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On International Women’s Day, group unveils 20 ways to promote gender equity

Anna Valencia and M.K. Pritzker

City Clerk Anna Valencia was joined by Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker for the unveiling of recommendations intended to promote gender equity. Friday was International Women's Day. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

With a woman guaranteed to become mayor for only the second time in Chicago’s history, the timing could not be better to promote gender equity.

On Friday, City Clerk Anna Valencia chose to celebrate International Women’s Day by unveiling 20 recommendations to do just that.

The top four immediate recommendations: supporting a “fair workweek ordinance”; decreasing testing time for evidence in sexual assault cases; creating a “national model comprehensive health and sexual education” program for Chicago Public Schools  and hosting a 2020 Girls Summit to “facilitate a dialogue” among young women.

Longer-term goals include: expanding parental and family leave for city employees; increasing contract set-sides for companies owned and operated by women; creating free access to transportation for pregnancy treatment and other health services; recruiting more women as first-responders; and creating a “career-building pipeline” for women from “under-represented communities.”

The groundbreaking recommendations were the result of five months of meetings and focus groups that involved 120 women and girls across the city. They were unveiled at a triumphant event in the City Council chambers attended by women who are among the city’s movers-and-shakers.

They included Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and CPS CEO Janice Jackson.

After huddling with Valencia in a City Council committee room, Pritzker refused to discuss the issues, demanding that a reporter “go through the office” to set up an interview with her.

Valencia argued that the #MeToo movement triggered by sexual harassment allegations against men in politics, entertainment, sports, restaurants and major corporations cries out for CPS to do more to educate young women.

“They have curriculum now. But we heard from high school students that it wasn’t being implemented equitably at different schools. Some were getting three weeks. Some were getting two weeks. Some were getting STI testing. Some weren’t,” the city clerk said.

“We want to do an assessment first, then see where the gaps are, try to fill those gaps [with things] like healthy relationships and consent. We have to facilitate conversations with our girls and boys about what that looks like early on so we can really begin to change the culture.”

Eliminating the backlog for testing evidence in sexual assault cases is also critical, Valencia said.

“It really affects a lot of survivors having to wait so long for answers. Youalso have a danger to the public by allowing someone who may be a repeat offender out on the street because we didn’t test the rape kit,” she said.

Valencia acknowledged that some of the recommendations are somewhat ambitious and would take a while to accomplish.

But she argued there is no better time than now.

“You saw more women elected to Congress than ever before. You have your very first African-American female lieutenant governor. You have more women in Springfield than we’ve had before. And now, we’ll have a female mayor as well. Momentum is on our side,” she said.

“I hope the new mayor can see these 120 women who filled up Council chambers today and feel supported and say, `We’ve done some of the research. Help us now to implement it.’ The overall goal is to have gender equity in everything that we do.”