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ROCKVILLE – The 39th annual Women’s Legislative Briefing held at The Universities at Shady Grove on Jan. 27 brought together more than 700 people, mostly female, who were eager to celebrate recent election successes and continue working to improve the lives of women.
Throughout the afternoon, many participants alluded to the fact that the Maryland Assembly now has 72 female members and the county’s school board is 100 percent female.
Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz also noted that the state ranked second nationally in the number of women owning their own businesses.
However, Nicole Drew, president of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, stressed that “There is work to be done, my friends, and it starts with you.”
The theme of the event, run by the county Commission for Women, was “Women Igniting and Achieving Change.”
Keynote speaker Monica Ramirez, founder of Justice for Migrant Women and a former county resident, praised the women for their activism, noting that their attendance “is an investment in women and girls, an investment in the county.”
She urged everyone to continue to “show up” and make their voices heard.
Ramirez is the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, who spends her days fighting against sexual violence in the workplace, particularly among farmworkers.
“Whether they get a paycheck shouldn’t matter on if they have a relationship with the foreman,” she said.
“All work should be safe work,” she said, “Sexual harassment is a health issue.”
Building partnerships with other activists is a great way to accomplish goals, Ramirez said. She told participants when they are fighting for women’s rights, they should include farmworkers, noting there are 700,000 female farmworkers in this country.
“We cannot wait for others to save us,” she said. “People need to work together “to make things better for all of us.”
County Executive Marc Elrich also addressed the crowd, urging them to keep racial and gender equality in mind in everything they do. He announced that he is creating an equity office, which will strive to ensure every decision the county makes keeps racial and gender equality in mind.
“It’s our job to be conscious of it,” he said.
Elrich also spoke of the need to inform young people about civil rights and other struggles from the past.
“I worry sometimes in Montgomery County we celebrate a bit too much and forget what still needs to be done,” he said.
The all-day meeting also marked the Montgomery County Commission for Women’s debut of its 2018 status report, entitled “A Tale of Two Cities.”
That report noted that while the county’s female population is “often outpacing” the gains in education, employment, earnings and political representation as compared to the rest of the country, there is still cause for concern.
Some of the problems include “significant increases in the number of women living in poverty; stark racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality rates; a rise in sexually transmitted infections and “a doubling of domestic violence reports over a three-year period,” the report noted.
According to the report, the number of county women living in poverty increased by 66 percent between 2007 and 2017, “with more than 16,500 women joining the ranks of those living below the poverty.”
Also, the report noted, almost 60 percent of African American and Hispanic women in the county are living in poverty.
Seminars throughout the day covered such topics as safety and justice, health care, justice, human trafficking, economic justice and creating health work environments.
There were special seminars for middle-school students on bullying and for high schoolers on promoting positive psychological, social and emotional well-being in future leaders.