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2016 was a phenomenal year for the Palmetto State thanks to these notable women

The Thinking Belle: First Column

When I asked a good friend of mine what I should call a repeat newspaper column in the works, she immediately recommended, “Peacock on a Porch Swing.”

Puzzled, I had to ask her to explain. She explained the idea of the South Carolina lady, gracefully rocking on a porch swing—but more vibrant, bold, and daring, like a peacock.

It occurred to me then that I could not ever remember a time I either felt like a peacock or sat on a porch swing as an adult, and I began to wonder if perhaps I could truly be a voice for Midlands women. A Kentucky native, I found my way to this state for graduate school and became deeply passionate in the arts and culture of the region and about the causes behind its local charities. I may have fallen in love with the Midlands, but I’m a long way away from being a dainty young lass sipping tea on a porch swing—crazy peacock feathers or not.

For many women in South Carolina, including myself, we began 2016 with the memory of Bree Newsome still faintly hanging in our minds. Newsome was the brave activist who scaled the state house flagpole in protest of the then-waving (but now retired) Confederate flag. That woman became a symbol of modern-aged civil disobedience for both minorities and women, and her protest defiantly sent out the message: “We, women of the Carolinas, feel, think, and now, it’s time for us to act. We will create change in this state.”

When I think of my column, I think about Newsome.

However, 2016 proved to be quite rocky for us women in the Palmetto State. Our beautiful home turf remained one of only three states without equal pay legislation, and the pay gap between men and women (in particular, women of color) in our state also loomed. In May, Governor Nikki Haley signed into effect the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, banning abortions past 20 weeks, even in cases where the mother or fetus will likely die during birth, or where the mother has serious health risks such as cancer and organ failure. That legislation also prohibits abortion after 20 weeks if the pregnancy results from a rape or sexual assault, or even cases of incest.

Conference participants applauded after Rep. Horne said “I think it’s high time women from South Carolina went to Congress” (photo by Allen Wallace).

Meanwhile, the Palmetto State also stayed in the nation’s top five states for violence against women, including male-perpetrated homicide of women. Yes, both in the justice system and in society, women seemed greatly disadvantaged in South Carolina, as the state continuously snatched national headlines with police sexual misconduct allegations like those against Dereck Johnson, or the Palmetto sheriff who caused country-wide unease with his declaration that he would “whip” any transwoman who went to a public restroom for females.

Although for the first time our country elected a woman as the presidential nominee for a major political party, that milestone was repeatedly muddied by the mounting heaps of accusations of sexual harassment and misogyny against Donald Trump. As 2016 rounded to an end, there was an undeniable feeling of despair among many of my female friends in the Midlands. When a newly elected leader of your nation receives so much attention for negative comments he has made about women, it’s hard not to feel slightly hopeless.

But in my opinion, South Carolina and its women actually had a pretty monumental year. We have a lot of work left to do, a lot of barriers to break, a lot of goals left to accomplish—but, women in South Carolina kind of rocked 2016. In fact, I’ve selected six major accomplishments this state’s women made in 2016.

As 2017 begins, I still don’t quite feel like a peacock on a porch swing. But I do feel like I am a thinking woman who resides in a state she loves, but often doesn’t understand. A thinking woman who wants to create positive change, to comment on culture, and to raise awareness about different issues in the Midland. I may not be a full Southern lady yet, but for now, I’ll call myself “The Thinking Belle.”

Enjoy this recap of some of South Carolina women’s accomplishments from 2016, and let’s eagerly work together to make an even bigger list for 2017. If you think about the milestones featured on this list, it would seem that for women in South Carolina, the future may be more promising than we realized.

 

  • South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was appointed to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations by incoming president Donald Trump—after being a loud vocal opponent of his policies during the election. No matter how you feel about Haley or Trump, this triumph can deliver the message to girls and young women (including of those of color) in the Palmetto State: you don’t have to curb your beliefs to achieve success. This February, Haley called Trump “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president,” yet she still shined as the top pick for a significant government position.
  • The S.C. Department of Corrections further developed programs for the families of women in prison. “Mother’s Voice” made its debut in S.C. women’s prisons in 2016. This program allows female inmates to record themselves reading children’s books. The books are sent to their children, who not only are encouraged to engage more in reading, but also feel more connected to their estranged mothers. With approximately 1,500 women behind bars in South Carolina’s state prisons, building programs to meet the needs of female prisoners not only impacts those individual women, but also all the daughters of incarcerated parents—a rather ignored group of children.
  • In 2016, Dawn Staley was…Dawn Staley. An inspiration to women, minorities, and athletes nationally, Staley came to South Carolina eight years ago with an Olympic gold medal and a professional basketball career already under her belt. Staley has rebuilt the University of South Carolina women’s basketball program, grabbing two SEC championships and an SEC tournament title on her way to the top. Now, the Gamecocks women’s basketball team draws bigger crowds than their male counterparts, proving everyone wrong who said female sports don’t matter in the South.
  • South Carolina elected more women to the state senate than ever.  Katrina Shealy has made headlines by passionately standing up for the issues she believes in and refusing to be silent in the men’s club that was the SC senate, even after Senator Tom Corbin made the joke that her sex rendered her from a “lesser cut of meat.” However, Shealy now has Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, and Sandy Senn in the state Senate with her—the most females the South Carolina has ever had in its state Senate at once. With two female Republicans and two female Democrats, women of either political party have a little more hope they will be represented well.
  • South Carolina (finally) passed the Cervical Cancer Prevention Bill. This bill—which was championed by women—makes it possible for pharmacists to give cervical cancer vaccines to adults ages 18-26 without a prescription. It also provided healthcare coverage for state employees seeking the cervical cancer vaccine. This assures that even young women struggling financially can now receive the vaccine. Considering that our state ranks in the top 15 for cervical cancer incidence (and cervical cancer mortality), this is a huge victory for women in the Palmetto State.
  • WREN is here. In October, the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network launched in Columbia, S.C. A 501c(3), this nonprofit organization was established to advocate for women’s wellbeing with policymakers and educate the general public and lawmakers about women’s issues in South Carolina. This Midlands-based organization is new, but has the potential to greatly impact so many girls’ and women’s lives.

 

So, upon review, 2016 was full of milestones for women in South Carolina. Now, welcome to 2017. What will we make happen this year?

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