The message from Day One of the second annual Feminist Majority’s Women Money Power Summit was loud and clear: Do not let Congress turn back the clock on women’s reproductive health. At a time when women and low-income families are being disproportionately targeted by potential budget cuts, women must spread the word that these changes would mean a drastic setback for women’s rights.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) began the opening assembly on Thursday with a reference to the movie Back to the Future, noting that women’s progress since the 1960s has been dramatic and that the momentum must keep us pressing forward, rather than backward–where the proposed cuts would certainly lead. Speier made it clear to those of us who were born after the fight for abortion rights had already been won just how fundamental it is to women’s progress in government and other leadership positions, as reproductive rights give us the ability to choose when and if we’ll become mothers. The takeaway was that choice is fundamental to women gaining access to money and power.
The appearance of House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who was honored today, was the highlight for myself and other young feminist activists, who had waited with bated breath to be in the same room as the longtime champion of women’s rights and first woman Speaker of the House. A young feminist leader from a local chapter of the Feminist Majority’s Choices Campus Leadership Program spoke of her excitement about seeing a woman who “shattered the glass ceiling before I was even born.”
Pelosi spoke of the progress that has come from health-care reform legislation, and fired us up with the necessity to continue pressing for its provisions to be enacted. She noted recent bills that threaten to restrict access to abortion and zero out all Title X funding for family planning, but also pointed out another potential threat to women’s health that isn’t getting as much attention as a feminist issue: the proposed House Republican overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid.
After the luncheon, with her words still ringing in our ears, many of the participants at the Summit headed out to Capitol Hill we to speak to legislators about these issues. It’s easy to feel that such issues are out of your control, particularly if you’re a woman without a lot of money or power, but Rep. Speier had one answer: Elect more women to Congress. She had everyone in the room clapping when she said, “For the young women who are here in the room, you need to step up and think about running! For the older women in the room, you need to step up and think about running! … This is about making sure that the feminist majority we all want to create is created in our lifetimes.”
As a young woman, I do not know first-hand what a world without access to birth control and abortion looks like, and hearing these women talk about what the time that “we can’t go back to” is frightening. But I came away inspired from being in the presence of women whose passion and struggle have made a better world for me and other young women. I’m reminded, too, of the true sisterhood that we all share, and the hard work that lies ahead.
Woman power symbol from Wikimedia Commons