In the fancy new Talley Center building at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the second annual NC Women’s Summit was held on September 26, 2014. Hosted by Women AdvaNCe, “an independent, nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of North Carolina’s women and families,” alongside the NCSU Women’s Center, and the UNC Chapel Hill Southern Oral History Program, the summit set out primarily to bring together NC women and foster conversation that might lead to further activism. The product of their efforts was a 7 hour day of panels, leadership training, storytelling, and networking, with audience and panel members ranging from academics and non-profit founders and directors, to school teachers, activists, mothers, writers, editors, and policy advocates. Notably absent from the room were men, and any gender non-conforming or trans panelists or attendees.
Topics at the Summit included women’s health, education, and working families, with an array of interesting sub categories and perspectives in each of these areas. The first panel on women’s health discussed the North Carolina governments’ decision to reject federal funding to increase medicaid coverage, even with 760,000 uninsured adult women in the state, and many more uninsured children. Jennifer Ferris, freelance writer and editorial director for Women AdvaNCe emphasized the impact that the government’s decision was having on the lives of NC residents,
“153,000 women would have health care tomorrow if we accepted the federal funding for medicaid.”
Tamara Jeffries, journalism professor at Bennett College, and previously the Executive Editor of Essence Magazine, discussed the importance of using narrative to translate these numbers and facts into names and faces to create action around these issues. Dr. Stephanie Baker White discussed the way that the criminalization of black youth was also a relevant issue for women’s health, with the school to prison pipeline placing undue burden on the mothers and family members of black youth, leading to increased health problems. Her emphasis on the intersectionality of these issues resonated throughout the entire conference which seemed to be amply representative of race and class in both attendees and panelists.
The working families panel was particularly pertinent with the crowd, as a number of financially struggling single mothers, or female breadwinners who were also primary caregivers were present. At my table alone where six women, all strangers, had randomly gathered, four of us were seeking employment in one capacity or another. Two of the women had long professional careers that they had been laid off from in the past year from government cuts, or were trying to shift into the non-profit world from the corporate world. Three of us had been stonewalled at some point with the “overqualified” stamp, and the other was a 4th year public health student seeking placement for her mandatory spring internship, ideally one that would actually pay so that she could continue to provide for herself while in school. Admittedly, we were all surrounded by organizations we would love to work for (and had applied for positions with) and sadly, most of the organizations present didn’t have the funding to hire new paid staff members. If nothing else, it was an inspiring day that brought to life the laundry list of women’s issues that need to be addressed in North Carolina, the importance of the upcoming election, and the understanding, for me, that if I want to find work in the non-profit sector, I’m going to have to get really innovative.