* This letter was sent Tuesday by the Anti-Harassment, Equality & Access Panel (Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Sen. Melinda Bush and Rep. Carol Ammons - all Democrats) to the chairmen and executive directors of both major political parties and the two county chair associations…
As you and your party’s leadership gather this week at the Illinois State Fair, we wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the work we are doing as part of the Anti-Sexual Harassment, Equality and Access Panel (AHEA). AHEA is a nonpartisan organization whose focus is to help develop guidelines that political organizations and campaigns can adopt to create safe and supportive environments for women, free from sexual harassment, while pursuing intentional efforts to promote more women into leadership positions and recruit more women to run for office.
The three of us spent the month of July traveling to cities across the state meeting with women who work in the space of campaigns and politics to learn from their experiences and gather their ideas around how we can change culture and behavior in the workplace moving forward. This work took us to Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, Rockford, Springfield, Edwardsville and Carbondale.
And no matter what town they called home, they all share a set of hopes for a better future for women here in Illinois.
Here are some takeaways from this process that we will address in the AHEA report:
• We need to end the culture of fear and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment and stop smearing and discrediting those who bring complaints forward.
• Political campaigns need to firmly establish what sexual harassment is from the start of employment for all employees; consequences for such behavior need to be established.
• Local political parties remain under control of a good old boys network that leaves little room for women or people of color, continuously giving white men a leg up when it comes to running for state and federal office. The system is fundamentally set up to dissuade women from running for office.
• An intentional effort needs to be made on the part of men to join the fight against institutionalized sexism. Women also need to reach out and incorporate men into the discussion.
• A process needs to be created that allows those who experience sexual harassment to be reported in a way where they have full faith and confidence that their complaint will be taken seriously, investigated and resolved in a way that can be trusted to be fair and legitimate.
• Women need to feel supported in their pursuit of running for office and do so free from judgment based on their family, marital, sexual orientation, socio-economic or racial status. Women simply want the opportunity to run.
Within the next few weeks, we will provide all of you, as leaders within your respective parties, along with all registered political campaigns and other affiliated political organizations, with a full report detailing our recommendations and best practices around changing the pervasive culture of sexual harassment throughout Illinois politics. We look forward to following up with you after you’re in receipt of our report and, even more so, working with you to make Illinois politics a place where everyone, regardless of their gender, race or economic status can feel welcomed and can thrive.