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Women stand united

March 25, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

Men have an edge over women in Washington County.

You can look it up: 51 percent men to 49 percent women, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Some local advocacy groups perceive a greater male advantage - in political and economic power, for example.

Women across the state are paid less than men are, said Linda Smith of the Washington County chapter of the National Organization for Women, or NOW.

Women struggle in Washington County elections because of their gender, said Sharon Leatherman, chairwoman of Women At The Table, a political action committee.

The educational level of women here is low and the teenage pregnancy rate is high, said Catherine Cushwa Schoen, president of the Washington County Commission For Women.

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Commission For Women

The Washington County Commission For Women plans a number of things to support women, Schoen said.

Last year, the commission sponsored workshops on medical and legal issues. Workshops on education and finance were canceled when the commission shifted its focus to disaster preparedness and stress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

This month, the commission gave out awards to Washington County students who wrote the best essays with the theme "My Unsung Heroine."

Schoen said she wants to help revive the annual Women's Fair, with workshops, classes and information on many topics.

The commission is often "a clearinghouse of information," Schoen said.

Some of that information - tips on the working world - will be passed along next month. Schoen said commission members plan to give advice about job interviews and rsums to clients of W House, who are battling drug addiction.

There is a Commission For Women in each Maryland county, although not all are independently chartered, as Washington County's is, Schoen said.

A pamphlet states their purpose: "Commissions for Women identify problems, define issues, and recommend policies and solutions that would change practices which prevent the full participation of women in today's society."

NOW chapter

The Washington County chapter of NOW has lofty goals, keeping in step with the national group's activist roots.

"We're strongly a pro-choice organization," said Smith, who helped reorganize the chapter after it deactivated.

Other NOW issues are weighty, too: domestic violence, child care and economic parity.

Last Wednesday, the Washington County chapter participated in NOW's national "Watch Out, Listen Up!" campaign.

As the chapter described the event, "Across the country teams of feminist TV viewers will rate all of the prime time programming on the six broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBS, Fox, WB and UPN."

Critical female eyes watched for sexual exploitation, social responsibility, diversity, gender representation and depictions of violence, all as they pertained to women.

The national chapter will decide how to reach to the local chapters' reports.

The chapter plans to continue "Love Your Body Day," a chance to speak out against offensive or harmful public images of women.

Smith said the chapter recently raised money for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, a human rights group.

After the chapter was dormant for about 18 months, some members took part in an abortion rights march in Washington in April 2001, Smith said. The group is trying to sustain that momentum.

Women At The Table

Another group, Women At The Table, tries to boost women into elected or appointed office.

Leatherman said Women At The Table hasn't done as much political fund-raising as it hoped.

Still, as elections approach, the group posts signs, hands out palm cards, mails postcards and buys advertisements, all on behalf of female candidates.

Leatherman said the group usually helps in county or state races, although it worked with Mildred "Mickey" Myers when she last ran for mayor of Smithsburg.

Women At The Table plans other political events, such as the Voices of Experience workshops, where women in government talk about how they got there.

League of Women Voters

The name of another election-related group might be a misnomer.

The League of Women Voters doesn't limit its activities to women at all, said John Porter, president of the Washington County chapter.

That's right - a man leads the Women Voters.

And his wife isn't a member.

Janice Porter is president of the Women's Club, which she said is less high society and more social service than it used to be.

"That's his thing and this is mine," she said.

There's no irony in a male president, John Porter said, because the League "promotes political responsibility" and informs all voters, not just women.

Each year, the League sends questionnaires to candidates in county and state races, and compiles the answers in a guide. The questions tend to be biographical and broad, rather than about specific local issues.

The nonpartisan League also hosts candidate forums and registers new voters at craft shows and fairs.

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