Following the success of the inaugural NYSUT Women's Conference last March, delegates to the 2017 Representative Assembly made the Ad Hoc Women's Steering Committee a permanent standing committee. NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango vowed to continue the work begun at that conference.
Judging by the enthusiastic participation and comments at the first meeting of the NYSUT Women's Committee in December, DiBrango is well on her way.
The Women's Committee seeks to educate members about the work of the union — whose membership is 76 percent female — and to highlight women-specific issues, including inequities in pay, health care and education. Getting more female unionists involved in member retention and organizing in light of the Janus v. AFSCME case looming before the U.S. Supreme Court, is also a goal.
"We're living through a very real, very painful but transformative moment for women in this country," said DiBrango, noting the #MeToo campaign highlighting sexual harassment and national women's marches. "I'm hoping this movement becomes a revolution where women, particularly labor women, lead the way."
I'm a NYSUT woman
One member suggestion launched an impromptu photo op, with each woman penning why she is "a NYSUT woman" and posing with her placard. Answers included, "because our voice is heard," "I'm a proud feminist activist" and "I believe in fairness."
The meeting event used a "world café" meeting format to foster dialogue, encourage active listening and break down barriers to large-group communication. Participants broke into eight small-group "nations," representing the four best and four worst countries for women's rights, and rotated as a unit brainstorming ideas, and penning thoughts on sheets of butcher paper covering each table. Notes were compiled to determine committee goals.
Recurring themes at the December meeting included helping women find their voices and better support one another, preparing more women to seek elected office and combatting sexual harassment. Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, recalled feeling intimidated at faculty meetings as a young teacher. "We need to help young women learn how to empower themselves," she said. "From becoming better self advocates, to learning how to handle unwanted sexual advances."
The group adopted four committee goals for the months ahead: developing a mentoring toolkit for young female members; preparing a Why in Five card, for women and men, about sexual harassment; highlighting stories about female union members; and having a Women's Committee booth at the NYSUT RA in April.
The meeting also offered an opportunity to help others. Committee members raised $478 for WomenOne, a non-profit helping women and girls worldwide have access to education. Members also practiced self care at a designated "zen den" relaxation space.
For resources, including posters, handouts and photos, visit www.nysut.org/women.