In view of March being Women’s History Month and celebrating International Women’s Day, it is only right that we take a moment to acknowledge and spotlight the incredible women-led initiatives and gender equality focused organizations within San Francisco.
The Women’s Building, a non-profit organization located in the Mission District, has been empowering women and advocating for change for nearly three decades. Check out how their organization came to be and the ways you can support their efforts.
Can you give us a brief introduction on yourself and your position in the organization?
My name is Tania Estrada, and I am the Executive Director at the Women’s Building. I am a Latina, immigrant, Mexican mother of two young girls, Maia and Aime. I’m also an organizational psychologist with a master’s in clinical psychology originally from Mexico, and I have been involved with the Women’s Building for 10 years, I’ve been in the US for 11. A little after I came to San Francisco, I got involved with the Women’s Building. My path actually started as a volunteer of the Community Resource Room, where we assisted clients in the job search and the technology area. We were a small team in programs in the Community Resource Room, where all of our programs came from in that magical room.
Now, we are around 20 to 15 staff members in the program’s team and our organization is about 25 employees, which has really grown and specifically, the programs have grown by eight fold since I started at the organization. So that’s pretty amazing. And we have also added new programs to our organization, which also makes me very happy. So, I am bilingual and multicultural, and I have been developing teams for women’s empowerment and gender equality and social justice and community work right now. I do work at the Women’s Building to face all of those social injustices and challenges faced by women specifically, and especially immigrant women and their families.
Tell us about your organization.
The Women’s Building is historically a women-led and community-driven space in the Mission District that provides resources to women and girls in our community to recognize their collective power and self determination. The organization started in 1971. And the building was bought in 1979. The organization has since then represented and been guided by the belief that women and girls have the right to have the same values and create life. The Women’s Building serves both as a symbol of women’s strength and leadership and as a concrete vehicle of organizing progressive social change and identifies women’s issues all in different contexts: the political, cultural, economic realities that affect the quality of women.
The Women’s Building is also a hub for other in-house organizations. We are an actual building in the Mission District that also rents the space to other nine nonprofit organizations at an affordable rate. We have done that for more than 150 organizations that have started at the Women’s Building and have grown and have moved out of the organization. In ways, they consider our building a hub for those grassroots women organizations in San Francisco, and we also as part of our building, we also have community space.
Why should people be excited about what your organization is doing?
I think about many things, right? We serve women whose voices have been diminished by society for years and they face critical barriers to navigate economic justice and empowerment in their communities. They experienced greater risks of losing their jobs, putting food on the table, and losing their homes. They face discrimination because of gender, race, language, country of origin and legal status.
The Women’s Building has become a hub for immigrant women. And it’s the first time and the last stop, it’s the first step and the last stop in their journey to get here. Once they come to the Women’s Building, they will find the help that they need here, either with our internal programs or through our partners. And if the service that they’re looking for, they don’t find it here, we definitely refer them to the best place for their rights.
In a way you can see that from the minute they walk through our front doors, we welcome them into our family, we’d set up an appointment with them in our community resource room, we complete an assessment, and then we establish with them a holistic plan that meets their needs. We focus on what they need, what they want to do first, right, we’re here just to support that, you know, self plan for them for their families, they utilize our in-house organizations a lot. We also have a financial coaching program, a job search program technology, we did taxes for free housing programs, so we have a lot of programs that in many ways, can help all holistically with a holistic approach, right. And I think the most important thing is also that we treat everyone with dignity and respect. And since all of our staff in programs is bilingual in Spanish, culturally, it matters because we receive them with the same language, and we will navigate the obstacles with them as we did when we came, so they see themselves reflected in us in ways and that culturally helps a lot to feel safe in an environment where they are already vulnerable to for help.
What current or future challenges are there to your work?
Well, I think there’s a lot to start. Women get very minimal funding from all of the foundations in the nation, only 1.9% goes to women. And if we talk about the BIPOC community, it’s even less than that. So we’re looking at like, 0.5%, that’s really minimal, we really need to start investing in women more because we have faced a lot of challenges and our role is important and indispensable, leading that attention and that investment in women. The gentrification in San Francisco, particularly here in the Mission District displaces the people who made San Francisco on the mission, what it is right now, or what it used to be. The displacement is just awful.
It’s very interesting because we are one of the richest cities, let’s say with two of the highest tech companies in the world. Yet, we have one of the highest rates of homelessness, unsheltered homeless, and with that is also the high cost of housing. In all of San Francisco, but especially in a mission, so I think the gentrification, the housing risk of losing it, the high cost of living. The wages that are not equitable, really puts our city, our sanctuary city, at risk. Right. And with that, also the criminalization deportation pipeline. San Francisco scapegoats immigrants and conflict, conflating immigration with drug use and sales that also puts our sanctuary at risk. The other thing is also economic equality for women. We have a coaching program in finance, we have tax, we do the taxes for free, we help them find a job. But really, we need more opportunities out there for them to be doing. We need opportunities that are accessible for our clients. In the job market, really, it is the job workforce where we want to push a lot more. But we cannot do that, as an only program, we’d have to look at it from many different places.
What are some foreseeable areas of growth at your organization?
The Women’s Building has gone through our strategic planning process, that has been a welcome opportunity for self reflection at both: the organization and the individual or the staff level, resulting in, in many ideas and many programs that we want to put together in a three-year roadmap that can lead to a greater impact and a long term organization. Now, sustainability, talking about the building itself. This strategic planning process was carefully designed. All staff is involved and participating in what the decisions of those programs, and that sustainability plan is going to look like, for the next couple of years. And some of the areas where we can see growth include the programmatic aspect of it.
We want to make our programs more tailored to our community, but also focus on our LGBTQ plus community, that in many ways, we didn’t necessarily have programs focused on them. But we’ll welcome them. We want to be a little bit more strategic on that, and upgrade our programmatic databases, expansion of our finance department like staff leadership. We want to build leadership roles within the organization, so that we can also provide opportunities of growth. We want to reduce the gap between the directors and the coordinators with a managerial level. Bring that plan to life, the sustainability plan to life with our in-house organization. We really want to take care of the building, as it has been the place where all of the community come from different parts of the world looking for help, and we want to be able to maintain it. We weren’t going to be raising some prices and doing some changes so that we can really have that plan from many different sources. But we also want to maintain affordable space, and to keep our grassroots organizations with us.
How can people get involved? And what’s the best way people can get in touch?
The best way to get in touch is with many sources. People can volunteer, donate, attend our events, spread the word, invite Women’s Building to speak at your school, your workplace or at an event to raise awareness about our mission and our advocacy efforts. Rent a space at the organization so that we can continue supporting our programs. Follow the Women’s Building on social media, like our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Definitely signing in to our newsletter. On our website, we have an e-newsletter. And in order for anyone to sign in there, you can go into our website, and at the bottom, it says, if you want to join the newsletter communication. That’s a great way to find out what it is that we did, or that we’re doing the following month, and all of that. And if anything, just contact us, contact our organization, stop by and ask the questions that you are more curious about. And then just let’s help each other. Spread the love, spread the word, and spread love.