The United States will inaugurate Kamala Harris as vice president in January. But our nation still lacks true equality. Women don’t have full reproductive rights; economic equality; equal access to health care; and don’t hold positions of power in equal proportion to their numbers.
“Until women have equality in these areas, a women’s movement is still necessary,” said Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president. Those words underscored the theme “PowHERful” of the 2020 NYSUT Women’s Committee meeting in November, a virtual weekend focused on raising awareness about the challenges women face and learning how to support and empower the next generation of female leaders.
Session topics included recognizing and preventing human trafficking; disparities and implicit biases in women’s health care; fostering girls’ and women’s interest in science and math; and understanding how intersectionality — overlapping differences in gender, race and class — impacts discrimination. In an art session, participants used images and words to visually document their strengths. (Follow the link or scroll down to see a gallery of committee member art projects.)
New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon’s keynote address detailed how she rose from a traditional upbringing to co-found and lead SAG-AFTRA, a 165,000-member entertainment union, and become a statewide workers’ advocate. Reardon advised speaking up, being heard and getting comfortable with power, not undercutting it with humor or apologies. “Treat men the same way you treat women,” she said urging listeners to empower the next female vice president or president. “We have as much right to be there as anyone else.”
DiBrango and committee co-chairs Aisha Cook, New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees, and Leslie Rose, Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association, advocated amplifying women’s voices and harnessing their power as educators, leaders and activists.
Speaking up in difficult times is particularly important. “People assume that when you’re quiet, you’re ok,” said Cook who established the first NYSUT Women’s Committee in her local and is an AFT Women’s Committee member. “A fear of being viewed negatively keeps many girls and women from advocating for themselves.”
Women’s committees are important because they’re an “opportunity for members to feel connected to their local,” said Rose, co-founder of NYSUT Women of Long Island. “For women who don’t want to run for office, it’s another way to get involved.”
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, Second Vice President Ron Gross and Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, welcomed attendees. “I’m proud of the work you’re doing to encourage more members to take active roles in our union,” said Pallotta.
“Women’s history should be part of all classroom curriculums,” said Gross.
“Thanks for all of your work as part of the women’s committee, and for the support so many of you have provided for social justice causes,” said Abraham.
With the pandemic, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and Kamala Harris’ election, “2020 has been a year like no other … we have seen the lowest of lows and the highest of highs,” said DiBrango. “At our lowest, it’s easy to feel powerless, but women — our power, our ideas, our resiliency and our perseverance — are needed to lead now more than ever before.”
For more information about the NYSUT Women’s Committee, or to learn how to start a NYSUT Women’s Committee chapter in your local, visit nysut.org/women.
'Elements of Me' Art Project