The mayor of Syracuse has a special group of advisors with just one job: to make sure women’s voices are heard.
“Our overall mission is to support the issues of women in our community,” said county legislator Peggy Chase, D-Syracuse, who represents County Legislature District 9.
Chase is one of 10 members of the Syracuse Commission for Women, an advisory council appointed by the mayor. The commission was established in 1986 under Mayor Thomas G. Young. The commission members come from all areas of the city, from varied educational backgrounds and occupations, and from all different ages, races and ethnicities.
Among them: a juvenile probation officer. A Syracuse University professor of child development. The director of the Spanish Action League, La Liga.
“It is kind of a diverse group,” said county legislator Chase. “But we never have any problems working together. Everybody kind of pitches in.”
Members serve two-year terms and the entire commission is re-appointed after its term is up. Mayor Stephanie Miner handpicked each member, said Chase.
And Miner often shows up at the commission’s events. At the commission’s Career Exploration Series at city schools last July, Chase said, Miner either welcomed the first session of students or gave closing remarks at the end of the second session.
The mayor’s involvement has made it easier for the group to achieve its goals, said Chase. “She talks about how she got going in her career as a lawyer and how she got into politics. The kids always really like to hear about that.”
The women of the commission meet quarterly to work on projects they bring to the table, or women’s issues that Miner asks them to address. The group works to ensure equal opportunities for women, freedom from gender discrimination and equal participation in government. It presents a Woman of the Year award each March, which is Women’s History month. In 2013, the winner was Daryl Files, a member of Women Transcending Boundaries and the volunteer and donor coordinator at InterFaith Works.
Earlier commissions have conducted food and clothing drives and have focused their attention on the neediest women in the community. This commission has shifted its attention to the next generation of Central New York women: middle school and high school-age girls.
The group’s most recent project, the Career Exploration Series, focused on non-traditional jobs for women, said commission member Mary Alice Smothers, who works for the People’s Equal Action Community Efforts — or P.E.A.C.E. — as coordinator of the Westside Family Resource Center.
“We went into the schools and talked to the young girls,” Smothers said. The commission invited female professionals in male-dominated fields to speak to the girls, she said. Among the women who visited three local middle schools were a police officer, a lawyer and a woman who installed pipe fittings and plumbing.
“They shared their stories and how they got there and what made them want to do it,” Smothers said. “It turned out some of those girls were interested in those things. It’s not just about being a teacher or a nurse. There are jobs out there they can do as well.”
It has been important to show young girls that they have options, she said. Smothers added:
“It’s about looking for jobs that aren’t traditionally for women. It’s showing them that there are jobs out there that men do that women can do as well.”
(Avery Hartmans is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism with a minor in English and textual studies.)