When it comes to gender equity policies and practices, New York City is far ahead of other municipalities. One reason: we have a commission devoted to making sure people of all gender identities can thrive here. The New York City Commission on Gender Equity (CGE), formed in 2015, is led by Jacqueline M. Ebanks, a social justice innovator who’s been helping women, girls and other marginalized communities for over three decades.
This June brings the first of five Gender Equity Summits, a borough-by-borough tour where the CGE will mobilize the public and gather community input on future programs. Women.nyc sat down with Jacqueline to find out more about the summits and what all New Yorkers can do to get involved.
Let’s start with the Gender Equity Summits. What can people expect and who should attend?
The Gender Equity Summits are our attempt to gain public input into the work of the Commission. This summer, we plan to go borough by borough to talk to New Yorkers about four initiatives, three of which are new and one of which we’re expanding. It’s critically important that we get input from the community.
We hope to launch an effort with Men as Allies. How do men, trans or cisgender men, help ensure that we build a more equitable society? Another one is a Gender Equity Youth Leadership Council. How do we get young people from say, 14 to 26, actively engaged in this work? How do we understand how they see gender equity?
The other thing we’re looking at is the lack of gender diversity in leadership in all sectors. Hopefully in partnership with the borough presidents, we are looking to create Borough Civic Leadership Academies. We will have several opportunities to fill vacancies now that community boards are term-limited to two, four-year terms, similar to the City Council.
It is so critically important that we remove women from the current position of low-paid, low-wage workers, so that they can increase their earnings.
How does that present an opportunity?
We want to make sure that every borough reflects the full complexity of New York. When we talk about gender diversity we talk about the intersectional lens. We recognize that gender overlaps with age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status. We want to ensure that all New Yorkers are aware of this opportunity for leadership, and help to inform and bring people to the table.
Last but not least, we’re going to focus on our Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s our second year expanding that program. Our goal is for all 59 community districts to have at least one event during our 16 days from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, and really focus on how we address this issue of gender-based violence from a community response. What does the community need to do, so we are better able to identify and prevent violence, support individuals impacted, and help people thrive so that our communities become safe havens for all residents?
What are some of the legislative wins that have made New York City a better place for women, transgender, and gender non-binary individuals?
One, of course, is the Salary History Ban, which went into effect in in October 2017. It is so critically important that we remove women from the current position of low-paid, low-wage workers, so that they can increase their earnings. The City has given our Salary History Ban real teeth because if employers are found violating it, we have a quarter-of-a-million dollar penalty. No such penalty has been applied, but it’s a hefty fee to be assigned. We think that’s really great.
Then there’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave. Hourly wage earners now have the ability to earn paid sick time. They no longer have this horrible choice between taking care of themselves or a family member and earning money.
There’s another one that I like, that I think is going to bring about cultural shift. Every new or recently renovated public building will have to provide diaper changing stations in all bathrooms–male, female, or gender non-confirming. This didn’t exist previously in New York City. They’re typically only in the female restrooms at best.
These are tremendously empowering pieces of legislation that help secure economic mobility, help protect safety, and really help ensure agency around gender identity and gender expression.
How does New York City compare to other cities when it comes to street harassment?
What NYC has that other cities don’t is these robust laws of protections. It’s not a question for us that sexual harassment, street harassment, hate crimes, are violations of the laws. We have some of the toughest laws that protect individual human rights and they are fully enforced. I think as a city we stand as a shining example. We protect individuals, regardless of gender identity, regardless of gender expression. That’s the message we want communicated when we talk about 16 Days. You have a right to be who you are in this city. And we’ll support that.
The ultimate goal is that we help you from birth until you leave this earth to live an economically secure life. To have access to affordable health care and quality health care. To have full autonomy over your reproductive health, to be safe in your home, at your workplace, and in your community. That’s a commitment New York City brings to every individual. We’re not perfect and hence it is critically important that you have the Commission on Gender Equity. We’re doing well here but we can do better, and we need to ensure that as a city we have the systems to maintain that commitment over time, in a sustained way.
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