August 10, 2018
Writtern by WFC Staff
Transformation. Collaboration. Trust. Flexibility. Learning. Intersectionality. Well-being. Justice. Community.
These are the nine values that inform and guide our work here at the Women’s Foundation of California. Community is particularly important because we know without a doubt that real transformative change happens when we come together and work toward a shared vision. A shared vision of better economic opportunity. A shared vision toward health and safety for our loved ones and families. A shared vision toward equity and justice. Sometimes, the perfect catalyst for this type of change is the courage and drive of two people wanting to make sure that the people in their communities are not overlooked.
In 2005, two fellows from the first class of the Women’s Policy Institute-State, Julia Liou and Anuja Mendiratta, worked on two bills related to toxins in personal care products. Julia worked at Asian Health Services, a community health center based in Oakland, where one of their outreach workers began noticing an increasing number of community members, mostly Asian immigrant women, working in nail salons were experiencing a multitude of health issues. It was later documented that nail salon workers can experience chronic asthma, dermatitis, memory loss, reproductive health challenges, and sometimes even cancer. During the fellowship, Julia and Anuja recognized that the over-exposure to toxins and carcinogens in the nail care products was an economic, reproductive, and gender justice issue. As a result, the two co-founded the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative to improve the health, safety, and rights of women in the nail salon industry.
The Foundation’s support of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative did not end with the co-founders’ involvement in the WPI-State. In 2006 the Foundation awarded the Collaborative its first grant. Today, the Foundation continues to support the work of the Collaborative as a current grant partner.
Now, 15 years later, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and the movement to secure healthy and safe environments and products for nail salon workers has expanded beyond the Bay Area and across the state of California. Since its founding, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative has successfully worked with local county jurisdictions to create the first guidelines for businesses interested in getting recognized as healthy salons. The Collaborative successfully co-sponsored the Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program, AB 2125, with author Assemblymember David Chiu in 2016. The Bill established state support for the expansion of local voluntary healthy nail salon recognition programs throughout California. The Collaborative also established the first coordinated statewide working group around healthy nail salon implementation. They have also conducted occupational safety and health trainings for thousands of nail salon workers and owners across the state. Inspired by the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, organizations in Minneapolis, Seattle, Colorado, and Canada are using their efforts as a model for addressing this issue in their area. Senator Kamala Harris even released a federal bill this year modeled after California’s Healthy Nail Salon Bill. This year, the Collaborative’s work was recognized by Governor Brown thru the Governor’s Economic and Environmental Leadership Award.
We spoke with Co-Founder and Director, Julia Liou to hear some of her thoughts on the importance of community, intersectionality, and their current efforts around the Reproductive Justice Ambassador Training program. As Co-Founder and Director of the Collaborative since it’s inception, Julia Liou will now be transitioning to sit on the Collaborative’s Steering Committee, and handing the baton over to Lisa Fu. Lisa has been the Collaborative’s Outreach and Programs Director since 2007.
Women’s Foundation of California (WFC): Can you share with us why community and relationship-building are important and how it informs your work?
Julia Liou: One of our main guiding principles is about lifting up the voice of nail salon community members who are affected and impacted. It is also about understanding the root issues at hand and listening to the nail salon community as they are the ones with the best solutions to the Reproductive and Economic Justice issues they are facing. We have learned so much from the nail salon community–it has provided us with insights and perspectives that have shaped our work. That is why building trust with the community and fostering deep relationships is a critical element to our work as many workers come from countries with a history of punishing those who speak out. There is often a great fear that speaking out will result in the loss of their livelihood. It has been important for us to take into account the multitude of factors that contribute to the Reproductive Justice issues workers face, and the challenges and obstacles. In doing so, we can mobilize the appropriate resources and expertise needed with our partner organizations and more effectively advocate for change.
Women’s Foundation of California (WFC): What is it about this program that gives the workers the confidence they need to speak up and voice their concerns?
Julia Liou: We honor and acknowledge the experience, challenges and daily concerns of workers. And we work with them to address these concerns with a cultural, racial, and class lens. The majority of our trainees are recent immigrants who speak little to no English so many of the concepts related to advocacy, Reproductive Justice, policy, speaking out, etc. are foreign and new. Having a bilingual community health worker who is from the community and conducts the trainings has been key. In addition, the trainings are structured so that there are role playing activities, opportunities for trainees to take on volunteer roles at meetings, opportunities to practice talking about Reproductive Justice concepts in their own words and in their own language with their own family, friends and with each other. Ambassadors are provided the space to share their stories with each other, and build community with one another which builds social cohesion. Ambassadors are also provided opportunities to practice their new leadership skills in a safe space in addition to many different settings, including community, local, and state venues with the support of bicultural and bilingual staff.
Women’s Foundation of California (WFC): Can you all talk about how the work of the Collaborative is intersectional?
Julia Liou: The work of the Collaborative is intersectional on so many levels. Given the majority of workers are female, low-income immigrants who are women of color, our work naturally focuses on developing strategies and solutions with a women of color, worker and immigrant rights, race and class lens. The Reproductive Justice issues that workers experience also cross public health, environmental justice, and occupational health arenas. Our work over time has evolved in the sense that we have learned how to implement multifaceted strategies to effectively build organizational membership and community involvement while catalyzing systems and infrastructure change through state and local policy. We have been able to do this only because we have recognized we cannot do this work alone. Bringing together AND leveraging the diverse expertise, assets and skills of our organizational members, partners and researchers while ensuring thoughtful leadership building and engagement with the community have been essential to paving a path of change for immigrant women of color in this industry.