On July 19, 2005, Chapter Directors of the Younger Women’s Task Force traveled from across the country to Washington, DC for the first annual YWTF Chapter Director Retreat. For those of you not familiar, YWTF, a project of the National Council of Women's Organizations, is a nationwide, diverse and inclusive, grassroots movement dedicated to organizing younger women in their 20s and 30s to take action on issues that matter most to them. By and for younger women, YWTF works both within and beyond the women's movement, engaging all who are invested in advancing the rights of younger women.
The four-day Chapter Director Retreat in July was filled with strategic planning, trainings on lobbying, grassroots organizing, fundraising and design, as well as Congressional meetings and general socializing. The YWTF also drafted its mission and vision, and renewed its commitment to giving younger women a voice in the policy-making process.
As a founding member of YWTF, I saw how the retreat is a turning point for this group and for younger women everywhere. The group’s greatest hope is to create a forum that does its best to represent young women across the country and the issues that matter most to them. In my eyes, the retreat proved that younger women are not apathetic; rather, they simply want to be part of a movement that makes room for their opinions and is constantly evolving in response to cultural and societal trends.
Nothing saddens me more than to hear people comment on how young women today command no presence in politics or advocacy, or how they take for granted the hard-won battles of the previous generations of women. In actuality, younger women are attending college at greater rates than even a decade ago, they’re forging nontraditional career paths and maintaining them even after marriage and having children (if they so choose to get married and/or have children), and they’re still fighting to close the pay gap. I know of a young woman at least four or five years my junior who has worked in Africa, India and Southeast Asia to improve the rights of women and is now consulting for nonprofits. She is not a rarity yet we rarely hear about women like her achieving so much at such a young age. We know they’re out there, we know they’ve got a lot to say and the heart to conquer the world, but where do they go when they want to mobilize and let people know they’re here to continue the fight?
Venerated organizations that have had a very strong presence for the last several decades are the usual stomping grounds where people go to begin their involvement in grassroots activism. These groups all do phenomenal work, but within the women’s community a disconnect has appeared between the generations that has not been fully addressed: younger women face a world that is radically different from the late 1960s and early 1970s, so much so that even though the core issues are the same the effect they have on the lives of younger women today is not the same as it was three or four decades ago. So while many women want to safeguard the reproductive rights of women, there are more subtle nuances to that struggle today than the all-or-nothing, starting-from-ground-zero battles of our mothers’ generation.
Where does that leave younger women? There’s a sense of frustration, of feeling marginalized, of being needed for “strength in numbers” but not being listened to or taken seriously when attempting to showcase their own talents and highlight their own issues. In essence, they feel relegated to the children’s table with little hope of someday becoming one of the adults. It’s causing many younger women to step back and say “maybe this movement isn’t for me,” giving older generations the impression that they don’t care when, in fact, they care a great deal but aren’t finding fulfillment from a movement that’s supposed to speak directly to who they are and what they want.
The YWTF was created specifically to address that disparity and show younger women that they can make a difference with their energy, devotion and old-fashioned gumption. We don’t ever want them to feel alone or that they have to fit a certain kind of mold to be part of the group. We want the YWTF to matter to younger women, from the most assertive activists to those who cannot join but still find its purpose relevant. We want the YWTF to highlight the younger women’s community in all its shapes, sizes, beliefs and activities.
Beth Nichols-Howarth is a founding member of the Younger Women's Task Force. Beth works for a PR firm in Washington, DC, focusing on projects related to women’s health and social policy issues. Born in New Jersey, she received her B.A. from Rutgers University and her MSW from Boston University. As a clinician she has counseled female and male survivors of sexual assault, both individually and in group settings, as well as female survivors of domestic violence. She has also worked directly with adolescent girls on issues of self-esteem, body image, and dating violence. She recently got married in Charleston, SC, and in the fall she will begin a training course to become a yoga instructor. Beth works on outreach for YWTF.
The Younger Women's Task Force (YWTF) is a coalition of progressive younger women, ages 19-39, from over forty states in this country. YWTF members are working to provide a stronger voice in the policymaking process for younger women; increase the impact of younger women activists through the articulation of, and collaboration on, a common agenda; and define and develop the next generation of the women's movement by reaching out to all progressive younger women including those who may not identify with the women's movement. To join YWTF, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Council of Women's Organizations is a nonpartisan, nonprofit umbrella organization of over 200 groups that collectively represent over ten million women across the United States. The only national coalition of its kind, NCWO has over twenty years’ experience uniting American women’s groups.