The third day of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Women Money Power Summit in Washington, D.C., began with Ellie Smeal bearing the good news: The U.S. government would not shut down, and Title X funding was safe for now. She shouted at the general assembly,
I think we should be very proud of the fact that the women’s community fought back and said we won’t take an attack on women’s health!
The crowd was energized after hearing that our hard work to defend life-saving family-planning funding was successful, but, as Ellie made clear, we would have to continue to defend it: “What we do in the coming weeks matters,” she said. She told the audience, which had dedicated three full days to discussing issues of import to women, that our power would come from speaking, writing and sharing in any other way we can the truth about women’s rights–and that we will all be called back to Washington many more times before the next presidential election to do so:
This is going to be, without question, a two-year year fight. And when its over, you will learn this: you cannot step on the rights of women anymore!
The day’s events centered, then, on this component of sharing. Tying legislative action to things that we can do each day to promote women’s rights, Kathy Korman Frey, an adjunct professor at George Washington University who teaches a class on women’s entrepreneurial leadership, advocated for the mentorship of young women. Self-efficacy, she noted, is much higher in boys than in girls, and the way to counteract this is to expose young women to positive role models:
It’s asking another woman or girl, what is your dream?
She stressed that solid mentoring relationships can create the kind of world we are looking for, where women are leaders and our voices are heard.
Dee Martin, a former campus organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation and now running her own mentoring program, noted that she would not have achieved without the mentoring she received as a young woman:
The women in this room are my mentors. You took a kid from Arkansas and gave her a chance to stand on your shoulders.
It just takes one person, both Frey and Martin reiterated, to be a role model for a young woman to grow up and achieve what they would otherwise have thought was impossible.
This discussion continued as we broke into smaller workshops, one focusing on how we can bridge the gap that can occur between generations on which issues matter and what kind of activism works best. Some of the barriers we examined came from technology and new forms of social media, as well as from a lack of visibility/value given to young women in the movement. These conversations are absolutely imperative, because the generations must work together to be most effective.
As a young woman and organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation, I see the power of mentoring and the effects that working with older generations of feminists have on my own activism and knowledge. These relationships must continue and grow in strength; we must support each other if we are to fight the battles that lie ahead.
Photo of U.S. Capitol building by Flickr user Kevin Burkett, under license from Creative Commons 2.0