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WFMN Policy Agenda Advances Economic Opportunity, Safety, & Leadership for Women & Girls

Walz Cabinet

In a challenging and divisive year for advancing legislation, WFMN is pleased to see progress and statewide investment in WFMN’s policy agenda for women and girls—with the support and leadership of advocates, community-led organizations, elected officials, and the Young Women’s Cabinet.

As a systems change community foundation investing in transformational policies and narratives to achieve gender and racial equity, WFMN is committed to addressing underlying socioeconomic inequities that impact women and girls across Minnesota, including racism, gender-based violence, and gaps in leadership and representation. Building on the Foundation’s historical legislative work, WFMN’s 2021 legislative agenda advanced public policy in partnership with young women and grantee-partner organizations to advance intersectional equity and increase holistic well-being for women and families. 

We know policy is central to transforming our inequitable systems, and so in addition to grantmaking and funding research, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota is at the State Capitol every year driving a policy agenda that centers women and girls, including Black, Indigenous, and women of color, LGBTQ+ people, women and girls from Greater Minnesota, and women and girls with disabilities in the fight for economic opportunity, health, and safety for whole community well-being. This year, advocacy for issues central to women and girls happened entirely virtually and in partnership with a powerful cross-sector leadership of elected officials, grantee-partners, young women, and testifiers who have directly experienced the need for change in the proposed legislation.

Advancing Investments in Economic Opportunity, Safety, & Health for Women of Color

This year, WFMN’s policy agenda worked to advance investments in the economic opportunity of women of color, increase safety and understanding of the disparate instances of missing and murdered Indigenous and Black women, and increase funding for survivors of sex trafficking. We advocated for the dignity of women of color in pregnancy and childbirth to reduce maternal health disparities and recognize the implicit bias in medical treatment. Along with our partners, we demanded changes to Minnesota’s sexual assault laws to cause less harm to survivors of sexual assault.

Among the bills on WFMN’s legislative agenda that will become law, the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act will reduce implicit bias and examine maternal health disparities. As a member of the Governor-appointed Young Women’s Cabinet’s policy team, Trinity Hanif was active all session in advocating for legislation that values women and girls, particularly those often pushed to the margins. In an op-ed, Trinity advocated for the legislature to pass this bill to begin reversing the fatal effects of systemic racism in our state’s healthcare system.

She testified with legislators to mandate comprehensive sex education in Minnesota. And, as part of the Cabinet’s social media calls to action, Trinity took over WFMN’s Instagram Live with Sarah Super, activist and creator of the Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence, to address the importance of criminal sexual misconduct reform. Her petition to support legislation combating the MN Supreme Court’s ruling on voluntary intoxication and rape received more than 10,000 signatures and forced the Legislature to hold a hearing to get the sexual reform legislation into the omnibus bill.

WFMN’s policy agenda also advanced investments in the economic opportunity of women of color to create career, education, and entrepreneurship opportunities linked with the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota’s Blueprint for Action. WFMN Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Lulete Mola, and Young Women’s Cabinet Member Mariana Cervantes testified in support of the Women of Color Opportunity Act, which will allocate funding and create loan programs for organizations supporting women & girls of color in business, education, employment and finance.

Lulete Mola testified, “We know that when young women thrive, their families thrive. Why? Because young women play a critical role in the home as financial contributors, to caretakers to, problem solvers. We also know that when young women help their families thrive, communities thrive. And when communities thrive all Minnesotans thrive.” In testimony in support of the bill, the Young Women’s Cabinet shared, “As young women, many of us have had to choose between obtaining an education and maintaining financial stability. However, with your support, this bill would equip us with the resources to pursue our goals while maintaining our financial well-being.”

This legislation builds on the Women’s Foundation leadership in passing the Women’s Economic Security Act in 2014. WFMN serves on the state Task Force on Expanding the Economic Security of Women in Minnesota to identify the multiple economic barriers women face and develop a comprehensive set of strategies to protect and support women’s economic security and create a more inclusive economy.

Additionally, legislation we supported established an office of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives and created a task force to investigate missing and murdered African American women.

WFMN’s leadership in safety expanded this session as WFMN President & CEO, Gloria Perez, testified on behalf of successful legislation to amend the language that a person willingly under the influence cannot be a victim of a crime of sexual assault or rape.

The statute as it stands effectively places blame on the victims and survivors of rape. Along with survivors and advocates, WFMN President & CEO, Gloria Perez, urged legislators to support and center the humanity and dignity of those who have been victimized and survived. As we listen to the survivors and advocates share their lived experiences with sexual assault and their vision for safety, we must continue to center justice guided by their experiences.

Legislation in this term maintained the gains made by Safe Harbor to continue funding a comprehensive statewide plan to address sex trafficking and exploitation as a result of efforts funded by MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign. This advocacy at the Capitol is led by a coalition of advocates, including our longtime partners at The Link who made progress this term to address young people experiencing homelessness and juvenile justice reform, challenges directly related to trafficking.

In addition, each policy accomplishment is possible because of community-led advocacy made up of individuals and nonprofit leaders, along with the elected advocates who championed these successful bills in a challenging year, including Rep. Ruth Richardson, Rep. Hodan Hassan, Rep. Heather Keeler, Rep. Kelly Moller, Sen. David Senjem, Sen. Mary Kunesh, and Sen. Patricia Torres Ray. Each successful bill represents a powerful, bipartisan coalition. Together, we are advancing our collective agenda for gender and racial justice.

Young Women’s Cabinet Advocates as Experts

With the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, the Women’s Foundation partners with the Office of Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan to advance systems change for young Black, Indigenous, and women of color and additional young women pushed to the margins. We engage the leadership of the Young Women’s Cabinet as experts of the issues they experience directly and facilitate their ongoing leadership development with YWCA St. Paul and Wilder’s Community Equity Program.

Young Women’s Cabinet leadership has been a key support in the success of a bipartisan policy agenda as they wrote letters of support, met with dozens of legislators on both sides of the aisle, and developed a series of live social media events to share why policies on WFMN’s legislative agenda are critically important to the economic opportunity, safety, and leadership of women. Check out WFMN’s Instagram page and Highlights for more about the Cabinet’s policy engagement.

Raie Gessesse

The Cabinet’s leadership illustrates the power of individuals leading systemic change now, not waiting for tomorrow. In 2016, Raie Gessesse was a part of the first Governor-appointed Young Women’s Cabinet to receive training in policy and advocacy, develop a legislative agenda, and advocate directly on behalf of legislation central to their lives. Before the Cabinet, Raie says, “I had the lived experiences to know that change was needed, but I didn’t know how to do it.” Even though when she first walked into the Capitol, she saw no one who looked like her, she knew she had to be there if she was to change conditions for herself, her family, and her community. Now, after four years on the Cabinet, Raie is WFMN’s Policy Fellow, and guided today’s Cabinet members in their policy actions to achieve change.

For the third year, WFMN partnered with Wilder’s Community Equity Pipeline Program (CEP) to provide the Young Women’s Cabinet with policy training. CEP trains leaders of color and American Indian leaders to have a powerful and influential voice in the legislative process and drive social change to transform lives in Minnesota.

What’s Next?

WFMN is resourcing policy, advocacy, and civic engagement through our investments in community partners across the state. We continue to work to advance legislation with the goal of encouraging bipartisanship in a divided legislature so that Minnesota women, girls, and families can succeed. In the future, WFMN will investigate the feasibility of establishing and activating a bipartisan Women’s Legislative Caucus.  

WFMN will continue investing in capacity-building so that nonprofits can grow their potential for increased leadership and community power building at the Capitol.

As we are honored to represent the interests of women, girls, and families at the Capitol, we know we are as strong as the advocates who work to advance crucial legislation for our state’s communities beside us. By working together, we are more effective. Our strategic investments are building and resourcing a coalition of advocates like the Cabinet to engage with legislators and expand legislation for women and girls across the state. Similarly, the Executive Council for the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota is a cross-sector body of business, government, nonprofit, and higher education leaders poised to advance solutions within the executive office. As we work closely with the Office of the Governor through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, we engage with the White House Gender Policy Council as they build their national strategy to center girls and address the intersection of gender and racial equity and justice for lasting impact.

Summary of successful MN State legislation:

Women of Color Opportunity Act(HF389/SF547): Increase opportunities for young women of color connected to the YWI MN Blueprint for Action. The bill includes increasing career pathways, STEM education, opportunities for entrepreneurship, and academic success for young women of color.  Authors: Rep. Hassan and Sen. Torres Ray

Portions of this bill became law, with the following funding allocations in 2022-2023:

  • $1.5M – Women and high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs grant program.  (WESA grant program)
  • $1.75M – STEM internship opportunities for 2- and 4-year college students.  The program must work toward increasing the participation among women and other underserved populations.
  • $750,000 – Construction Careers Foundation for construction career pathway initiative: this money must give priority to individuals and groups that are economically disadvantaged or historically underrepresented – women, veterans and members of minority and immigrant groups.
  • $200,000 – Labor education and advancement program to expand and promote registered apprenticeship training for minorities and women.
  • $2.5M – Main Street COVID-19 Relief Grant Program:  must be awarded to businesses that are majority owned and operated by women.

Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force (HF 952/SF 1118): Passed into law: An act relating to public safety to create the Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women; requiring an annual report on issues related to violence against African American women and girls; appropriating money for the Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women. Authors: Rep. Richardson and Sen. Kunesh

Mentally Incapacitate Amendment (HF 707/SF1683): Passed into law: A bill that adds language to the third-degree statute, making it a felony to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent, no matter how they got that way. “Mentally incapacitate” amendment included language states, (2) that a person is under the influence of an intoxicating substance to a degree that renders them incapable of consenting or incapable of appreciating, understanding, or controlling the person’s conduct. Authors: Rep. Moller and Sen. Senjem

Establish Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relative Office (HF2124/SF1989): Passed into law: An act relating to human rights to create an office for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives; requiring a report; appropriating money; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 241. Authors: Rep. Keeler and Sen. Kunesh

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