Who we are:
OWL was created in 1980 immediately following the White House Mini-Conference on Older Women convened in Des Moines, Iowa. Since its inception, OWL members have been a reliable and persistent voice for mid-life and older women. The first national agenda of the organization addressed access to health insurance, Social Security and pensions. Since those early days, we have added other agenda items but these core issue areas remain central to our mission. OWL works to provide mutual support for its members, to achieve economic and social equity for its constituents, and to serve as the bridge between women’s groups and organizations representing the aging.
OWL continues to be the only national membership organization that advocates solely from the perspective of now over 70 million mid-life and older women—the demographic that is the strongest voting bloc in most any election. Over the past 31 years, OWL has been responsible for, and involved in, many policy changes.
• OWL developed model legislation “The Health Insurance Rights Act” which is adopted by Louisiana, Oregon, Maryland and Kansas.
• OWL celebrated passage of the Retirement Equity Act which it pushed for in its infancy.
• OWL initiated an educational and advocacy campaign which resulted in the passage of COBRA – federal law that offered workers access to continued coverage after their employer -sponsored health coverage ends.
• OWL researched, published and promoted the first of our 23 signature Mother’s Day reports (“Give ‘Em Health”).
• OWL testified in the House Select Committee on Aging hearings on older women.
• OWL initiated a task force of unions, health care providers, women and aging organizations and researchers to examine the health care workforce.
• OWL testified before Congress on the Older Worker’s Benefit Protection Act which was signed into law in 1990—a key expansion of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
• OWL wrote and distributed over 60,000 copies of educational materials on COBRA health care continuation through the Health Insurance Continuation Project. The materials included a packet for lawyers in taking on health care continuation cases.
• OWL’s Mother’s Day Report on caregiving (“The Daughter Track”) inspired Newsweek to publish a cover story on the topic and identified OWL as the only national organization that consistently focused on the issue of caregiving and the plight of caregivers.
• OWL organized the Campaign for Women’s Health joined by 40 national women’s organizations and unions.
• OWL’s Mother’s Day report “Paying for Prejudice: A Report on Midlife and Older women in America’s Labor Force” was issued; our legislative staff testified on age and sex discrimination faced by older women.
• OWL was asked to serve on the Congressional Study Group on women’s retirement income.
• OWL developed a national directory of caregiving programs and best practices.
• OWL founded a pension counseling center in St Louis (Gateway St. Louis OWL chapter) with a grant from the Administration on Aging.
• OWL drafted model legislation to fight violence and financial abuse against women – introduced in the House by Rep. Maloney and the Senate by Senator Durbin.
• OWL was solicited by The White House to host a town meeting on Social Security with President Clinton and SSA Commissioner Kenneth Apfel.
• OWL supporters nationwide are actively involved in coalitions to advocate for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
• OWL members advocated for Elder Justice Act advocacy.
• OWL fought for passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
• OWL has provided leadership on strengthening Social Security for over 30 years. Our Social Security Matters campaign develops and distributes factual information about Social Security through traditional and new media (i.e. videos, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) which engages women across generations to advocate strengthening the program.
2011 and beyond!
With OWL’s proud and accomplished past as a foundation, we are positioning ourselves to make significant contributions to the well-being of mid-life and older women in the future. Recently we have begun organizational shifts which will ensure our relevance and capacity to serve our changing demographics. Our newly elected Board is diverse on every level. There is ethnic diversity –we added two strong Latino leaders, several African Americans who represent grassroots organizations, and three new women with extensive fundraising experience. Our new president has expertise in team building which will serve us well on the Board and with membership building. Our new executive director, Bobbie Brinegar, has vast development experience. She is an experienced issue advocate and strategist with proven ability to assemble broad-based support to move issues in a complex public policy environment. We also formed several task forces, one an impressive group of experts on Social Security, another on health policy and we are putting together an economic advisory group.
In line with our priority of capacity building, OWL has identified experts who will help develop competitive funding proposals. We plan to reexamine our membership structure and outreach methods and modernize our public face. OWL is in the unusual position of punching above its weight, of having earned a seat at the right tables. To take advantage of this status, we would benefit greatly from additional resources while we grow a broader funding base.
OWL co-founders Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields recognized the importance of jobs for older women. This was an organizing issue for our founders and today, this issue takes on new importance. OWL is once again preparing to combat age and sex discrimination in employment and to help midlife and older women get a fair share of training and targeted jobs programs. Policymakers are looking for a go-to resource for older women with work advocacy issues; it is an occasion for OWL to step up to help create appropriate employment options for a more resilient aging workforce. This effort, along with our activism on other pressing issues affecting women throughout their lifespan, will ensure that OWL continues to be a critical voice for generations of women well into the future.