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NYC Now Has a Council Advocating for Women, Trans People, and Intersex People

This morning, Mayor de Blasio announced that he has appointed Azadeh Khalili as the first ever executive director of New York City's Commission on Gender Equity. We spoke to Khalili about her quest to ensure that women and non-binary people can live...
March 1, 2016, 5:45pm
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This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he has appointed Azadeh Khalili as the first ever executive director of New York City's Commission on Gender Equity. The Commission advocates for "women, transgender and intersex individuals…to achieve greater gender fairness in this city." In her position, according to a press release, Khalili will "expand and increase opportunity for all New Yorkers regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation in order to build a city that is safe and free of discrimination."

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In the past 20 years, Khalili has worked to advance sexual, reproductive, and human rights. "Azi has connected countless New Yorkers to City services and spent decades in the field of human rights," said Mayor de Blasio in a statement. "Her passion and commitment to NYC will serve us well as we work to create a city that is fair, safe and full of opportunity for all."

In June of last year, the Commission of Gender Equity replaced the Commission on Women's Issues with the goal of becoming inclusive to other gender identities. Khalili, who has a history of working on behalf of marginalized communities, plans to use her government and philanthropic experiences to work towards that goal. "A number of my previous positions have really helped me learn how you move an agenda within the government. That's not easy, as you can imagine," she says.

Watch More: Dressing the Part: Meet the Consultant Teaching Trans Women How to Be 'Feminine'

We spoke to Khalili about what New York City can expect from her and the new Commission and how things will be different this time.

Azadeh Khalili with 13 women who graduated from MOIA's Immigrant Women's Fellowship. Image courtesy the Mayor's Office.

Broadly: Can you tell me about your career leading up to becoming the executive director of the Commission on Gender Equity?
Azadeh Khalili: Absolutely, I have been inside and outside of government for the past 20 years. I've been in government in the not-for-profit sector, and in philanthropy and have had the good fortune of working on reproductive rights, human rights, and low-wage worker's rights. I've had the good fortune of working with young people. In the last period at the de Blasio Administration I was working at the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which works to benefit immigrants economically, politically, and socially, and works on the integration of immigrant communities. I was working on expanding access to local government for folks who are not proficient in English. About 25 percent of New Yorkers don't speak English, so my job was to really make sure that that population had access to city government.

So, what are the new Commission's responsibilities exactly?
The Commission on Gender Equity is a new commission. No other administration has had a Commission on Gender Equity. Basically, in June the Mayor signed an executive order creating this Commission, and the role of the Commission is to ensure that women in New York City live with dignity and equity, free from violence and discrimination based on gender. I think that's a huge vision. Specifically, the role of the Commission is to promote economic, social, and physical well-being for women, girls, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, queer, and intersex people, and to develop policies that promote opportunities for these populations. The Commission will be advising the mayor on policies and executive orders that will create better outcomes for these populations.

The role of the Commission is to ensure that women in New York City live with dignity and equity, free from violence and discrimination based on gender.

Do you have any gender specific issues in mind which you plan to tackle?
I think that the Commission is certainly taking on safety issues and violence against women. That's really one of our priorities. The second priority is economic development and economic opportunity for these populations. The third thing is reproductive justice, making sure that these populations have access to reproductive services and that there are policies out there that are just and equitable.

Do you think the new Commission will serve as an example for other cities?
As you know, New York often is a good role model for other cities. When New York moves, so do a lot of other cities around the country. We really are one of the first gender equity commissions, and I absolutely do think we will be a role model for other cities.

I know that this Commission replaced the Commission on Women's Issues. How do you think this one improves on its predecessor?
One is that we are really expanding the work which was done under the previous administration and we are going beyond women. We have created a gender equity commission, so we are really thinking very broadly about gender, and we're really thinking broadly about equity. I think the fact that we have an executive director whose job is to very specifically work with local government and key players to take on this fight really speaks to how we're expanding the role of this Commission.

We are really thinking very broadly about gender, and we're really thinking broadly about equity.

So you're making it more inclusive and working with smaller branches of government across the city?
That's right. We will be working with city agencies and holding them accountable on a number of outcomes that we will be setting forth in the next period.

As its first executive director, what unique views do you bring to the Commission on Gender Equity?
I am an Iranian woman. I was born and raised in another country and I've also worked inside and outside of government. I've been an advocate, so I bring all of who I am. I also bring my experiences to the table and a number of my previous positions have really helped me learn how you move an agenda within the government. That's not easy, as you can imagine. I am here to really harness the best thinking of our commission members and then operationalize that and I'm good at that. My role is to work with our city agencies and move our agenda forward through these big institutions. Our hope is that in the next six months, the Gender Equity Commission will be known in New York City and people will have very high expectations of us, and that we create a city which is safe for girls, women, bisexuals, transgender [people], and intersex individuals.