National Organization for Women – 2014 Conference
Report by Anne Hoiberg
The hot June wind of a 95-degree Albuquerque served as a force pushing women to unite in solving the critical issues of our lives. During the opening plenary of the National Organization for Women’s national conference, “Faces of Feminism: Strength in Diversity,” NOW President Terry O’Neill graciously urged a diverse audience of 300 activists to mobilize for an end to violence against women and an increase in women’s political representation as well as to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment ratification, equal pay, a livable wage, affordable health and child care, reproductive health rights, and social justice. She introduced two local elected officials, followed by Keynote Speaker Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD).
A strong proponent of stopping violence against women, Rep. Edwards emphasized that
“Women represent 51%–we are not a special interest group. We have to fight for our issues. To ensure that these issues are addressed, we have to elect more women.”
She continued that It is important for us to “flip the script” by recruiting many more women to run for elected office. She tied women’s political representation with having advocates in office who will create legislation to end all forms of violence against women. She reminded us that “Men in Congress have been counterproductive,” . . . especially in slashing funds for programs benefiting women and families.
Stopping Violence against Women and Girls
In the workshop on ending gender-based violence, a crucial solution proposed was engaging men in stopping violence against women and girls, the most pervasive human rights violation on earth. Presenter Larry Hinojos, Coordinator of Male Violence Prevention, discussed his violence prevention work, whose message he feels is especially important to be heard by boys (and girls) in middle schools. In his presentations, he redefines masculinity and explains what it is to be a man—and what they need to know about dating rights, healthy relationships, and the word, consent. He urges an end to “men’s privilege” as related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Men and boys are encouraged to become active in the Men’s Movement and to accept the role of being an upstanding citizen rather than a bystander. That is, in a potential violent situation, such as a sexual assault, men and boys need to step in and protect their brothers and sisters from becoming either a perpetrator or a victim of gender-based violence.
Larry was asked whether or not he is accepted in his work promoting women’s rights. He responded that by virtue of his job at a Rape Crisis Center “men like me in this field can very easily be granted ‘star status’ in that women view me and other male coordinators as heroes in our efforts to end gender-based violence.” The attendees applauded his humor and honesty. He truly is a star in our eyes. His involvement in this work at the Rape Crisis Center grew out of his violent family background.
The first part of this gender-based workshop, presented by Summer Little and Angela Catena, provided a description of the comprehensive Gendered Violence Prevention Program at the University of New Mexico. The program involves prevention of sexual assault through education, partnerships, events, training sessions, speakers’ bureau, administration efforts, and collaborations with community agencies and organizations, including UNM police department, Title IX, and fraternities. An increase in services has broadened advocacy and awareness efforts.
The Equal Rights Amendment
Another well-attended workshop, “Re-energizing the ERA and Putting Diversity at the Center,” addressed the need to add, finally, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a proposed 28th amendment. The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, stands as the only women-specific amendment in the U.S. Constitution, dating back to 1920. The second women-specific amendment, the ERA, was written by attorney and suffragist, Alice Paul in 1923. Although introduced in each congressional session over the years, the ERA was not passed by Congress until 1972, after which it was sent to the states for ratification. Thirty-five states supported ratification, but 38 states in favor were needed for adoption to the Constitution.
One of the panelists commented that had women been protected with the ERA in our Constitution, court cases of domestic violence, unequal pay, sex discrimination, and reproductive rights would have been easier to defend. Others claim that we have our rights protected, but we do not have our rights guaranteed, to paraphrase ERA author Alice Paul. We need the ERA for that reason. Would such U.S. Supreme Court decisions as equal pay, Hobby Lobby, violence against women, or Walmart have had a different conclusion with the ERA in our Constitution?
The ERA continues to be introduced in each opening session of Congress. Lobbying is needed to have Congress consider supporting one of two strategies: 1) the “three-state” bill requiring only three more states to ratify, joining the 35 states that ratified prior to 1982 and 2) to begin afresh with the “Fresh Start Strategy,” that would require 38 states to ratify the ERA, including the original 35 states.
More Workshops and Film
Other workshops that I attended were “Religion, Race, and Oppression” and “Economic Independence for Survivors of Domestic Violence.” Throughout the three days, “Feminist Flicks” were screened, including the four I attended: After Tiller, Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation, Miss Representation, and Anita: Speaking Truth to Power.
At the conference conclusion, we all were aware that our work is laid out for us: increase the number of women in elected office, end gender-based violence, push for ERA ratification, promote health and child care, fight for equal pay and a livable wage, stop religious oppression, and work for social justice. Shall we begin!