It’s International Women’s Month, and the Past Presidents of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) have much to celebrate about the many strides women have made in politics. At the same time, we feel compelled to highlight the ongoing and the emerging problems women confront and take special note of the ways feminist, progressive women in political office are working to mitigate systemic issues.

Sarah Leonard Sheahan will speak on March 31 at the SBWPC’s Presidents’ Circle Luncheon. | Courtesy

Since 1988, the committee has encouraged women to consider running for office. We believe that when women are in positions of political power, issues that matter to girls, women, children, and families will be raised, considered, and debated in ways that shape the future for women and girls. This dialogue can only lead to a better world for everyone. Here in Santa Barbara County, we have helped to elect women to school and college boards, city councils, county government, and the State Legislature.

The three main foci of feminist activism over the last five decades — reproductive freedom, economic inequalities and injustice, and violence — remain central to our work, and to the work of young women and those of us who have been fighting for changes a very long time . It is no time to become complacent. In their stunning opinion of June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional guarantee of abortion access in the United States, reversing half a century of court protection for this fundamental right. In post-Roe world women are challenged to elect legislators who will protect their right to make reproductive decisions with minimal government regulation.

Recent headline news highlights the continued attacks on women’s rights. The fight to control our own bodies and health is far from over. While we work to protect and restore access to abortion, more attacks on sexual and reproductive health are happening now — in Texas and across the country. Anti-abortion rights activists and politicians will not stop at overturning Roe and allowing states to ban abortion. They are actively working to dismantle sexual and reproductive health care nationwide — including by trying to end the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, one of two medications most commonly used in medication abortion. In Texas, a Judge will decide whether to revoke FDA approval of mifepristone. Mifepristone is safe, effective, and has been used by more than five million people in the U.S. since the FDA approved it more than 20 years ago. A decision in this case could come at any moment.

Recently, Walgreens, the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain decided that in certain states it would not dispense mifepristone even in several states where abortion remains legal. Younger women have a huge stake in the outcome of their state and local legislation, another reason to monitor candidates’ positions or for young women to consider a political career themselves.

When it comes to economic injustice, it remains clear that the pandemic weighed heavily on working women, particularly those who are parents. Working women were affected by school closures, day care closures, and especially by the closures in the retail and hospitality sectors, including restaurants. Almost half of the “essential workers” were women working in hospitals and clinics, grocery and drug stores, home health-care companies, and nursing home facilities, putting them at the front lines while the pandemic was raging. Job losses are especially prevalent amongst Black and Latinx women.  Childcare facilities closed and estimates indicate that nearly half have yet to reopen. Working women are navigating the post pandemic uncertainty of our world to achieve economic stability for themselves and their families.

Related, though not often understood as feminist economic issues, housing and homelessness are, according to recent surveys, of utmost concern to Santa Barbara County residents. It’s upsetting to learn that women and their children make up a significant proportion of those experiencing homelessness in the Santa Barbara County Point-in-Time count. Feminist-minded local politicians are connecting the dots in addressing these issues.

Lastly, violence against women continues. A 2023 CDC study reports a significant increase in the incidence of girls’ rape and sexual violence. Also, in the past decade, the mental health of girls has been severely affected with reported increases in depression. Domestic violence continues. Political leaders at local, county, and state levels must find ways to address these problems through funded prevention programs and relevant services.

Women from many walks of life are successfully running for office despite persisting obstacles; for example, women have greater difficulty than male candidates in raising money, and spiteful, hostile attacks on social media are filled with sexist disinformation. In this divisive political environment, the S.B. Women’s Political Committee encourages women to run for office and aids feminist candidates who are capable of understanding the complex range of social issues that particularly affect women, children, and families. We believe that politicians with a feminist perspective are more likely to remain tenacious in initiating and leading the debates that will remediate these problems.

There are spillover benefits of electing women to office. Research indicates that the mere presence of women as candidates and office holders can help to stimulate political engagement, political interest, and political knowledge of how things really happen in government. We see young women protesting and marching in far greater numbers; more worked on campaigns to unseat anti-choice politicians. Finally, young women are attending workshops like the our “Run Like a Woman — How You Can Win!” to learn what it takes to run for political office. In Santa Barbara, women of many ages and ethnic backgrounds are participating in civic life as volunteers as well as political leaders, and they are contributing to the quality of our lives every day. Let’s salute them during Women’s History Month!

The SBWPC Presidents’ Circle luncheon will be held on March 31at SOhO, featuring Campaign Communications Consultant Sarah Leonard Sheahan, who will discuss how social media and cancel culture affect campaign strategies.


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