As members of the Junior League of New Orleans, we are no strangers to our focus area of Advancing the Wellbeing of Women. While JLNO works specifically to improve economic opportunities, provide family support and promote women’s health resources, we are in good company when it comes to local women’s organizations working to tackle those and other areas of need within our community. Speaking with several New Orleans organization, a common thread emerged — women committed to bettering themselves, their families and their communities.
Improving Communities through Effective Action
The League of Women Voters (LWV), a national nonpartisan 501(c)(4) member organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. After the national league was founded in 1920 during the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s convention, the New Orleans chapter was established in October 1942 specifically to mobilize women for non-partisan, constructive reform.
From their office on Prytania Street, LWV New Orleans focuses on two distinct political roles: providing voter services and citizen education and promoting action and advocacy. Rosalind Blanco Cook, who has served as president of the local league for the past two years, believes her involvement in LWV New Orleans has helped her understanding of sociopolitical issues within the city and describes it as a “great opportunity to learn leadership skills.” Rosalind, who also sits on the Women’s Issues committee for LWV Louisiana and teaches political science classes at Tulane University, was quick to point out that often success for women’s organizations means collaboration. Hosting judicial forums with the National Council of Jewish Women and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women is part of what Rosalind says has given her “a real appreciation of politics and policy and a desire to help in the community.”
Developing the Potential of Women
Louisiana ranks 48th in average earnings for women working full-time in the United States and our wage gap, at 35 percent, is the worst in the nation, according to a new organization called Nola4Women. New Orleans women are particularly susceptible to this gap, earning only 71 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. Frustrated? So were the founders of Nola4Women, a local nonprofit organization created in 2015 to take action through innovative programs celebrating women and girls while providing a forum to address challenges and promote equal opportunities. “Every one of us has an idea of what success looks like,” explained Nola4Women co-founder and JLNO Sustainer Kathy Epstein Seligman. “But if you don’t have that model, it can be hard to get there.”
Through their initiatives and partners, Nola4Women encourages young students to learn about local women heroes, shines a spotlight on the prominent role women have played in rebuilding New Orleans and uses New Orleans as a catalyst for larger discussions on international women’s issues. “If we, as women, don’t help each other, it’s going to be a lot harder to get everywhere we are trying to go,” said Kathy. Former JLNO President Dr. Katherine Raymond echoed those sentiments, “The most important thing we can do as women is to encourage and support other women. New Orleans is an ideal place to both observe challenges and propose solutions.” Putting their mission into action, Nola4Women has been instrumental in the development of the inaugural Mirror on the World Global Summit on Women and Girls which will be hosted during the City of New Orleans’ Tricentennial Celebration in March 2018. By collaborating with community members and other grassroots organizations, Nola4Women is able to address critical issues affecting today’s women and address them in a solution-focused manner to help level the playing field.
Improving Economic Opportunities for Women
Another organization committed to ensuring that women are supported and able to thrive professionally is the Women’s Energy Network (WEN). While WEN is an international organization, the South Louisiana chapter was founded in 2009 and provides its local members with career mentorships, access to energy specific job boards and networking events, just to name a few perks. WEN’s three part mission to foster the careers of women who work in the energy sector, provide them with networking opportunities and to develop women leaders in the energy arena is put into action through a mix of social and education programs designed to bolster women in their individual careers and empower women in the energy field as a whole.
Dana Douglas, the chapter’s founding President, speaks to the progress women can make when they come together to develop each other’s professional potential. “It has been exciting to witness the growth of the organization throughout South Louisiana for many reasons, not the least of which is that the women who work in what is thought to be a very male dominant industry are becoming more visible,” she said. “That can only mean great things for the younger people across our state who dream of working in these fields.” Involvement in these organizations not only bolsters professional connections, but personal ones as well. JLNO Active and past WEN South Louisiana president Nene Glenn Gianfala explained, “Like JLNO, WEN is another outlet to socialize with great women while serving your local community. Whether it’s a JLNO thrift store shift or helping out at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) day at Zephyr stadium with WEN, volunteering together forges friendships that continue long after the project is complete.”
Promoting Resources for Women’s Health
In a city where accessible, affordable health care can be a challenge, one local-turned-national organization is working hard to improve the physical, mental and spiritual health of women and their families. The Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES) was founded in New Orleans in 1993 with the aim of enhancing quality of life for socioeconomically disadvantaged women through community-driven research, advocacy, and partnerships.
IWES takes a “truly unique approach to empowering disadvantaged communities,” said board member Kandice Doley. Through the creation of culturally proficient programs, IWES is able to both address and advocate for the capacity of women of color and their communities to create sustainable change in several areas including resilience, emotional and physical well-being, youth development and sexual health. Working with partners like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Orleans Health Department, IWES uses the Social Ecological Model to heal communities from the inside out and “affect real, sustainable change” for women who need it most.
These are just a few of New Orleans’ many non-profit organizations that, through their unique work in our communities, share JLNO’s focus on Advancing the Wellbeing of Women. As members of the Junior League, it is empowering to see how our goals align with these neighboring organizations, our individual contributions acting as the common thread to educate, heal and support each other in the face of adversity. Sustainer Kathy Epstein Seligman affirmed these worthwhile efforts, “Some days are difficult and some days are amazing, but all women should help other women. It’s our job.”