Women's council disbanded for lack of support

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

When the Juneau Women's Council was established in 1985, members fought along with women in the rest of the country for their independence.

In those days, some women couldn't get credit cards without their husbands' signatures. If they were divorced or their husbands died, they had to establish their credit all over again, and few bankers would take chances on them.

Over the years, many battles were fought and won. Some battles are still going on and probably will continue as long as there are men and women. But in 2004, the Juneau Women's Council, created to advise the Juneau Assembly, lost probably one of the most important battles. It couldn't get enough people to participate and recently disbanded.

"It is our feeling that the council has limited powers to effect real change because the council has no funding and limited support from the community," the council said in a letter to the Assembly.

The council also said in the letter that women's issues now belong to men as well.

"Education, homemaking, civil and legal rights, labor and employment affect everyone in the community," according to the letter. "There are groups organized around these causes. The work assigned to the Juneau Women's Council would be more effectively handled by another group with different powers, support and funding."

This wasn't the first time the council's survival was threatened. In 2002, Don Etheridge, then the Human Resources Committee chair, proposed disbanding the council.

According to a 2002 city staff report, the council had experienced a large turnover rate and was unable to fill all the nine positions on the council. August 1999 was the last time all nine seats were taken. In 2002, there were four people on the council that lacked even a quorum to meet.

"It was expressed by some past and current members that there was not enough interest or women-power to try to continue the council," the report said.

In August 2002, the council successfully convinced the Assembly to give it one more chance, but not much has changed. The council still didn't receive funding from the city, still didn't have a quorum to meet and still didn't get much community support. If there was any improvement, the current council had six members.

Although the council's job was to advise the Assembly on issues pertaining to women's status with particular emphasis on methods of improving opportunities for women, the council's main focus in recent years has been to coordinate Women's History Month and plan the Women's Annual Volunteer Achievements Awards ceremony.

Mary Lou Spartz, who has served on the women's council for four years, said the council had always wanted to conduct a survey to get a profile of women in Juneau, but the project failed because of lack of funding and woman-power.

"We had no real teeth," Spartz said. "It was hard to accomplish anything." Spartz lamented that women are too busy to volunteer. "Women have become very busy with their careers, families and other interests. It cuts down the time they can volunteer," Spartz said.

Sandra Coon, who joined the council last fall, said being busy shouldn't be a reason for not being involved. "I was a working mom for 15 years, and I still found time for things I truly believed in," Coon, 65, said. She served on the board for the Glory Hole, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, for 10 years.

Coon said there are still many issues women can work on, such as improving health care for women in rural areas and cutting down the teen-pregnancy rate.

"I would like the Assembly to revisit the possibility of re-establishing the council in a year or two," Coon said. "I wouldn't close all the doors to it."

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