To most Americans, the governments in their towns and regional areas called counties are the governments they interact with the most. And alongside these local governments are groups of citizens who work on their own to make life better.
In this segment of a multi-part series, VOA's Jeffrey Young focuses on how the government of Montgomery County, Maryland actively promotes the progress of women.
Women informed. Women enabled. Women achieving. That's the mission of the Montgomery County Commission for Women.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, right next to Washington, D.C., it is government policy to promote women's rights and advancement.
The county government created the Commission for Women in 1972, with a 15-member citizens advisory board to help guide it. The Commission's Executive Director, Judith Vaughan-Prather, outlines its mission. "The Commission for Women was formed to be the voice of every woman in Montgomery County. We try to reach out to the women who are disadvantaged, to the new women in our county, to the immigrant women in our county. We try to speak for the girls of our county. We try to speak for the elderly women in our county. We try to bring all those voices together and form an agenda that will serve all of the women in this county."
The Commission addresses that agenda in part through its extensive offerings of programs, workshops, and counseling. Included are ones focused on employment, financial affairs, immigration, and marital issues.
Many women take time out from working to raise a family. One participant explains her situation. "I have been staying at home with my son for four years, and I am looking forward to starting my career again."
When they are ready to re-enter the workforce, the Commission is there to help them find a job. They attend employment workshops. A workshop presenter asks, "What would be your ideal job situation? What do you think would work for you, your ideal scenario?"
Elma Rambo, who manages the Commission's Counseling and Career Center, says advancing women advances everyone. "As women get to move ahead economically, and achieve better educational levels, the whole family benefits and the whole community benefit."
Some of the Commission's workshops deal with marital problems. Participants learn what their legal rights are regarding separation and divorce, child custody, financial support, and, where the law stands regarding those who inflict physical harm.
During one workshop a presenter explains, "Maryland has provided laws to protect people from any kind of abuse within their home. Any conduct which causes serious bodily harm is considered domestic violence. Rape, or other sexual offense, false imprisonment - - holding someone in a room against their will -- is considered domestic violence."
Janice Herold at the Counseling and Career Center says women trapped in bad situations come there to get an understanding ear and help. "Everything that is told to us is confidential. And so women who come here feel it is a safe place to come and talk about personal problems, problems with their children, relationship problems [and] employment problems."
Montgomery County's Commission for Women exemplifies the idea of government and citizens working together to achieve the goals of equality and opportunity for everyone regardless of sex. But these goals, despite years of effort, have still not been fully achieved.