Health and Anti-Violence
The Commission sponsors this popular initiative for CRLS young women prior to prom season. The workshops focus on healthy relationships, dating, issues of consent, as well as expectations and pressures for girls to look a particular way. Promtacular’s aim is to help girls learn about positive self-image and positive self-regard, all through the lens of prom.
The Commission co-sponsored a forum based on a report, Exploring Alternatives to Incarceration for Women in Massachusetts (download the pdf), released in the spring of 2011. As a result of the forum, the Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network (MWJN) was formed to develop initiatives and innovations that promote and support alternatives to incarceration for female offenders in Massachusetts. The MWJN conducts trainings in trauma-informed care for people working with women in the criminal justice system – probation officers, police officers, etc, – and strives to represent the needs of female offenders for the Governor’s Criminal Justice Commission and in the Department of Corrections “Master Plan”.
Domestic and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Initiative (DGBVPI)
Begun as a City and community-wide effort to address domestic violence, the Initiative now resides within the Executive Office. The Women’s Commission serves on the Steering and Executive Committees and works to engage and mobilize the many communities within Cambridge to change attitudes, behaviors, policies, and practices to prevent and bring attention to domestic and gender-based violence.
High Risk Assessment Team Advisory Board
During a spike in statewide domestic violence fatalities in 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a public health advisory on domestic violence. Locally, the rise in abuse prevention orders in Cambridge District Court prompted the communities of Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont to form a High Risk Assessment and Response Team (CAB HART) to reduce and prevent domestic violence homicides. Through CAB HART, the existing relationships between police, courts, and community providers are refined and tightened; enabling the team to quickly identify the cases with the highest risk of lethality. After identification, CAB HART members work to develop individualized intervention plans to interrupt the cycle of escalating violence.
The CAB HART approach is modeled after the successful and innovative High Risk Response Team created by the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and includes both a primary team and an advisory group. Participants include the Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont Police Departments, The Guidance Center, Cambridge Public Health Department, RESPOND, Inc., Transition House, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Office of Probation, Department of Children and Families, Probate Court, and the Commission.
5th Grade Girls’ Sports Day
In consultation with health and fitness experts, the Commission determined that girls at the fifth grade level are at an ideal developmental stage to begin making the choice to incorporate physical activity into their later adolescent and adult lifestyles. In 1997 the Commission planned its first 5th Grade Girls’ Sports Day for all Cambridge Public Schools. Now an eagerly anticipated annual event, the day is organized in collaboration with the School Department’s Health, Physical Education, and Athletics Department and represents a unique citywide attempt to direct girls toward physical activity as a way of life. Research has shown that girls who participate in organized sports and other forms of physical exertion on a regular basis are at a substantially reduced risk for teenage pregnancy, smoking, obesity, and osteoporosis.
Women’s Heritage and the Arts
As part of our effort to educate, inform, and spark productive dialogue among citizens, the Women’s Commission hosts free film screenings for the public. Screenings are often accompanied by a Q+A session with the Director or include a discussion panel for post-film analysis. Past films include: A Moment in HerStory, The Invisible War, The Supreme Price, The Gray Area, Left on Pearl, and Untouchable. Discussion topics have ranged from the role Cambridge women played in the greater U.S. women’s movement to the role of women in government building in Nigeria.
WAM! Film Festival
Held at the historic Brattle Theater in Harvard Square, the Commission sponsors Women, Action and the Media’s (WAM!) annual Boston Film Festival. Promoting and supporting films made by and about women, WAM! brings attention to the women who are writing, producing, directing, or appearing in roles (not created by men) in film.
History helps us to learn and understand who we are. Each time a girls opens a book, hears a story, or visits a museum with few to no recognizable faces or experiences, she is by definition taught that she is "less than". The dreams and aspirations of girls and young women are compromised when history does not tell the whole story. The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project was established in 1996 to recognize and celebrate the historical contributions of Cambridge women and currently boasts more than 400 women and women’s organizations in its database. This phenomenal database captures the lives of well-known and not-so-well-known women who have made significant, lasting contributions to the city in the past and present. The site is dedicated to Cambridge women and women’s organizations, which are organized alphabetically as well as by topic (i.e., by a woman’s occupation or area of interest). Designed to be a work in progress and always seeking to add to its database, the Project encourages nominations. Download a nomination form.
Women in Cambridgeport, 1865–1975
Under the umbrella of the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, two local historians collaborated to create a large four-panel display highlighting the important contributions Cambridgeport women made to the vibrancy of the community from 1865 to 1975. Originally displayed at Cambridgeport History Day in 2013, the panels showcase women’s participation in industry, business, social organizations, education, the arts and philanthropic movements. These panels provide a small glimpse into the vital impact women have had on Cambridgeport and continue to underscore the need to “write women back into history.” Download PDFs of: Panel 1, Panel 2, Panel 3, and Panel 4.
A public art piece resides at the main branch of the Cambridge Public Library thanks to the collaborative efforts of several City departments. Filament/Firmament, by local artist Ellen Driscoll, incorporates etched glass, text, woven cable, and textile imagery into a skylit atrium linking the old and new buildings into a permanent installation. The public artwork developed out of a comprehensive research and outreach effort coordinated by the Women’s and Historical Commissions and the Cambridge Arts Council. During the early planning stages, important public meetings were held to gather information and remembrances about women’s lives. The exhibit serves as a long-awaited commemoration of the contributions women have made to the life of the city in a creative and artistically interpretive way.
Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project and Filament/Firmament Media Station
The impact of the two-story design on all those who pass through the Filament/Firmament exhibit in the Cambridge Public Library goes beyond the visual. An interactive educational component enhances and enriches the visual experience. A media station provides visitors with an opportunity to access the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project website. Created by a partnership between the Women’s Commission and the Historical Commission, the interactive site preserves the contributions women have made to the city within a searchable database that is organized alphabetically as well as by topic (i.e., by a woman’s occupation or area of interest).
Memory Lane: Women’s History Walks
Designed to promote health and wellness as well as an interest in the well-known and little-known sites of Cambridge women’s history and inspired by the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project database, the Commission created a series of self-guided walking routes that each explore a different Cambridge neighborhood. Created for men and women of all ages and abilities to complete at their own pace, walks can also be completed while on lunch break. Many residents and employees have taken advantage of getting outside, getting some exercise, meeting some new faces within the city, and learning more about Cambridge women’s history. The walking routes are also available through the Cambridge Public Health Department, Community Development Department, Cambridge Walks, and the Cambridge Office for Tourism. Download the pdf for each walk: Area IV, Cambridgeport, Riverside and Cambridgeport, Mid-Cambridge
National Women’s History Month Celebration
National Women’s History Month, or the study of Women’s History as a discipline, was not established or even freely accepted thirty years ago. Women’s History Month actually began as Women’s History Week—as an addition to International Women’s Day on March 8. Since 1987, however, women’s history has been celebrated throughout the entire month of March. Each year the Women’s Commission, in partnership with the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, honors the diversity of women and celebrates their accomplishments by developing a variety of programming, installations, and events in Cambridge that inform, educate, and inspire the public.
International Women’s Day Breakfast
International Women’s Day (March 8) is an occasion marked by women’s groups around the world. The date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, religious, and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. Simply put, International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. Serving on the planning committee that brings the ever-popular International Women’s Day Breakfast to Boston-area women each year, the Commission helps determine a relevant topic and assists in securing leading experts to deliver keynote addresses and participate in panel discussions for the 150+ attendee event.
Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition
In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of women fighting for and obtaining the vote, the Commission is serving on the Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Massachusetts. We are excited to be planning to celebrate the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Research, Education, and Outreach
The GOLD (Girls’ Only Leadership Development) Group
Initiated by Mayor Denise Simmons, the GOLD Group is designed for and open to any CPS 8th grade girl who wishes to develop her leadership capacity through activity-based learning, mentoring models, and reflective practice. Over an entire school year, the girls gain important insight and understanding critical to their leadership development as they set goals, design plans to reach them, work with others to carry out the plans, and assess their progress. The Women’s Commission advises on curriculum components and proudly serve as mentors.
Women & Words!
The Commission’s quarterly discussion series seeks to provide the community with a forum to address dynamic, current, and wide-ranging feminist topics. Local speakers are invited to present and facilitate; past facilitators have included Tina Cassidy, author of Birth; the original and current contributors to the 40th anniversary edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves; and Jaclyn Friedman, author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety.
Women in Cambridge (WIC)
Women in Cambridge (WiC) is a monthly networking event sponsored by the Cambridge Women’s Commission, in partnership with a team of community members. What started as a MeetUp group in 2013 has turned into a networking group of over 600 members. Women who live, work, study or play in Cambridge come together every month at a local restaurant, gallery, retail store, non-profit and other interesting venues to share conversation and listen to a short presentation or discussion by a WiC member or community leader about her work or about programs she offers to the business community in Cambridge.
Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network
The Cambridge Women’s Commission is a founding member of the Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network (MWJN) run out of the Wellesley Centers for Women. Since 2010, the network, which includes policy makers, local and state government workers, non-profit leaders, formerly incarcerated women, and community activists, has worked to include the voice of women in statewide discussions of criminal justice reform.
The MWJN developed six Fact Sheets that have been widely distributed to agencies and policy makers. The Fact Sheets summarize critical concerns affecting women offenders in Massachusetts and the US: trauma-informed training; women centered screening instruments; implications of the MA Corrections Master Plan for Women; Lessons from Abroad; Effective Gender-responsive Programs; and examples of Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) for women.
Immigrant Women’s Roundtable
The Immigrant Women’s Roundtable (IWR) was born out of the Women’s Data Workshop on the Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Cambridge (download the pdf), the IWR is a response to community members who voiced their concern that immigrant women’s influence has been overlooked at times. The absence of any accurate source of data concerning immigrant women living in Cambridge not only hinders their participation in, and use of, the programs and services that are available to them, but also conceals the gaps in service that still exist. Comprised of providers (i.e., ESL, healthcare, public housing) and immigrant women, the IWR meets throughout the year to strategize and improve the mechanisms that exist and to identify those that do not to better reach and serve marginalized communities in the city and to engage them.
Immigrant Women’s Roundtable Report
A city-wide survey of immigrant women was developed to gather data to better connect with elected officials, City departments and agencies. The data gathered serves as a starting point in the conversation with immigrant women and children in Cambridge and helps to provide a wider picture of who is living in our community. In early 2012, the Commission released the Immigrant Women’s Roundtable Report: A comprehensive look at immigrant women and their families living in Cambridge (download pdf).
You Find Your Strength II
This second guide was developed to address the different needs of women who are homeless with children and offer them a starting point to learn about the services available to them in the Cambridge, Somerville, and Greater Boston areas. It is meant to support their efforts to regain independence and find housing for their families. The guide is based on and includes direct tips and inspiration from women who have gone through the experience of homelessness. (download You Find Your Strength: A guide for women and their families who are homeless in Cambridge, Somerville, and the Greater Boston area in English. The guide is also available in other languages.)
You Find Your Strength I
The Commission endorsed and supported You Find Your Strength: A Guide for Women Who Are Homeless By Women Who Are Homeless in Cambridge and Somerville, an urgently needed publication for women facing homelessness that offers support, wisdom, and practical information and advice. In addition to the many homeless, or formerly homeless, women who contributed to the project, the guide was made possible through the combined efforts of Sarah Zaman, Harvard Medical School student; Pat Maher, Healthcare for the Homeless nurse practitioner; Barbara Watts, Cambridge housing advocate; and Yadira Ramos, editor/designer. To learn more, go to www.youfindyourstrength.org.
Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Cambridge
In 2008, the Commission produced a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind report on the status of women and girls in the city. Written in collaboration with the Institute for Community Health and the Cambridge Public Health Department, the report is an easily accessible resource that enables policymakers, program developers, and others to make more informed decisions about their work, as well as to stimulate further program and policy research. In addition to providing a current picture of women and girls in Cambridge, the report serves as a benchmark by which to measure and track future trends. Overall, the report helps the community to assess women’s levels of, and barriers to, equality and progress in achieving opportunities. (download the Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Cambridge)
Women’s Data Workshop
The Commission sponsored the Women’s Data Workshop to provide community leaders and stakeholders with an opportunity to explore and interpret data from the Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Cambridge. The Commission reviewed and analyzed their combined responses to develop three key strategies to increase general program impact, as well as recommendations for five key areas of City programming—Economic Issues, Older Women, Women’s Health, Women’s Safety, and Young Women/Girls. (download the recommendations, A Look at Women in Cambridge Now)
Women Shaping Policy
The Commission presented City Council with its preliminary findings from the Women’s Data Workshop. The document, A Look at Women in Cambridge Now (download the pdf), recommended three strategies for City departments and agencies to improve policy, programming, and funding opportunities:
- Increase information sharing: Capitalize on the community and professional connections made at the workshop. Provide a web-based tool forcommunity-wide dialogue, sharing best practices, offering technical/collective assistance, and strategy;
- Increase gender-based data collection: The most marginalized populations-homeless women and children, immigrant populations, those in the lower socio-economic groups-are not sufficiently represented in the current data. Develop protocol and methods that enable agencies and City departments to collect better data;
- Increase assessment and evaluation: Expand program assessment and evaluation to include gender. Create an assessment tool for organizations and City departments to objectively gauge their gender climate and improve program outcomes.
City Employees’ Committee on Diversity
The Commission’s director participates on the committee, whose goal is to celebrate, educate, and promote the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds of City employees by offering various educational events and activities throughout the year.
Highlights of Past Programming
Stories of friendship with True Story Theater
In March 2014, the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project hosted True Story Theater (TST) at the Cambridge Senior Center in celebration of International Women’s Day. Participants were asked to share “stories of friendship” from their lives and TST performers created on-the-spot performances — using music, spoken word, dance, movement, and song — to capture the essence, emotions, and sensations of the story teller.
TST’s mission is “to strengthen community, building empathy and trust, by performing interactive storytelling theatre and teaching skills of effective communication and improvisation.” Throughout the afternoon, the actors brought smiles, laughter, tears and even moments of grief to audience members. By the end of the performance, the entire room felt bonded — one community woven together through shared experiences of friendship and love.
A Call To Men
In an effort to raise the awareness of community groups, the police department, and youth service providers about the role “well meaning men” have in ending violence against women and girls, the Commission periodically hosts training workshops led by Tony Porter from A Call To Men
Cut It Out Cambridge (CIOC)
A collaboration with the Cambridge Public Health Department, the Cut It Out Cambridge initiative trains salon professionals to be able to recognize signs of abuse and to safely refer clients to the appropriate local resources. Research shows that most domestic abuse victims never call the police or go to a shelter. However, they do talk about the abuse with someone they trust. Salon professionals are skilled and experienced listeners. Many women and men suffering from abuse feel comfortable confiding in them. CIOC’s innovative approach—harnessing local small businesses to respond to, and have a positive impact on, the public health crisis of domestic violence—is rooted in a community-based response model. CIOC helps to educate and empower members of the Cambridge community whose involvement in addressing domestic violence has yet to be tapped.
Cut It Out Cambridge PSA
The CIOC pilot trainings were filmed by two local documentary filmmakers, Kim Romano and Hermine Muskat. They used their footage to produce a three-minute public service announcement that aired on local cable stations CCTV and City TV-8. In the pilot project, stylists with deep roots in Cambridge neighborhoods were trained by health professionals to listen non-judgmentally to their clients’ stories and offer appropriate referrals. All five salons involved in the pilot training were familiar with abuse in all its guises and greatly appreciated the information and guidance they received.
If you have trouble viewing it here, try viewing the Cut It Out Cambridge video on YouTube.
Domestic Violence-Free Zone (DVFZ) Core Group member
Under the direction of the City-Wide Violence Prevention Coordinator at the Cambridge Public Health Department, the Core Group worked to produce systemic changes in city policy, guide the projects of the DVFZ, and organize the city’s yearly Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. Since the passage of a city ordinance in 1994 that defined Cambridge as a Domestic Violence-Free Zone, the Commission served along with other Core Group members including the School Department, the Police Department, the Department of Human Service Programs, and the City Administration.
Domestic Violence-Free Zone (DVFZ)
During the mid-90s the Commission played an early and pivotal role in the City’s formation and declaration as a Domestic Violence-Free Zone. At that time, the initiative recommended that the City view the DVFZ as a community development centerpiece; an economic development centerpiece; a focus of the educational system; a permanent and substantial factor in the development and allocation of affordable housing; a public health standard to be used to measure "quality of life;" and as a critical economic factor affecting the vitality and sustainability of the city. At its core, the DVFZ called the community to rise to the challenge of domestic violence; to plan to build a future that would attain the equality of women, and to support a systematic framework for the healing and recovery of all victims of violence.
Domestic Violence Task Force (DVTF)
For more than 20 years, the Commission’s director chaired monthly meetings of the Domestic Violence Task Force. Comprised of public and private organizational representatives, the DVTF convenes to create alliances, share information and perspectives, confront problem areas, discuss new ideas for public education, and improve intervention and prevention work in the city.
The Commission partnered with the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women to create a curriculum, ENGAGE (Empowering the Next Generation of Girls About Gender Equality), for Cambridge youth. ENGAGE’s goal is to provide girls, ages 8–13, with an eight week program to help empower girls to make healthy, informed decisions; to give them the knowledge they need to navigate the sensitive issues they face in their teenage and pre-adolescent years; and to foster an attitude of acceptance and understanding for all people. Topics included are: body image, anti-bullying, media literacy, dating violence, LGBTQ issues, economic equality, girls and sports, and political and community involvement.
Alliance for Girls’ Services – Cambridge
The City of Cambridge has a number of agencies, organizations, and City departments providing a variety of programming for girls and young women. Co-founded with Cambridge Community Services, the Commission provided leadership to a broad-based coalition invested in enhancing the precision, caliber, and impact of programming offered to girls in the city. This locally focused coalition created a network for broadening ideas, increasing knowledge, and developing collaborative efforts. It provided participants with an opportunity to exchange information, share best practices, examine standards, identify gaps, review funding options, as well as consider other common interests and concerns.
888 Memorial Drive Celebration
The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project hosted an International Women’s Day celebration to commemorate the 1971 takeover of a little-used Harvard-owned building at 888 Memorial Drive. Commemorating the events of 38 years ago, the program combined the unveiling of a new Historical Commission-designated property marker (later placed at the site); a screening of Left on Pearl, a documentary about the takeover that highlights this significant but hidden chapter in Second Wave feminist history; as well as personal tributes from women who participated in the takeover; a slide presentation of recent additions to the women’s heritage database; folksongs from Marcia Diehl; and a cello performance by Cynthia Forbes. One of the few such takeovers by women for women, the 1971 occupation led directly to the establishment of the longest continually operating Women’s Center in the U.S., and sparked the development of many other feminist and community organizations in the Boston area and nationally. Today, the Cambridge Women’s Center continues to provide programming to promote social and economic equality and justice for women in Cambridge and beyond.
State Department’s African Women’s Delegation
The Commission convened a panel discussion of professional women, all emerging leaders in their fields, from five African countries: Madagascar, Senegal, Djibouti, Cape Verde, and Burundi. The delegation traveled to the US through the International Visitor Leadership Program, part of the US Department of State. The Commission assembled Cambridge women leaders to discuss issues related to women’s education, and women as agents for change in commercial sectors, specifically initiatives and programs that focused on businesswomen, microfinance, and female entrepreneurs.
Sheltering Sudanese Women
The Commission presented the first US screening of The Promised Land, an award-winning short documentary that examines the rising influx of Sudanese immigrants to Israel. Since 2006, hundreds of Sudanese and Eritrean women and children have crossed into Israel seeking asylum from violence and persecution in their homelands. The women and children’s plight has reached crisis proportions. The film follows the story of Eliza as she describes the torture she experienced in Sudan, crossing to Israel through Egypt, losing her husband, and giving birth to her son, Freedom, at Israel’s first women’s shelter. A discussion with shelter director "Mama Rita" followed the film. If you are interested in having your organization host a screening, please contact us at 617.349.4697.
Women’s Health Task Force
In existence for close to 20 years and chaired by the Commission’s executive director, the Women’s Health Task Force was established by the Health Policy Board of the City of Cambridge to support existing women’s health projects, particularly the Midwifery Program, and to identify gaps in services for women. Under the authority of the Cambridge Health Alliance and composed of Health Alliance governing board members and administrators, local service providers and community representatives, the task force’s formally stated mission was: "to promote and monitor services for women organized around the needs and values of the woman patient; and to oversee the efforts of the Cambridge Health Alliance to improve the wellness of women, to address the factors that influence the health and well-being of all women in Cambridge and Somerville, and to ensure that services needed by women in the community are available throughout the Alliance." During its many years, the task force advocated for specific health services, educational and prevention programs, and making a health care setting sensitive and welcoming for women and girls of all ages, in addition to promoting the Cambridge Hospital Breast Center, expansion of the Labor and Delivery Suite, and improvement of the reimbursement formula for the Cambridge Birth Center.
For more than 10 years the Commission championed Girls’ LEAP, an innovative program for girls that began as a community response to a wave of violence against women in Cambridgeport in the mid-90s. Although now Boston-based, LEAP’s first programs were offered in Cambridge. Identified as a girl-focused self-defense and conflict resolution curriculum, LEAP empowers young women to hone their physical skills, engage their internal self-awareness, empower their own leadership potential, and improve their contact with community leaders. It also brings together young women with older women in their lives in a unique intergenerational approach to defining and actualizing a family- and community-based approach to safety and security.
Lesbians Talk HERstory
Along with MIT and the Women’s Center, the Commission sponsored a forum for older lesbians from diverse race and class backgrounds to share and discuss their experiences in the 60s and 70s with today’s young lesbians to help inform their activism and development.
The Commission assisted with the production of two bi-weekly cablecasts on the local access station, CCTV. Tess Ewing, from UMass Boston’s Labor Resource Center, hosted WomenSpeak, a program dealing with women’s workplace issues such as family leave, discrimination, unions, and wage parity; and The Center for New Words, hosted by Jaclyn Friedman, interviewed talented women writers.
The Commission worked for many years with OWL, a national organization striving to improve the status and quality of life for midlife and older women, to plan programs and forums on issues affecting older women and working on legislative initiatives.
For more than 10 years, the Commission coordinated efforts to hold an annual day of physical, social, and emotional wellness workshops for high school girls attending Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
Kitchen Table Conversation Project
Originally aimed at women who were losing their welfare benefits, the Kitchen Table Conversation Project became the catalyst for what is now known as ROAD (Reaching Out About Depression). The Kitchen Table Conversations Project provided resources that women actively used to address immediate social, economic, and personal issues; offered support through weekly discussion, mutual problem-solving, and social/cultural activities; engaged women in projects that enhanced their trust in their own experiences and ways of knowing, and helped them to envision, expand, and pursue their own personal and vocational goals; and helped them to identify concrete opportunities for participating in public deliberation and action around social issues.
Although now operating as an independent project under the direction of the Cambridge Health Alliance, ROAD was initially developed through the Commission’s Kitchen Table Project (KTP), in which low-income women met weekly to discuss the effect that welfare reform had on their lives and the difficulties they had faced in accessing traditional social service programs. During the KTP discussions, every participant came to identify depression as a significant challenge in her life. Through a community support network that it helped to develop, the ROAD program now assists women experiencing stress or depression with strategies and resources that promote self-empowerment, connectedness, and improved quality of life.