On March 12th and 13th I had the privilege of attending the seventh annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., which is sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation.
I was fortunate enough to network with young feminists (both men and women) from all over the country who are working hard at their campuses and in their communities to advance equality.
For the first time in my life I was completely surrounded by others who, despite our geographical differences, were just like me. They were just as passionate and aggressive for issues like affordable and accessible birth control, equal pay and pro-choice.
One thing that was thoroughly emphasized throughout the weekend and is also an issue I strongly believe in and advocate for is that we need more women in leadership and political positions.
In order for women to get elected to political positions or promoted to leaders of companies, they need to develop their skills at an early age. It’s critical that we encourage young women in high school and college to run for student government.
During elections there is always one winner and one loser. Women are less likely than men to run again even after they’ve lost. For example, Casey Steitler, President-Elect of ASUN ran last year and lost but he didn’t let that faze him. He kept very active in ASUN and ran again for president and ultimately won.
We need to make sure women don’t feel defeated or worthless and can pick themselves up and try again just like Mr. Stietler.
The conference opened with a panel of pioneers and heroines of the second and third-wave (First: Get the vote Second: Get the choice Third: Modern inequities) feminist movements: Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neill, the chief of staff to the First Lady and the Director of the Committee on the Status of Women and Girls Tina Tchen.
These women have paved the road for the next generation of feminists to take over the steering wheel. While their fight will never cease to exist, it’s up to our generation of women and men to continue the fight for an equitable society.
Another panel of women who specialize on international women’s rights and health reminded us that it is our generation leading the revolutions in the Middle-East and that women, despite their lack of publicity, are leading the way.
In fact, last year, male Iranians wore scarves in solidarity with Muslim women during Iran’s revolt against their dictator. Middle Eastern women are leading the movement everyday; they’re risking imprisonment and their lives to speak out for freedom.
Closing the conference Sunday evening was Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis speaking to a room with more than 500 feminists. She is the first Latina appointee in a president’s cabinet and works everyday for sex and racial equality in the labor force.
“Women, no matter how highly educated are, are still discriminated against,” Solis warned.
The NYFLC inspired me beyond words. I heard first hand from international and American feminists what they are doing to advance women’s rights.
My favorite line from the conference was during the general assembly by Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, regarding President Obama. I volunteered on the campaign to elect Barack Obama for nearly eighteen months. I always believed he would be elected and I remain a strong supporter and advocate of the president’s policies and goals.
I sat in the front row, directly in front of Ellie and sensed she was talking directly to me as she proclaimed, “You are the generation that gave America its first African American president. You will be the generation to lead a revolution.”