Monday, May 29, 2023
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    These bills signal youth movement in California politics

    In summary

    Recent grassroots campaigns to increase access to menstrual products are part of a growing push by young, diverse communities in California to engage with the legislative process and create laws that span race, gender and sexual orientation.

    Guest Commentary written by

    Esther Lau

    Esther Lau is the policy director for Generation Ratify California. She is a senior in high school.

    Fiona Lu

    Fiona Lu is the policy director for California High School Democrats. She is a senior in high school.

    We often think of political leaders as old, rich white men but that stereotype is changing. As two young women of color from low-income California families, we’re already writing legislation that scores victories for our communities.

    A largely youth-led movement is now reshaping California politics.

    We know we can do it thanks to the trailblazing California women who came before us, yet women still hold only 42% of seats in the Legislature.

    Young women from our generation don’t always see ourselves as political, at least at first. We see the issues showing up in our communities and ask how they came about. That’s when we start to see the policies that shaped those issues, and who was at the table when they were written.

    California is a wealthy state generating huge income from the tech industry and more. Yet families like ours remain wary about making purchases because of the price.

    As young women, we also realize that many social issues demand an intersectional approach. Poverty shows up as one factor, alongside race and gender, to work against people from achieving their full potential. That inspired us last year to advocate for Assembly Bill 367, which guarantees access to free menstrual products in public schools. We were pleased to see the passage of AB 150 two years ago, which permanently exempted diapers and menstrual products from taxation. And we were delighted when AB 1287 became law, abolishing gender discrimination in pricing, also known as the pink tax. 

    Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

    State Senate, District 20 (Van Nuys)

    State Senate, District 20 (Van Nuys)

    District 20 Demographics

    Voter Registration





    No party


    Campaign Contributions

    Sen. Caroline Menjivar has taken at least
    from the Ideology/Single Issue
    sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents
    of her total campaign contributions.

    Former State Assembly, District 58 (Corona)

    State Assembly, District 16 (San Ramon)

    State Assembly, District 16 (San Ramon)

    How she voted 2021-2022


    District 16 Demographics

    Voter Registration





    No party


    Campaign Contributions

    Asm. Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has taken at least
    $1.1 million
    from the Party
    sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents
    of her total campaign contributions.

    Still, we must take further action on menstrual equity. Currently 1 in 3 low-income women miss school or work because they lack menstrual hygiene products, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. We are pursuing a new legislative amendment, Senate Bill 260, that would give low-income people who are menstruating (the policy also benefits transgender and nonbinary people) a monthly stipend to pay for them by expanding the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs, program. Budget experts say these products cost about $20 a month. 

    By pushing for menstrual equity, we’re sending a message. Research shows women in public office tend to propose more gender parity legislation. But it also tends to die in committees at twice the rate of their male colleagues. That’s why we need more young women to get involved in the political process. We need to build a pipeline of would-be leaders who are ready, willing and able to step up.

    A menstrual product dispenser on campus at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill on March 28, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

    We are lucky – neither of us have experienced any obvious sexism in our political careers so far. That’s partly because we are working in broad youth-led coalitions in California. Our leadership is diverse, thriving and intentional about broad empowerment. But we are aware that people ask young men more often to step up and consider leadership seven times more often than women. That kind of gender imbalance is, in part, what leads to a lack of parity and more reggressive policies. 

    At the national level, a changing of the guard is happening for women in American politics. As key trailblazers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi step down from office, new doors are opening for the next generation of women in public life. In 1992, there were only two women in the U.S. Senate when Feinstein first ran for office. There are 24 today, but it’s still far from an equal balance. Feinstein and Pelosi deserve credit for their part in this culture shift.

    That’s also why we’re proud of our bill author, state Sen. Caroline Menjivar of Van Nuys, who’s a member of the Latino, LGBTQ+ and women’s caucuses and represents the effort to pioneer intersectional feminism.

    Today’s political leaders can be young women, women of color, queer, trans women and more. They can come from poverty or working-class families. They can be disabled. They can be open about their challenges with mental health. As a reimagine American politics, we need to consider all forms of diversity.

    There is still plenty of work to do, and we are eager to do it.



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