Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia is proud to be the second Latina woman to hold the municipal office in the city’s more than 170-year history, but doesn’t want to celebrate the fact.
When applauded for her achievement at an Aug. 7 press conference, Valencia bristled.
“To me, that’s shameful. My story and my living experience, it was a hard fight to navigate to get to this position and it shouldn’t be,” Valencia said. “We should not be celebrating until we are celebrating the 50th or 100th woman in my position.”
Valencia, 33, who followed now-state Comptroller Susana Mendoza as Chicago city clerk, was one of the women on hand at the press conference calling for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign into law legislation creating a new council dedicated to the research and investigation of the social and economic factors that hold back women and girls in society.
“The Illinois Council on Women and Girls will study the things that hold back half of our population from achieving their full potential; and it will periodically report on ways we could tear down the barriers that hold back our sisters and daughters,” said state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), who led the legislation through the Senate. “In doing so, it will start the conversations that result in change. I urge (Gov. Bruce) Rauner to be part of the change we want to see in the world and to sign House Bill 5544.”
Submitted to the governor in June, the legislation, which passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support, must be acted upon by Sunday (Aug. 19). Collins and partner organizations Women’s March Chicago, Cause the Effect, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, Equality IL, CNOW, YWCA — Metro Chicago, Chicago Foundation for Women, United State of Women, Women Employed, Men4Choice, Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, HerStory Chicago, and the Chicago Center for Arts and Technology all urged the governor to sign the legislation rather than let it languish before automatically becoming law.
“This is really the start of our activism, using social media to convey to the governor that he needs to sign the bill,” Collins said.
Kina Collins, chairwoman of the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, said she started the venture about a year ago and never could have imagined the level the movement has reached.
“Not only is this council necessary, it is the right time — it’s always been the right time,” she said. “Women and girls across the state of Illinois want to close the equity gap. They want to be a part of policy and statewide programs. So we went onto this venture of bringing community partners and elected officials together to make this a reality.”
The Chicago Foundation for Women noted that closing the wage gap for black women would pay for an additional 22 months of rent, 30 month of child care and 2½ years of in-state tuition.
- Sujata, president and CEO of the Chicago Foundation for Women, said the state Council on Women and Girls hits at the core values of her foundation.
“Women and girls must have a seat at the table and a voice in the policies that shape their opportunities, their communities and their lives,” Sujata said. “The Illinois Council on Women and Girls will ensure that our state takes a gender lens to our laws and policies, looking at the specific challenges and barriers facing women across the state.”
Sujata said the 21-member council needs to be made up of women from all backgrounds and diversities.
The legislation was written by civil rights attorney Maaria Mozaffar.
“Women are the foundation of every society and every community,” Mozaffar said. “When you look at health care, when you look at employment, when you look at education, if the foundation of our society is broken, disadvantaged and discriminated against, the society will crumble. Women have understood that for a long time.”
She said women have been marching since 2017 in protest of President Donald Trump and his policies but “they have been doing the heavy lifting the whole time.”
State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) said she is proud to be a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“We are living at a time when there is a clear equity gap that needs to be addressed,” Mah said. “This council will provide an institutional home, a forum in which to do this … We need to have women at the table to give them a voice and to allow them to have a say in policies that we develop here on the state level.”
—- State panel proposed to represent female interests —-