Statewide conference addresses policies that impact women in Tennessee


By Camm Ashford and Faith R. Edwards (Contributing)

More than 300 women, and a handful of men, met Feb. 3-4 at The Westin in Chattanooga during the Mayor’s Council for Women’s Fourth Annual Statewide Women’s Policy Conference.

With a theme of “Changing the Present, Impacting the Future: Shaping Policy – Moving Forward!” the conference offered attendees a chance to learn about women’s policy issues and to advocate for a more equitable future.

“Tennessee still faces many challenges when it comes to gender equality,” Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly noted. “The annual Statewide Women’s Policy Conference is an occasion where we come together to celebrate our accomplishments, but we’re also gathering our best and brightest as we prepare to travel the road ahead, toward a better future.”

Mayor Kelly and the Chattanooga City Council proclaimed the first Friday in February as “Women’s Policy Conference Day.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington conducts rigorous national research on women’s issues, and assigns states a grade based on this data. Tennessee received D’s and D-‘s. 

“The thing is, things have not gotten that much better in Tennessee, so we’re still dealing with some of the same issues,” Chattanooga District 6 Councilperson Dr. Carol Berz, who serves as chair of the Mayor’s Council for Women, said during the opening plenary on Friday. 

Additional conference speakers included Dr. Jeannine Carpenter, director of Research and Policy for the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga; Christine Raino, senior director of Public Policy at Shared Hope International in Washington, D.C.; Beverly Watts, Executive Director, TN Human Rights Commission; Dr. Eve Valera, associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; and Shanna Hughey, president of Think Tennessee in Nashville. 

The Mayor’s Council for Women is made up of three focus areas that “work together to break down the barriers that prevent too many women in our community from living the life they want to live.”

Conference sessions on Friday addressed a variety of focus areas–sexual harassment (justice), legislation impacting women’s health (health); “to be seen is to succeed” (empowerment); Intimate Partner Violence: The Brain injuries we are not seeing (health); and “The Power to Make Change!”.

“Empowerment through Music” was provided by Sonic Essence of Atlanta. The group was sponsored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. and Novare Digital.

“During the conference, I was able to learn more about the initiatives going on to help empower women in Tennessee,” said Shelly L. Vann, a life empowerment coach based in Chattanooga. “It was very interesting, but somewhat disheartening, as well–to hear all the disturbing information about human trafficking and about the continuing inequality in women’s pay and how legislation is sort of blocking women from getting the pay they need.”

“Our local NCBW Chapter was indeed gratified to be part of a mutually, beneficial partnership between the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., and the Statewide Women’s Policy Conference led by the Mayor’s Council for Women and by working in concert to provide effective educational networking among the community and its stakeholders.  The NCBW Chattanooga Chapter was also fortunate to have NCBW National President, Elizabeth Jones not only join us for the Women’s Policy Conference but participate as Luncheon speaker. Representatives of NCBW TN Chapters from Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis also attended the conference. Our primary initiatives include focus on civic engagement legislation; supporting advocacy agendas; voter education, registration & voter rights; and increasing the number of women candidates running for political office,” said NCBW Chattanooga Chapter Elizabeth Appling. 

In addition to serious policy discussion, opportunities were available for attendees to network and shop vendors–including author Beverly A. Morris of Memphis who was featured in the Jan. 27 edition of the Chronicle–and others who sold items such as African artifacts, makeup, clothing, self-care, flowers and jewelry.

In 2015, Mayor Andy Berke announced the creation of the Mayor’s Council for Women, with a goal of making policy recommendations about issues affecting women in Chattanooga and across the region. He enlisted the help of Councilwoman Berz and former state Rep. JoAnne Favors to co-chair the inaugural council.  

Additional Conference comments:

NCBW continues to be a proud sponsor for the Tennessee Statewide Women’s Policy Conference. We were proud to have representation from our four Tennessee Chapters, ChattanoogaGreater KnoxvilleMemphis, and Metro Nashville.

We are excited to share in this conference, one that is graced by the presence of many champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women who like my NCBW sisters are working toward creating a brighter and better future for women and girls.

When women gather and unite it is igniting, powerful and influencing. When we make our voices heard be it local, state, national or international we have the power to impact program development, peace and security, humanitarian action, health, education, economic empowerment, in the promotion and protection of rights for women and girls everywhere.

You know “Women make a difference” — not just a small difference but a big and critical one. Let us in our policy and advocacy work continue to “CHANGE THE PRESENT….IMPACT THE FUTURE “SHAPE POLICY” -AND CONTNUE TO MOVE FORWARD!” Elizabeth A. Jones, National President of National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc.