Reprint: WAGG Women Shaping Georgia Politics
This weekend brings the third incarnation of the Women and Girls in Georgia (WAGG) Conference, a jam-packed day (Saturday, Oct. 2) of presentations and discussions at the Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences on challenges and issues faced by its subject. This year’s theme is politics, an appropriate one in an election year, and while many of the speakers have an expected academic bent, the Institute for Women’s Studies at UGA, which serves as host and organizer, wants to emphasize that it’s not just a résumé-builder. In fact, academics and professionals have to pay $25 to get in, while locals and UGA staff are required to pony up only $10. UGA students get in free.
The conference was established in 2007 to highlight and encourage cutting-edge research by, for and about women and girls in Georgia, which is a large and multifaceted mission, but in practice the event hasn’t seemed scattered. Previous themes included violence, health and well-being, and the conference gathers leading researchers, teachers, activists and community members to share their expertise, network and strategize for positive social change, both within the state and beyond.
Chris Cuomo, co-chair of this year’s conference planning committee and a core faculty member in Women’s Studies and Philosophy, said, when asked how the conference has changed and grown since its first year, “We have growing participation from students from UGA and other campuses across Georgia, and because we work with a different topic each year, every conference draws a new audience and builds on the conversation from the following year. This year we made a commitment to make the conference free for students and very inexpensive for community members, which is enabled by support from our donors, and so we hope to see our greatest turnout yet.” Those donors include Ike & Jane, The National and Mama’s Boy, as well as everyone who donated to the Women and Girls in Georgia fund through the Institute for Women’s Studies website (http://www.uga.edu/iws/alumni_support/celebrate_support.htm).
Rather than the usual keynote speaker, this year’s WAGG conference will have a panel discussion for its keynote event, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. “Speaking from Experience: Women Shaping Georgia Politics” will feature Jane Kidd, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia; Amy Morton, chair of Georgia's WIN List (a political action committee dedicated to changing the face of power in Georgia politics by recruiting, training, supporting and electing progressive Democratic women across the state); Stacey Abrams, state representative of the 84th House District; and Bobbie Paul, executive director of Georgia WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions, an independent, grassroots, woman-led, community-based organization founded in 1982 that seeks to direct women’s voices into a powerful movement for change). Jill Severn, of UGA, will moderate.
So, why have a panel rather than a single speaker? Cuomo said, “Because this year's conference is on politics, and it occurs just a month before election day, we wanted the keynote event to be something that might inspire participation and involvement at various levels. There is an incredible, if too often overlooked, history of women's political involvement in Georgia, from the women of the Civil Rights Movement who came from locations across the state, to the many women who worked for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Georgia, to Shirley Franklin's role as the mayor of Atlanta.” She continued, “We wanted to highlight this history but also put people in touch with the work that women are doing to foster progressive change in Georgia today, including Jane Kidd's current role as head of the Democratic party in Georgia, and the work of Georgia's WIN List. It is an exciting time for women in politics in Georgia, and the keynote event will bring together a range of perspectives to reflect on the lessons of the past, as well as the possibilities for the future.”
When asked if there were any sessions she thought were particularly noteworthy, Cuomo focused on research from students: “We are always thrilled to have girls and young women participating in the conference, and this year students from Coile Middle School will be presenting their research on Latina girls speaking out for undocumented Latino communities.” That presentation occurs during the 3:30–4:45 p.m. block of sessions, in the one devoted to “Gender Studies: In the Classroom and Beyond,” which also includes papers on "Jane Eyre" studies, creating a major in gender and women’s studies, and feminist body pedagogy in teacher education. Cuomo also called attention to “our presentation of the Trailblazer for Women’s Equality award to Lorena Weeks, whose groundbreaking legal victory against gender discrimination in the workplace in 1972 established that it was a violation of civil rights to keep women out of higher-paying positions simply due to their sex.” The award to Weeks will take place concurrently with a screening of Russell Library’s recorded interview with her, during lunch.
Teri Hatfield, events and administrative coordinator for the Institute for Women’s Studies, also called attention to “the Georgia's WIN List mini-workshop for young women interested in getting involved in politics on a local, state and/or national level” and said she is “particularly excited about the Playmaking for Girls presentation during the ‘Gender and Justice’ session. Playmaking for Girls is a community outreach program developed by the Synchronicity Performance Group, a not-for-profit theatre company in Atlanta. The program works with the juvenile justice system in Georgia and is dedicated to engaging young women who have gone through the juvenile justice system in Georgia in some way in the creation of theatre as a tool for creative expression, community healing and personal growth.” She mentioned, too, that “many of the Flagpole's readers may be interested in the ‘Gender Roles, Political Culture, and Social Movements’ session, which includes presentations on many local political social movements including the Newtown Florist Club, Helen Dortch Longstreet and the Conservation Battle for Tallulah Falls in 1912–13, and the Athens Woman's Club and their work promoting music in Northeast Georgia during the Progressive Era (1896–1920).”
Other presentation topics include women as policy makers; political policy and identity; intersectionality; law, discourse, politics and education; and reproductive justice/freedom/policy. Even if you can’t attend, WAGG has a valuable website (http://uga.edu/iws/WAGG/index.html), which Cuomo calls “a repository of all sorts of research and data on issues related to gender in Georgia.” She said, “we hope to bring more attention to that important resource. But more broadly our intention is to help generate new research that will be useful in directing policy in ways that improve the lives of women and girls in our state, especially low-income women and others whose interests are too often overlooked by policy makers.” The full conference program as well as registration information can be found online at www.uga.edu/iws or by calling 706-542-2846.