The National Organization for Women (NOW), in conjunction with the Feminist Majority Foundation, sponsored a one day summit and congressional briefing in DC, Enough.Is.Enough, to address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and schools. The goal of the summit was to have speakers from all walks of life-legislators, activists, academics and survivors-explore various facets of sexual violence in workplaces and in schools. The speakers would address needed improvements in law and policy, recommendations for the most effective methods in preventing and dealing with sexual violence, and strategies to craft a more survivor-centric legal system.
NOW President Toni Van Pelt kicked off the conference talking about this pivotal moment in history for women. Women are angry and fed up with the status quo and it came to a head when Donald Trump was elected. The #MeToo movement has galvanized activists, men and women from across the country and has already spurred women legislators to sponsor legislation to make changes. Rep. Carolyn Maloney has introduced a bill in Congress that will no longer allow companies to tax deduct the payments they make for settlement or penalties for sexual harassment. Maloney talked about why this is needed and emphasized the importance of having the ERA passed NOW. Rep. Lois Frankel spoke on the importance of calling out sexual harassment. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, from Michigan, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, roused the group to action and reminded us that we make change and progress #becauseofus.
The first panel was a who’s who of legal minds (see photo) from the ACLU, EEOC, National Women’s Law Center, Economic Justice Project and AAUQ with the focus on federal legislation currently in place. Gillian Thomas, the moderator from the ACLU, reminded the audience that NOW was formed to address inaction by the EEOC. Much of the focus was on the importance of strengthening the EEOC’s power and clout. The takeaways were to change the work culture, leaders need to speak up loudly against sexual harassment in their workplace and must hold people accountable. This starts with the right kind of training, a good reporting system and no more “winks and nods” to bad behavior. Dariely Rodriguez reported that currently the EEOC receives 45% of their complaints around sexual harassment or discrimination and 34% of the complaints due to racial inequities. There was discussion around the employer contracts that require forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements and the importance of seeing this change.
Panel 2 looked at state laws. Panelists (see first photo) included Workplace Equality and NWLC, Women’s Legislators of Maryland, Legal Momentum and the ERA Coalition. There are over 100 bills related to sexual harassment and workplace safety across the US. Sadly, the state legislatures have hostile work environments to women and many of the participants related their own stories of harassment by their male colleagues. There was a tremendous amount of information shared-too much to go into in this short report. After the panel, Rep. Jackie Speier shared her #MeToo moment and talked about the work she is doing moving the feminist agenda forward. She said there are 360 women running for Congress-which is a record!
After a brief lunch, Panel 3 was convened. Representatives from the AAUW, Feminist Majority and EROC (End Rape on Campus) spoke about the need for strengthening protections on Campus with focus on how to improve Title IX. One in five students are victims of sexual assault. Sadly, there is not only a lack of support from this administration for Title IX, but outright attacks and plans to undermine current Title IX requirements from DeVos’ Department of Education, specifically allowing schools and colleges to do less investigation of sexual assault. One of the key needs is to have survivors at the table for any new legislation or changes.
After lunch, Rep. Sheila Jensen from Houston talked about introducing legislation to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and bring it in to the 21st Century by including Native Americans, LGBTQIA and immigrant women.
Panel 4, (photo) was focused on organizing women to fight back against sexual harassment in the workplace. The majority of the panelists are farm workers, retail workers and maids who have formed coalitions and unions fighting for rights for their predominantly female colleagues. The stories they told of harassment were heartbreaking and they emphasized how heartened they were to have the #TimesUp movement working with them as the majority of these women have few financial resources. Some of the organizations represented were UNITE HERE, National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union along with Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (migrant farm workers).
The final panel focused on where do we go from here and featured Ellie Smeal, CEO Feminist Majority, Toni Van Pelt, President of NOW; Dr. Faye Williams, National President of the National Congress of Black Women, Maria Durazo, General VP UNITE HERE! and Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women. There are a number of actions that each of this organizations will be focusing on including advocacy, education, legislation and getting more women into positions of power. NOW will be providing an overview of these recommendations on their website.
VP Membership, N.C. National Organization of Women
Secretary, ERA-NC Alliance