The Georgia Commission on Women

Conservatives are usually wary of government agencies and the work they do. Often bogged down by bureaucracy, partisanship and people who don’t necessarily care, the connection between these agencies and the people they’re designed to serve is tenuous at best. In Georgia, there is a state-sponsored commission that is an advocacy group dedicated to improving the status of women in Georgia.

The Georgia Commission on Women was created in 1992 by the state legislature. The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House appoint the 15 commissioners. Their role is to testify during legislative committee hearings, advise the appointing officers as well as lobby on behalf or against legislation depending upon the impact it has on women. The commission also partners with other government agencies, as well as private, non-profit groups in the state.

Committee chairwoman Karla Jacobs told Opportunity Lives the GCW is nonpartisan and takes that position very seriously. The commission consists of Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

“The words ‘women’s health’ and ‘women’s issues’ have become politically charged because there are issues where women across the political spectrum do not agree,” Jacobs said. “We do our best to work in the ‘middle’ which, thankfully, is a vast space.”

When they determine what they work on with other government agencies, it always in a space where their missions overlap. The GCW has done work with the Department of Health to assist with their Talk With Me Baby program. This is based on research from the 1990s that said children from high-income families hear 30 million more words by the age of three than by children in households that are receiving public assistance. By hearing fewer words, children in those families are less likely to be ready to start school at age 5 than their counterparts. The goal is to educate women on public assistance on how to talk to their babies more, so they hear more words as they get older. The commission also works to assist older women as well. They’ve done work on osteoporosis awareness and also help the Department of Health in talking to older women on what to do to prevent falls, especially those who live alone.

The goal is to educate women on public assistance on how to talk to their babies more, so they hear more words as they get older.

Combatting human trafficking has become a major initiative of the GCW. Atlanta is one of the busiest hubs for human trafficking in the country. The GCW is a partner of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. Jacobs and the vice-chair of the GCW, Julianna McConnell, both sit on the task force. One of the ways they educate legislators and leaders on the depth of the problem is organizing a yearly bus tour featuring speakers from law enforcement agencies, prosecutor’s offices, advocates and House and Senate leaders. The tour works its way through areas of Atlanta where most of the human trafficking crimes occur. This offers a first-hand look at the problem to people who are usually at arm’s length from the situation.

Like any other state-sponsored commissions, the GCW faces its share of challenges. The biggest problem by far is funding. The Georgia Commission on Women operates at the moment without a budget. When the recession hit in 2008, the commission lost its state funding.

“It is hard for us to cover the entire state when commissioners have to pay for their travel expenses, especially for overnight trips,” Jacobs said. “Other out of pocket expenses include the GCW website and anything else that at the time is not donated. The office computer is so old; it has a 3.5 floppy disk drive. I haven’t bothered to hook it up.”

The lack of funds has tied the commission’s hands and limited its ability to meet its statutory requirements. “We are hoping to once again get funding once the legislature meets this year,” Jacobs said.

For those who want to track what the GCW is currently doing, their website is updated regularly as is their blog. The GCW has a twitter account as does Jacobs. All of their meetings are open so if you live in Georgia and want to see what the commission is doing, you can contact the GCW for a schedule of meetings and events.

Jay Caruso is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @JayCaruso.