In case you missed our symposium a few weeks back, it featured some of the most influential women in the legal, technological, and political professions. And while we discussed many of the challenges that women face across these professions, the symposium also articulated strategies for overcoming these obstacles, and highlighted the progress that women continue to make in the professional realm.
Keynote Speaker Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi opened the event with an invigorating discussion about her rise to political heights and the political measures she believes are essential to achieving women’s equality. Suggesting that the contemporary women’s movement find inspiration in its historical roots, she called upon the bravery of the women who participated in the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. At a time when women were not even allowed to speak in mixed company, these women nonetheless declared: “such is now the necessity of women to demand equal station to which they are entitled.” Similarly, Leader Pelosi rejected an “incremental” approach to women’s rights, and instead urged the audience to “kick open the door and think in more drastic ways about empowering women.”
As for how to “kick open the door,” Leader Pelosi spoke about the “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” initiative, which proposes multiple bills aimed at empowering women in the workplace. The three issues that the initiative addresses are pay equity, paid sick leave, and affordable, quality childcare. True to the name of the initiative, Leader Pelosi noted that though these bills are particularly relevant to working women, if passed, they would benefit society as a whole.
Leader Pelosi also touched on campaign reform as a strategy for empowering women in the political realm. She advocated for reducing the role of money in politics and creating a more civil political atmosphere, and insisted if these two things were achieved, more women would be elected to public office.
Leader Pelosi ended her speech similarly to how she began – by honoring the women who have pioneered and sustained the struggle for gender equality. She told a story of her first meeting at the White House after being elected to the House leadership. As President Bush welcomed her, she described feeling the strong presence of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Agnes McPhail, and Sojourner Truth. She could hear them saying: “At last we have a seat at the table.”
As a HWLJ member and symposium participant, I cannot think of a better way to have begun our 25th Anniversary. Leader Pelosi reminded the audience that while gender inequality still exists in society, so does the Women’s Rights Movement, which is only as strong as we make it. She stressed that women’s empowerment is not freely given, but demanded, and reinforced HWLJ’s motto, “If you're gonna go out on a limb, you might as well grow your own tree.”
-- Laura Holtan, 2L Senior Symposium Editor