute to Gloria Griffin, A Legendary Leader of the Women’s Movement

A pioneer in the women’s movement in Minnesota died last week.  By the time she died, Gloria Griffin was a bit of a woman, severely afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life.  Because Gloria hasn’t been around so much in recent times so many younger women may not know her – but everyone knows her legacy, primarily the Minnesota Women’s Consortium and the Women’s Building on Rice Street, just North of the State Capitol.

What is not so evident is the women to whom she gave an opportunity.  I am one of those women and it is Gloria’s talent scouting impact that I experienced personally and that I try to deserve today.

When I first knew of Gloria Griffin, she was a commanding presence, a vocal force with considerable power because of her own political acumen, classy style and her commitment to giving women a chance to prove themselves and to contribute their perspective and their efforts to the common good.  A striking sophisticate Gloria was a business woman and candidate for Congress in 1976 in what was then the 2nd Congressional District, a challenge that would weed out a lesser soul.

Though she didn’t win that election, she caught the attention of then first-termer and visionary Governor Rudy Perpich.  He created the Governor’s Open Appointments Commission, placing Gloria at the head with a mandate to include women and minorities in the pool.

Meanwhile I was a classic nobody, a single mom supporting two little boys on my wages as a temporary librarian at a small private college in Mankato.  My political engagement included a timid toe dipped in the DFL and maybe the Mankato Area League of Women Voters.  For reasons I have never cared to plumb, my name somehow bubbled to the top of what must have been a zillion candidates for gubernatorial appointment.  A call came for an appointment with the Governor’s Commission which was interviewing candidates for the Minnesota State Board of Education.

Having little to lose, I dug out some suitable garb, looked up the authority of the SBE, and headed for the State Capitol which I had probably not visited since Girls State circa 1958.

Gloria and her distinguished bipartisan Commission offered a gracious welcome markedly free of the condescending tone I had anticipated.   I survived and life went on.

Some weeks or months later I was at a work-related meeting at the Minnesota Valley Regional Library when a staffer broke in with a call for me – from the Governor’s office.  Unaccustomed as anyone was for me to get a call of any sort, definitely not from the Governor’s office, I’m sure the assumption was that I was in trouble for something, probably dereliction of duty or possibly child endangerment.

The message was that the Governor had just appointed me to the Minnesota State Board of Education, the Board responsible for K-12 and vocational ( AVTI’s in those days) and libraries.  To say the least, I was willing, if not necessarily ready or able.

Gloria’s long reach and commitment to giving women, even nobodies, a chance, changed my life.

The learning process she jump-started continues to this day, decades later.  I learned about the politics of education, state and local.  I experienced the real if implicit forces that shape and pull on the systems.  In the days of Title IX, displaced homemakers and the outrageous barriers facing women and girls I delighted in systemic de-construction of the system in order to effect change.  I learned about the pressures and the possibilities of politics writ large.

Gloria Griffin never knew me personally – we met but once at that formal interview.  Still, she used her mandate to give women with even a glimmer of potential a chance to grow, to learn and to contribute something, even if it were but the voice of a young mom on a board otherwise dominated by grey haired grandpas with political clout.

My story must be one of hundreds of similar reflections ignited by the news of Gloria’s death.  Others know about and laud her more public contributions.  I can speak only from my small touch with her impact.  I hope I do her proud – and I am both grateful and  strengthened to have felt her impact for these past three decades.

Note:  There have been and will be countless tributes to Gloria Griffin  – those who knew her will remember the stories; others will want to know more.  In his obituary for Gloria Tom Meersman, writing in the Strib, notes that Gloria “poked her nose into politics and helped women organize and improve their status in Minnesota.”  The interview with Gloria published in the collection entitled In the Company of Women: Voice from the Women’s Movement, edited by Bonnie Watkins and Nina Rothchild, offers a brief glimpse into the political awakening of this powerful and gracious woman.


Minnesota Women’s Consortium – A Powerful Political Force Turns 30

For the young, thirty years is more than a lifetime.  For those who have shaped, joined and grown with the Minnesota Women’s Consortium for thirty years the past is prologue, a good start on the steady path to awareness of women’s issues, sound public policy and, ultimately, full equality for women and girls.

Forged by an intrepid band of committed “women’s libbers” of the early 80’s the Consortium originally brought together a small cadre of women’s groups who shared a vision and “common fate”.  Today the Consortium is the hub of a wheel that connects, listens to and speaks for over 160 organizations and their members.

After thirty years the Consortium is broader and stronger than ever, with a track record that reflects the changing times and that rivals the impact of any of the legion of high profile and well-heeled advocacy groups that flood the Capitol when it’s convenient then tend to vanish when the spotlight and the media attention fade.  Though generations of leadership in the array of member organizations cycle and recycle, the Consortium stays on a course marked by constant vigilance, coupled with a steady focus on that “common fate.”

Clearly, students of political science, better government, women’s studies, or Minnesota history must be plumbing the depths of MWC’s influence.  For the moment, a snapshot of MWC today offers a glimpse of the Consortium’s steadfast presence and indefatigable strength.

Though self-promotion is about the last thing on her to-do list, Bonnie Peace Watkins, Executive Director of the Consortium, agreed to take a deep breath and talk a bit about MWC at thirty. Because the list of concerns and possibilities is overwhelming, we focused on just one of MN2020’s priorities, health care.

Watkins  cites “woman-centered health care” as one of the “five dreams of women.”  With sardonic humor she dismisses some prevailing stereotypes then describes what the Consortium has been doing, including convening an episodic series of conversations with member groups concerned about health care issues.

Looking back on  health care and wellness discussions Watkins lists a host of topics explored in collaboration by those MWC member organizations:  “choice, of course, but also DES (cervical cancer), breast cancer, the Heart Association Go Red campaign for women’s heart health, the home economists’ assertion that we have to address childhood obesity, better nutrition education and more physical fitness minutes in K-12 schools, disparities special concern to women of color and recent immigrants.”  Clearly, the discussions are broad range and anticipatory of issues that have subsequently become mainstream on the public agenda.

Watkins reflects that “we have educated ourselves together and assertively interacted with experts such as former Senator Berglin, Senator Marty, and Nancy Feldman, CEO of UCare among others.”  She smiles when she recalls that Senator Franken “convened a special meeting of women’s groups on this issue in our basement in the midst of the crazy town hall meetings elsewhere when Congress was debating ACA…That was a very deep and impressive conversation – we were so glad he recognized the wealth of expertise.”

Woman-centered health care is one of many priorities with which the Consortium and its diverse members grapple every day in myriad ways.  Though the persistent work of the Consortium is day-by-day a website, unique, a countless public programs offer the latest on issues and an astounding calendar of relevant events, all access to individuals and organizations who want to learn and to share.   MWC sets a pace that proves beyond a doubt that you really can trust an organization over thirty!


ElderNomics Explores Seniors’ Options and Possibilities



Option 1:  Pity the older Minnesotan dependent on relatives and other caregivers and public assistance to provide essential resources or services.  Option 2:  Focus on the economic status of older people who should in theory be able to purchase the services and care they want and need, when and where they want.   Elder-Nomics, a unique data-driven program initiated by the Minnesota Women Consortium, opts for #2;  the Consortium and its partners are working unstintingly to share the data and stories collected.


Briefly stated, the Consortium has unique data on the true cost of living for Minnesota elders – basically twice the federal poverty level.  The data covers every county and, within that, data for singles, couples, renters, homeowners still paying on a mortgage and those with mortgage paid off, for those in good, fair, and poor health, for average costs of transportation, housing, food, and out-of-pocket medical care.”


The Consortium has also studied in detail the financial impact on caregivers who leave lucrative positions and terminate benefits in order to provide care for the elderly who have “have just enough money so they qualify for nothing.”


At the same time Consortium staff and volunteers have monitored government action at many levels, e.g. opposing deep cuts to the state Renter’s Credit tax rebate which helps elders not eligible for any special low income programs such as heating assistance or home care.  Bonnie Watkins, Executive Director of the Consortium, reports that “research shows that this rebate is spent locally on necessities such as groceries, laundry detergent, or a visit to the dentist.”


A priority of the Elder-Nomics campaign is to capture the real stories of older adults in their communities, encouraging conversation at every level around the economics of caregiving, and engaging individuals and organizations.


Anticipated outcomes include policy change on the part of governments and employers, and increased awareness of the need for self-advocacy and financial planning on the part of individuals and supportive organizations.  The long term goal is “to move beyond ;preventing the descent of elderly into poverty’ to show that sound economic policy for people of all ages leads to economic security in one’s later years.”


The Minnesota Women’s Consortium is not acting alone on the Elder-Nomics project.  Key partners include Mature Voices Minnesota in collaboration with the National Council on Aging.  Elder-Nomics is a work in process in which the Consortium and its partners are using every known communications medium to reach agencies, elderly Minnesotans and those who are responsible for anticipating and meeting their needs.


The best way to keep abreast of ongoing Elder-Nomics activities is to monitor the websites of Minnesota Women Consortium and Mature Voices Minnesota.  These sites  will link to state and local agencies, corporations and nonprofits working on the issues related to the independence and welfare of older Minnesotans.



Bonnie Watkins To Leave ED Position at Minnesota Women’s Consortium

Bonnie Watkins, long-time Executive Director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, announced today that she is leaving her position January 2` “right after our fabulous Celebration32 party on January 26.”  Watkins’ plan is “to take up once again a past career as freelance writer.”


Watkins has actually worked with MWC for much longer than her nine years as ED.  For 23 years prior to that she was a committed volunteer who played a major role in shaping and Consortium under the direction of her predecessors.


In her message to MWC members and friends Watkins writes, “I believe the Consortium is strong and ready to move forward, thanks to all of you.”  Details about the next steps for Watkins and for MWC will be forthcoming.



Women and Girls Gather at the Capitol for President’s Day

Though we have yet to elect a woman President or Governor the day will come.  And the women and girls gathered in the Capitol Complex next Monday, February 21,  can claim their fair of credit.  The visits of two energetic delegations are sponsored by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium (MWC.)

For over a decade President’s Day marks the day on which the presidents of women’s organizations gather at the State Capitol to identify and support issues of concern to Minnesota women.  Attendees will deliver a joint statement to the Legislature;  they will then meet with Congressional delegates and the press at 12:30 p.m. in Capitol Room 318.

As Abigail Adams might have admonished her husband John, don’t forget the young ladies.  They’ll be there in numbers.  On the same day Minnesota girls age 13-18 will participate in the 9th annual Girls Rock! The Capitol event is co-sponsored by the MWC and Girls International Forum.  There’s an introduction to political leadership and activism in the Great Hall at the Capitol followed by a tour, mock voting, a mock committee meeting and a reception with women legislators.

A first this year will be the participation of 20 college women from Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.  The college students will teach the girls about women’s leadership in their home countries – and undoubtedly face some tough questions posed by girls who have learned a great deal about the older students’ homelands in the past few weeks.

Bonnie Watkins, Director of the MWC, eagerly awaits the visitors, the political action and the photo ops with the teen politicos whom she observes “are incredibly bright and confident, and …will be running our state in no time at all.”  The day will come – and with the training and contacts offered by the MWC it will come soon.

For President’s Day info contact Bonnie Watkins (bonnie@mnwomen.org) or 651 398 3686

For more information re  Girls Rock! Call Erin 651 228 0338.