Women doing a heckuva job

Female activists and advocates make change in a still-struggling Gulf Coast.


Lynn Harris
August 29, 2007 6:20PM (UTC)

On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, numerous articles paint a depressing, enraging picture of exactly what's not getting done to save the Gulf Coast and its casinos people. Let's also take a quick (and far less than exhaustive) look at what is getting done -- by women.

Coastal Women for Change in Biloxi, Miss., has successfully advocated for fair housing, affordable childcare, improved safety in elder communities and greater representation of women on the mayor's rebuilding commission.

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Brenda Dardar Robichaux, principal chief of the Houma Nation, Louisiana's largest tribe, founded the United Houma Nation Relief Fund to bring aid to the thousands of Houma Indians left homeless or otherwise affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and to help find and bring displaced tribe members back to their reemerging communities. The fund has also helped support training for women in nontraditional careers such as construction so that they might take advantage of job opportunities created by the disasters.

The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis matched 4,000 displaced families with local resources and has continued to help them settle into jobs, homes and childcare arrangements. According to an editorial in today's Women's eNews, the foundation "developed an intake form for evacuees so effective that its use spread to relief organizations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas."

The above organizations -- and many others -- have received the support of the Ms. Foundation's Katrina Women's Response Fund. Such groups have also recovered more than $1 million in back pay owed to primarily Latina/o workers, sped up the delivery of grants to thousands of homeowners, lobbied the city of Gulfport to pass new antisprawl zoning rules and traveled to tsunami-stricken areas of India to share rebuilding strategies.

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"It should not take a national disaster to remind us that women's full participation in their communities and at state and national policy tables should be the rule rather than the exception," Sara K. Gould, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and Cynthia Schmae, COO of the Women's Funding Network, write in Women's eNews. "If nothing else, Katrina and her ravages have given us an opportunity to shift the status quo in a new direction: one in which the needs of women and families fall at the center -- not the margins -- of policy agendas. We know that services and policy-making processes that put women first have the capacity to lift families and whole communities out of misery. This wisdom should inform response to future natural disasters and, for that matter, the larger work of social change."


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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