Empowerment. The word is in our mission statement, almost every program description, and spoken at all our events. Our mission it to empower women and girls to achieve their full potential and pursue their most successful life. Over the past few months, we witnessed women in our Economic Advancement Program speak about their experiences at an unexpected venue, the State Capitol. YWCA O‘ahu led the efforts to pass House Bill 845, a bill requiring an ID be given at the end of incarceration. House Bill 845 was successful not only because it was enacted into law, but because women in our programs learned a very impactful way to advocate for themselves and for those with similar stories by attending hearings and testifying. Through the legislative process, a new sense of empowerment developed from women sharing their experiences and women learned to use their experiences to benefit the greater community.
It is no small feat to testify in front of a room full of people. During the legislative session, legislators assigned to specific subject matter or “committees” review related bills. When one testifies in front of a committee one speaks in front of a panel of legislators, and a room full of State Department directors, advocates, lobbyists, public members, the media, and anyone tuning into Capitol television. There’s an element of vulnerability in testifying, or more accurately, sharing one’s story. For this bill, the women shared that they were either currently incarcerated or had been incarcerated and explained the difficulty in obtaining an ID and its importance. For many it was the first time they had ever been at the Capitol or met a State legislator. The women shared their stories at seven hearings over the course of three months. Through the process, they watched as their words and stories changed the minds of those around them and finally, changed the law. One woman who testified said, “I felt like my experience and my story mattered. That by sharing my story I helped pass this bill. That my input mattered and it was empowering. And it was validating, if that makes sense. That I was able to do something for the good of many.”
Our legislative session lasts just over 100 days but for the women who participated, the impact will continue. As one woman noted, “this has given me the confidence to share my story and experiences. What I say does matter, and I can make a difference.” We hope to see many more of our members and program participants next session, while they testify and attend hearings.
Through our YWCA community, we can continue to create experiences and outcomes for the benefit of the greater community. Join us in January 2018 and learn about the legislative process, share about the legislative process, and/or support our women as they advocate for themselves and many in similar situations. For more information on the identification bill, please visit the State Capitol website. For more information on how you can get involved in our policy and advocacy agenda, contact the Director of Policy, Kathleen Algire, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 808-695-2633.