WREN seeks to empower women, girls against ‘talon of patriarchy’

An organization that shares a name with South Carolina’s state bird officially took off Thursday night with a launch party in Columbia, and perhaps its most memorable supporter was one of its youngest.

WREN, the Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network, is a new organization whose stated goal is to build a movement to advance the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina’s women and girls and their families.

WREN evolved from the New Morning Foundation and foundation-supported programs such as Tell Them over the last decade.

Eme Crawford of WREN with Zoe Barber, 12, who gave a memorable speech. (Photo by Allen Wallace)

“We’re still dealing with issues that affect women and girls in South Carolina, and we’re looking at how these things are interconnected,” said Eme Crawford, WREN’s director of advocacy. “WREN is dealing with issue-education and building partnerships. One organization can’t do it alone.”

Crawford and most of the WREN staff formerly staffed Tell Them, where they helped lead the successful fight to pass the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act, among many other efforts on behalf of women and girls. The new organization will have a similar focus.

“We’re still keeping a focus on sexual reproductive health rights. We still see that as the basis of being able to live your life as you choose to live it,” said WREN policy and media associate Melissa Davis. She added that equal pay for women in the workforce and paid family-medical leave will be early priorities for WREN.

At Thursday’s launch, attended by hundreds, members of the community including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin stepped forward to share their hopes and goals for women in South Carolina – but 12-year-old Zoe Barber stole the show.

“I’m Zoe Barber, future president of the United States… 2048,” the young woman said, drawing applause and cheers. “My hope is for everyone to have equal rights and not be oppressed by the talons of the patriarchy… I’m not stopping even when people try to silence my voice. Oh, and don’t forget to register to vote.”

Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) was scheduled to speak at the event, but was called to serve on the coast with the South Carolina National Guard. Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) was absent due to a family emergency, but along with Banjamin, Columbia Democratic Rep.s Beth Bernstein and Mia McLeod were on hand to speak.

“We all know that we share a common goal for what needs to happen,” Benjamin said. “It’s going to require real activism. It takes sacrifice. It takes WREN.”

“Our male-dominated legislature insists upon making [health-related] decisions for us on a daily basis,” McLeod said. “Government has no place in any of those decisions for women or for men.”

“It’s going to take a lot of time,” Davis said. “The really great thing about the network is we understand our role isn’t always to take the lead, but we do have a lot of resources, power, and relationships that we can help other people.”

Photo by Allen Wallace

WREN will continue to support the work of other organizations working for the good of women and families, including but not limited to the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and South Carolina Equality.

“Although South Carolina has many challenges, we also have unbelievable opportunities,” McLeod said.

Crawford agreed, reflecting on the different faces who will be in the legislature for its next session and reiterating the eagerness of WREN, a nonpartisan organization, to work with all parties.

“It’s important for us to keep conversations going on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “These things we’re talking about are not women’s issues. They affect all of us. They affect all aspects of life.”

WREN will also host kickoff events this month in Greenville and Charleston. More information on the organization is available online.

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