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BERKELEY'S NEWS • SEPTEMBER 20, 2023

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Women trailblazers in past, present pave the way

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SOPHIA VANDERHEYM AND JIM HENDRY | COURTESY

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APRIL 17, 2023

The grit and determination of female trailblazers past and present have paved the way for female politicians and female-centered legislation.

Women in office such as Berkeley City Councilmembers Sophie Hahn and Kate Harrison noted that they have had to overcome overt acts of discrimination to get to where they are now.

Influenced by the Free Speech Movement, Civil Rights Movement and the sexism she experienced in her own life, Hahn centralized these key issues in her platform.

During the Free Speech Movement, Hahn remembers sitting on the shoulders of her father at the edges of protests. She said she witnessed the violence that ensued, the tear gas and the armed national guard members parading the streets of Berkeley as people fought for their rights. 

“The idea of equal rights, the vision of a community where everybody is equal and not judged by the color of their skin their background, their gender, that is deeply embedded in me that was the great aspiration of those times, was to create a better and truly equal and nonviolent society, and I am still deeply committed to those ideals,” Hahn said.

From her efforts to address the city’s houselessness crisis, reparations for African American city residents and anti-plastic legislation to her commitment to Roe v. Wade and paid family leave, her work has been influenced by her experiences of unparalleled “activism and participation” during the 1960s and 1970s.

In course of her career, Hahn said she has faced many acts of sexist discrimination from dress code, maternity leave and inappropriate office behavior to criticism for her pro-choice stance on reproductive rights. These challenges fueled her extensive work in advocating for women’s rights, she noted.

Hahn spent time volunteering for organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Bay Area Women Against Rape and was involved in many reproductive rights efforts in her time as a council member.

“Women are still expected to work much harder than men and know things on a much more of a deep level than men are,” Harrison said. “We tend to question ourselves more about our abilities and our qualifications and so there’s a little sensor inside that affects us … It doesn’t mean that women can’t do well in politics, they can, I think it’s a little more of a struggle.”

Harrison said she experienced sexism on multiple accounts in her time as a city council member. Despite her extensive experience, education and commitment to Berkeley, she alleged she faced significant opposition from recent male master’s graduates without job experience.

Harrison explained that women face bias when it comes to criminal justice decisions because they are considered “soft on crime.” She also noted that women are still expected to be physically pleasing where men can get away with being more “awkward looking.”

Despite these challenges, Harrison has prevailed and been influenced by a myriad of female politicians. Inspired by the toughness of Elizabeth Warren, the directness of Katie Porter and so many others, she has worked toward much change in government.

As a city council member, Harrison supported banning natural gas in new buildings in Berkeley and chartered amendments creating a stronger Police Accountability Board and two climate equity initiatives that help people from low-income backgrounds join efforts to promote environmentalism. Harrison advises young women in politics to “not give up (and) really just be true to your values.”

“It’s important for everyone to remember that we all stand on the shoulders of brave activists who came before us and we are not alone and the fight for justice and equality continues,” Hahn said. “As someone who is in their early 60’s, I am focused more than ever on supporting the next generation of feminists and civil rights activists.”

Contact Madison Creekbaum at 

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APRIL 17, 2023