A new organization will be getting involved in politics in South Carolina, but its staff plans to ignore party lines. Their constituency? All women and girls and their families.
WREN, the Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network, was born from the foundation set by the New Morning Foundation and foundation-supported programs such as Tell Them over the last decade. Its goal is to build a a diverse, inclusive, and powerful movement for the rights of women and girls
The plan for WREN is to achieve that goal as a nonpartisan organization by:
- Advocating for laws and policies to enhance the status of women and the well-being of families.
- Educating policymakers and the public about issues that affect women, girls and their families.
- Empowering South Carolinians to speak up and speak out for a better state.
“It’s important for us to keep conversations going on both sides of the aisle,” said WREN Director of Advocacy Eme Crawford. “These things we’re talking about are not women’s issues. They affect all of us. They affect all aspects of life.”
Republican and Democrat leaders have both stepped forward to support WREN as it gets started in its mission. “The reason it’s so important for me to defend women’s issues is there are so few people defending women’s issues,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy.
“Our male dominated legislature insists upon making [health-related] decisions for us on a daily basis,” Rep. Mia McLeod said. “Government has no place in any of those decisions for women or for men.”
Crawford and most of the WREN staff formerly staffed Tell Them, where they helped lead the successful fight to pass the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act among many other efforts on behalf of women and girls. The new organization will have a similar, but broader, focus.
“We’re still keeping a focus on sexual reproductive health rights. We still see that as the basis of being able to live your life as you choose to live it,” said WREN Policy and Media Associate Melissa Davis. Davis added that equal pay for women in the workforce and paid family medical leave will be early priorities for WREN.
“We’re still dealing with issues that affect women and girls in South Carolina, and we’re looking at how these things are interconnected,” said Crawford. “WREN is dealing with issue education and building partnerships. One organization can’t do it alone.”
WREN will continue to support the work of other organizations working for the good of women and families, including but not limited to the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and South Carolina Equality.
“We all know that we share a common goal for what needs to happen,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “It’s going to require real activism. It takes sacrifice. It takes WREN.”
“It’s going to take a lot of time,” Davis said. “The really great thing about the network is we understand our role isn’t always to take the lead, but we do have a lot of resources, power and relationships that we can help other people.”
The WREN leaders know there will be challenges ahead, even with some of their most vocal opponents like Sen. Lee Bright voted out of office. “The political landscape is going to be much different in January,” Crawford said, but she added that attacks will inevitably come. “Every year it seems like a handful of legislators bring up these harmful bills to women’s health. We are going to continue to fight those.”
Davis said they hope to be prepared, even before knowing precisely what those harmful bills will be. “We’re hoping to fight preemptively by doing issue education for our policy makers,” she said. “Creating these early conversations so that when it comes time to have more detailed policy-focused conversations on legislation, they’re prepared and knowledgeable, they’re not blindsided by anything.”
“Although South Carolina has many challenges, we also have unbelievable opportunities,” McLeod said.
Other elected officials agreed that WREN is an important part of shaping the future. “As a mother of two young daughters, it’s important for them to see a woman take a leadership role and try to make a difference,” said Rep Beth Bernstein.
“I think about the world I want to leave for my girls,” said Columbia Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine. “I always tell them they can do anything they want to do; they can be anything they want to be.”
WREN will also host kickoff events this month in Greenville and Charleston. More information on the organization is available online.
Featured image: Girl power present and future: WREN’s Eme Crawford with 12-year-old supporter Zoe Barber (photo by Allen Wallace)