Los Angeles County, California Looks To Close Gender Disadvantages Through Comprehensive Policy Overhaul

L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda L. Solis, December 2015. Image Credit:  L.A. Times

L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda L. Solis, December 2015. Image Credit: L.A. Times

On Tuesday, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis will introduce a motion to create a five-year Initiative on Women and Girls in Los Angeles County government. It directs all 37 county departments to address the disproportionate disadvantages facing women and girls here. If it is enacted, the county would systematically review its activities and refocus resources in order to advance women’s opportunities.

Such a comprehensive approach to promoting gender equality is unusual in the United States. But it’s not as if it’s untested. Governing with a gender perspective has become the norm in democracies in every region of the world. And the approach is yielding promising results.

Chile’s process resulted in thousands of free daycare centers for low-income mothers who are working, in school or seeking employment. The policy has placed more women in the labor market, increasing incomes for families and provided better educational opportunities for children. Mexico analyzes part of its budget through the lens of gender, which has led to the addition of emergency obstetric care in the national insurance plan. All in all, more than 60 countries consciously consider women’s needs when they draw up budgets.

The benefits of such a policy approach go well beyond traditional women’s issues. Urban planners in Vienna, under a gender mandate applied to all city programs, made it a point to interview women about their use of public transportation. They discovered that women moved between paid work and caregiving throughout the day, walking and using public transit more than men, often with children in tow. In response, the city widened sidewalks. Busy intersections were radically redesigned to accommodate children in strollers and people using walkers. More lighting was installed to make streets safer at night. These changes constitute “best practices” for making cities more women-friendly while improving safety and mobility for all.

Gender-focused initiatives represent an explicit commitment to equal rights, as well as a growing recognition that progress for women has stalled using conventional policy techniques. Anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws — the typical approach in the United States — are indispensable, but they’re mostly aimed at punishing civil rights violations. There’s a much wider range of proactive steps available to advance women’s equality.

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News story from LA Times