Committee focuses on social justice for women

For social worker Jacqueline Durham, being a member of the NASW National Committee on Women’s Issues is personal.

“As a first-generation, Cuban-American woman raised in a single-parent household with my two sisters, I have experienced many difficult situations,” Durham said. “I know firsthand there are injustices faced by women, and being part of a national committee provides me the opportunity to educate and create the change I want to see in the world. To bring forth the information and not accept things as they are will make a change.”

The role the NCOWI plays in the association is crucial, said Durham, a supervising habilitation counselor at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care in Piscataway, N.J. Committee members work to promote and/or collaborate on methods of ensuring inclusion of women’s issues on NASW policies and programs.

“Having NASW take the lead in the development of knowledge, theory and practice as related to women’s issues is a powerful message,” Durham said. “The committee has an opportunity to monitor legislative changes, policy changes, and data affecting policy changes, with regard to women both native-born and immigrant.”

Durham said the NCOWI is committed to identifying ways to eliminate sexist social work practices and policies and make recommendations to appropriate organizational units for action.

“Women need to know they are being heard, supported and that there are advocates ready to influence changes to improve the overall treatment of all women,” she said.

As a new member of the committee, Durham has found the other members to be a wealth of information.

“I now have a better understanding of the committee’s charge and all the involvement and commitment needed if change is going to be influenced,” she said. “As a member of the committee I feel more empowered. I have a great opportunity to make a positive impact, to help change the way women are treated and to help others by educating them on the impact of the alternatives.”

Social justice for women

Tricia Bent-Goodley is the chairwoman of the NCOWI and a professor of social work at Howard University School of Social Work in Washington, D.C.

She said the committee provides an avenue for NASW to be singularly focused on advancing issues that are important to women within the profession.

“While NASW is composed primarily of women, women continue to experience inequity,” she explained. “We live in a society where women are vulnerable to many different forms of oppression and discrimination. So our role is to make sure that we keep social justice issues for women at the forefront of the organization’s agenda.”

The NCOWI serves as a voice for women, Bent-Goodley said.

“We analyze, examine, craft, and challenge, when needed, how systems respond to and impact women,” she said. “It is vital to have a group that is purposed with ensuring that women’s issues are addressed and advanced.”

She noted that the committee has been responsible for initiating webinars and educational workshops and held a historic meeting with the Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education to see how the two groups can work together to advance change for women.

“We have also conducted a survey regarding women and women’s issues in the profession to gain a better sense of the challenges that women are facing at this time,” Bent–Goodley said. “We also will launch a website that provides more information about what we are doing and issues that are important to women.”

In addition, Bent-Goodley will present a symposium on women’s issues, called “Transformative Leadership and Women: Courage and Hope for the Profession,” at this month’s NASW National Conference in Washington, D.C. The co-presenters are NCOWI member Saundra Starks, associate professor of Social Work at Western Kentucky University; and Rita Webb, senior policy associate in the Human Rights and International Affairs Office at NASW. 

“At this session, we plan to not only talk about challenges that women experience as leaders, but we also want to talk about institutional and personal strategies that women can use to advance as leaders,” Bent-Goodley said.

Living what they believe

Another new member of the NCOWI is Allison Kristman-Valente, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington School of Social Work.

Her research has focused on improving gender-responsive treatment for women with addiction and trauma issues as a means of closing gender-based health disparities in the U.S.

She said it’s important that NASW have a national committee that focuses on women’s issues since women have a long history of oppression and oversight.

Serving on the committee has taught her that the drive to commit to improving women’s issues remains a core value among the members, despite their generational differences.

“It’s been great for me to see how that value plays out across generations as a unifying force among all of us,” she said.

Kristman-Valente noted that she has been a benefactor of the committee members’ years of guidance and perspectives as well.

“They live what they believe and that is something we need more of,” she said, adding that serving on the NCOWI has given her access to a broader picture of “how women’s issues can move upstream in policy. It’s been a joy to work on this committee.”

Martha Adams Sullivan, executive director of the Fordham-Tremont Community Mental Health Center in New York, also serves on the NCOWI.

Editor’s note: This is one of three stories, each highlighting an NASW national committee. Look for future stories that showcase the National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; and the National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.