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California and the West

Gender Equity Still Elusive, Group Is Told

Convention: Speakers at 25th anniversary meeting of women's caucus note the progress made, but say the struggle is far from over.

June 28, 1998|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Women have come a long way in a quarter-century, but equality in politics, the business world and other areas remains elusive.

That was the message Saturday as the National Women's Political Caucus of California held its biennial convention, celebrating its 25th year as a force in state politics. Speaker after speaker urged women not to be deluded into believing that equal standing is a reality.

"You may think you're equal, but wait until you try climbing the corporate ladder," Marion Goodman, president of the group, told members gathered from across the state in downtown Los Angeles. "You may think you're equal, but with affirmative action programs biting the dust in California, one more door is slamming shut."

The organization is the California branch of the national caucus, which was founded in 1971 by leading feminists--including Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug--as a political arm for the burgeoning women's movement. The weekend convention was dedicated to the memory of Abzug, the former New York congresswoman who died this year.

The caucus, which is not affiliated with any political party, has emphasized retaining freedom of choice on abortion, stressed improvement of child care and educational standards, and urged more women to run for public office.

Sharon Davis, wife of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gray Davis, pointedly reminded the women that her husband is the only abortion rights advocate among the two major-party candidates seeking to succeed Gov. Pete Wilson. The caucus backed one of his opponents, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), in the primary.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) unabashedly requested help from caucus members in her fall reelection campaign, even asking participants to purchase campaign-produced T-shirts, bumper stickers and "boxer" shorts.

"I face a daunting task--the need to raise about $20 million to keep this Senate seat pro-choice, pro-environment and pro-education," said Boxer, who recalled founding the caucus' Marin County chapter 25 years ago.

When she was first elected to the House of Representatives, Boxer noted, the California congressional delegation included only two women. Now, she said, 13 of the state's 52 House members are female, as are both U.S. senators.

Nonetheless, she warned that the conservative GOP congressional majority continues to chip away at a woman's right to an abortion. Just last week, she said, lawmakers rebuffed an effort to make it easier for servicewomen stationed abroad to seek abortions at U.S.-run hospitals and clinics.

"We have made much progress," Boxer said, "but we have much more to do."

A key role of the caucus is to recruit and train women who support abortion rights and are interested in elected and appointed office. The convention included sessions on entering political life, political fund-raising, "message development" and improving "on-camera delivery."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina was among the lawmakers who praised the caucus and urged fellow activists to continue their struggle for equality.

"We still have a ways to go to make sure that more and more women are getting the opportunity to run for elective office," she said.

Although acknowledging that there are now more places at the political table for women, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick said the seating arrangements remain problematic.

"We need to get more placement at the head of the table," said Chick, the first woman to chair the council's Public Safety Committee and one of five women on the 15-member council.

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