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Testimony on Creating a Gender Advisory Board and Oversight of the Commission on Gender Equity

Testimony on Creating a Gender Advisory Board and Oversight of the Commission on Gender Equity

Good afternoon. My name is Katharine Bodde and I am a Policy Counsel with the New York Civil Liberties Union’s reproductive rights program. I would like to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Cumbo and the Committee on Women’s Issues for the opportunity to provide testimony at today’s hearing. On behalf of the NYCLU, I respectfully submit the following testimony in support of Int. No. 1137, a bill that seeks to establish a gender equity advisory board, and to provide guidance and oversight regarding the composition of that body and the procedures by which it will operate.

The NYCLU, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state and 50,000 members. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. This includes the rights to equality, privacy, and personal autonomy that form the foundation of gender equity under our state and federal constitution. In light of the NYCLU’s long history of vigorously defending and promoting the rights of girls and women in New York State, the NYCLU is well situated to provide testimony in support of Int. No. 1137.

In June of 2015, Mayor de Blasio created a Commission on Gender Equity (hereinafter “the Commission”) tasked with “achiev[ing] economic mobility and social inclusion of all New Yorkers, particularly women and girls, and ensure their public safety.”1 While the NYCLU fully supports the Commission’s mission, we have concerns regarding the individuals appointed to the Commission and the process by which those appointments were made; as well as the need for transparency and public input regarding the manner in which the Commission functions.

After Mayor de Blasio announced that the Commission had been established, a number of gender equity advocates sent a letter to the mayor regarding the composition of the Commission and the Commission’s priorities. The advocates subsequently met with representatives of the mayor’s office to address their concerns regarding the lack of expertise among the Commission’s members on certain issues affecting women and girls – in particular, issues affecting access to reproductive health care services. The advocates offered a number of recommendations as to the Commission’s priorities in the area of reproductive health. These recommendations included initiatives to promote comprehensive sex education, ensure contraceptive coverage for city employees, protect access to reproductive health care facilities, establish accountability for Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and improve abortion training and access at HHC facilities. A letter sent to the Mayor regarding these policy issues, signed by representatives of twenty-eight organizations, is attached to my testimony.

Since this meeting, the administration has appointed a reproductive health service provider as a member of the Commission. The NYCLU applauds this appointment. However, there are continuing concerns. One year later after its creation, the Commission has yet to engage with the network of advocacy organizations specializing in gender equity issues and access to reproductive health care in New York City. As a consequence there is a lack of clarity about how the Commission is determining issue priorities, and about the process by which the Commission will develop recommendations to improve the lives of girls and women in New York City. Further, neither records from these meetings nor the meetings themselves are open to the public. This lack of transparency shuts out impacted people, policy experts, and direct service providers – all of whom are best positioned to inform the Commission regarding appropriate policy proposals.

The NYCLU strongly supports those provisions in Int. No. 1137 that would increase transparency – including requirements for record keeping, reporting of activities and plans, and for convening at least one annual meeting open to the public. These measures will promote accountability and the development of objectives that serve to advance equal opportunity for girls and young women in New York City, especially the most vulnerable among them. The bill would also require that individuals appointed to the Commission represent the demographic diversity of New York City’s population, and have experience advocating on issues of law and policy important to the health and well-being of women and girls. This provision will help to ensure that individuals serving on the Commission possess requisite expertise. Lastly, by formalizing the Commission’s existence in local law, Int. No. 1137 will ensure that this body has the requisite independence to continue its important work beyond the term of the de Blasio administration.

In conclusion, the NYCLU supports Int. No. 1137. We look forward to working with the gender equity advisory board in promoting the wellbeing and equal opportunity of girls and women in New York City.


1  Mayor de Blasio Establishes Commission on Gender Equity, The Official Website of the City of New York, June 24, 2015,….

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