Social Change Story: The Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network

Women’s Fund Grant Partners move needle for positive social change & gender equality. To illuminate the grantmaking in action and the work being done for women and girls, we are bringing their stories to you.

Innovation Ohio created The Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network (WPPN). A coalition unlike any other group in the state; pulling together over 20 key women’s advocacy organizations focused on promoting policies that create economic security for women and strengthen Ohio families. Using a collective voice that represents the women of our state, this network works to ensure that public policy reflects the true needs of women and families

  • Tell us, what has been valuable to you about being a Grant Partner with The Women’s Fund? Why does this partnership matter?

We have been fortunate to be grant partners with The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio for the last three years, and have experienced a true partnership with them since the beginning. They are wholly invested in the successful of our work and show that support not only through financial investment, but also through their involvement in the program. They have been active coalition partners in the Women’s Public Policy Network – even hosting our quarterly in-person meetings at their office!

The Women’s Fund shows their commitment to their grant partners by going above and beyond what is expected of a grant funder. One of the most important aspects of a partnership with the Women’s Fund is their sense of collaboration that they foster in the community. They often convene community events where grant partners are able to share their work and connect with other organizations and community leaders, which has created new partnerships with our work.

  • When you talk about a shift in policy, is there a story that comes to mind that showcases this in your work?

We have seen a rallying together of advocacy organizations around protecting healthcare access from efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare. Just recently, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a version of the repeal legislation, holding the line on the federal healthcare policy (at least for now).

The Women’s Public Policy Network looked specifically at how women would be affected by the legislation proposed in Congress and helped to frame this issue under a gender lens. The coalition released reports on how each bill in Congress would affect women specifically and created a healthcare advocacy toolkit to support advocacy efforts. And, working together with coalition partners and other outside partners, we hosted public events to show the differing perspectives of how the bills were bad for Ohio: women, veterans, children, businesses, and more.

In the end, we were able to effectively communicate the ways in which the legislation to repeal the ACA would have disastrous impacts on women’s health and economic security. And, this specific policy debate demonstrated something that is fundamental to the Women’s Public Policy Network: we are stronger when we work together.

  • When it comes to policies impacting women, what relevant statistics come to mind? What issues impact women the most in Ohio?

Our work on paid leave matters greatly to help support working families that would otherwise have the sacrifice their financial income to take care of a new child, family member, or address their own health issue. The Women’s Public Policy Network played a role in advocating for the state paid leave bill introduced last General Assembly. We worked with many of our coalition partners to host policy panels, speak at press conferences, and release a policy report on why our state – and nation as a whole – should enact a paid leave policy. By working as a coalition, we were able to lift up the voices of numerous perspectives on the issue: improving health factors for women and babies, the positive impact on the economic security of women and families, benefits to businesses and the local economy, and role the policy plays in contributing to gender equity in the home and workplace. We have also worked to advance this issue at the local level, partnering with local elected officials to enact a paid leave policy for their workforce.”

Earlier this year, the city of Columbus implemented a paid family leave policy for city employees to provide six weeks of parental leave for new parents and four weeks of caregiver leave to care of an aging or ill family member. This policy shift is crucial to many working women that will now have access to the policy, and will no longer be forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for a loved one.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not offer some form of paid leave, leaving only 13 percent of workers with access to the policy nationally. And with women often taking on a disproportionate share of caregiving duties, this lack of paid leave is especially harmful to women.

Nearly two-thirds of women in Ohio are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinner of their households, meaning that women’s earnings are extremely critical to the economic security of Ohio families and access to paid leave policies is extremely important to contribute to that economic security. There are a host of benefits associated with paid leave policies that help to create healthy moms and babies, as well as strong local economies and economically secure families.

  • As a Women’s Fund partner you have incorporated gender norms into your work. How has this evolved what you do?

Incorporating gender norms into our work has helped to shape the way that we think about policy solutions that will help create economically secure women and families. Women are participating in the workforce at higher rates than ever before, yet the workplace policies in our country are often rooted in gender norms that do not match this reality. The Women’s Public Policy Network is working to advance policy solutions that challenge stereotypical gender norms of how women are involved in the workforce, such as paid family leave and workplace accommodations for the pregnant workers. Understanding gender norms and how they impact the policy landscape and policy-making is critical to advancing gender equity through legislative solutions.

Further, by looking at policy issues under a gender lens, we are able to better understand how women will be differently impacted by policy decisions. It is especially helpful when thinking about policy issues that fall outside what many imagine as “women’s issues.” For example, last year the Women’s Public Policy Network testified on a state bill related to changing the unemployment compensation (UC) system in Ohio. Researching how women were impacted by the current UC system and the way that the specific bill would affect women, we were able to bring a new voice to the debate on the UC system by applying a gender lens to the issue.

Women’s issues are inherently family issues. So, when we incorporate gender norms and apply a gender lens to the work of the community, we can better understand the way in which we must take into account how women will be impacted by public policy. It will also help us get involved in policy debates that do not always have the perspective of how women are affected.

  • For The Women’s Public Policy Network, what would success look like in 3-5 years?

When thinking about the future of the Women’s Public Policy Network, we envision continuing the momentum of the program from this past year: growing our coalition partners, increasing our presence at the Statehouse, and building a strong network of advocates.

We recently created a Legislative Subcommittee within the coalition to better guide our advocacy efforts and legislative priorities. We hope to develop this subcommittee to play an essential role in expanding our impact on policy issues in the state legislature and coordinating calls to action for our coalition partners.

Success for the Women’s Public Policy Network means that we are having a measurable impact on the policy debates happening in the state legislature. It also means helping to keep the community engaged and informed about what is happening with policy issues affecting women and families. Looking forward, we want the Women’s Public Policy Network to be the go-to source for how policy issues across the spectrum will affect women.

  • As a community partner, what more would you like to see in terms of engagement?

We are working to help the community become more active advocates for women and girls by getting involved with advocacy efforts at the state-level. We want the community to realize how accessible their state legislators truly are, and utilize the work of the Women’s Public Policy Network to become advocates on state policy issues. Those that care about creating positive social change for women and families should get plugged into work happening at the state level, and that can start by getting involved with the Women’s Public Policy Network.

Visit our website (more information on this below!) and fill out a Be an Advocate form to personalize how you would like to get involved and advocate for policies that improve the lives of women and girls in Central Ohio and across the state. This may be something entirely new and intimidating, so we are working hand-in-hand with individuals to help them effectively advocate at the Statehouse.

  • Anything else you would like to celebrate or share?

We recently rolled out a new and improved website to showcase the work of the coalition and serve as a resource and advocacy hub for organizations and individual advocates. The website is an extremely helpful tool for those that want to get involved and engaged with state-level advocacy work on women’s issues across the spectrum.

We have also created an Ohio Story Bank housed on the website to feature the stories of how Ohio women have been impacted by legislation – or lack of access to certain legislation. Sharing a personal story of oneself or a loved one is one of the most powerful ways that a person can make a difference in policy debates.