Following the 2016 election, the Women’s March speared to action. This year’s Women March slogan is “Protect, Connect, and Activate.” Mary Kay Devine, the Senior Director of External Affairs, who oversees the Women March Chicago, says the march focuses on five (5) key issues: Census, Climate Change, Gun Violence Prevention, Health Care Access, and Voting.
Issues including the protection of working women’s rights, connecting women of color to become more involved in the Census, and the necessity of voting was on the forefront of issues at this year’s march. With the help of Women Employed, the 2020 Woman’s March Chicago is hoping to inform and promote changes that will help women, particularly women of color. There is $675 billion distributed to various programs and services using Census data. For each person missed in Chicago, the city could lose $1,400 (per person) and representation in Congress.
Women Employed is a registered 501(c) (3) non-profit organization founded in 1973 in Chicago. They work on the state level and national level, but much of the work is in Chicago. Women Employed is an advocacy organization that does not work directly with companies but instead, helps implement system change, policies, and practices; policies that affect thousands of women to improve their economic status. Laws include pay equity, paid time off, fair workweek/scheduling, paid sick time, sexual harassment, minimum wage, and gender equity. Under new leadership, Women Employed is looking to increase its outreach with more African American women through increased participation in their advocacy programs, and with its involvement in the Women March Chicago 2020.
Cherita Ellens is the newly appointed CEO of Women Employed. Cherita is the first black woman to lead this organization. She says that she is grateful to have this opportunity to be in a leadership role whose advocacy programs affect women and to be a voice for women of color. Her goal is to encourage more women of color to become involved with the advocacy of Women Employed. Over the past few years, more women of color are coming to the forefront of the feminist movement. Cherita understands that there are many reasons why black women shy away from involvement in advocacy programs like Women Employed. Historically women-led organizations are rarely supported and, therefore, less funded. This holds especially true for black women-led organizations.
CEO Cherita Ellens states that black women are the most educated yet most underpaid group. “Black women are especially affected by unfair work practices, wages, sexual harassment, and are at more risk of losing their jobs when it comes to family issues.” Such policies are why more African American women need to be present and involved. “When policies are made, African American women are often absent from the conversation. Cherita’s goal is to bring black women to the table to help change these policies. Cherita states, “Until we have the same voice, we are not moving ahead, and the feminist movement cannot move this advocacy without women of color.” Moving forward and changing the landscape takes groundwork and focus groups of black women from all walks of life to be involved in demanding to be included and counted when it comes to talks about policies in the workforce and corporate practices.
This year’s Women’s March partnered with Women Employed. “We all need to be full participants,” especially with this year’s Census and election. Cherita Ellens says. “This election is as important as 2016”. The Women March Chicago plans to promote full participation in the U.S Census. Cherita states that Black women cannot allow fear to stop them from participating in the Census: “It is up to us to be sure our communities, Black communities, are counted, and it is our responsibility to be heard to move to action.”
Women Employed is not endorsing a candidate but stressed that everyone should vote. “We must understand what is at stake and be very clear on where the candidates stand on issues and the five key issues.” Women’s March Chicago and the work of Women Employed will continue to advocate for women of all races and backgrounds. They believe this movement and their advocacy will take the participation of everyone but cannot effect change without women of color.
Shera Strange, Contributing Writer