Why a National Conversation on Gender Equality?

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October 26, 2016

Picture of National Museum of the American Indian, gender equality eventI am the daughter of a woman who spent her young adulthood in the wake of the civil rights movement. I am also the mother of a teenage daughter who is watching history unfold at a time of both opposition and excitement for women around the world. We spend a lot of time discussing everything from politics to education to human rights at the dinner table. I know from personal experience that these conversations will help inform my daughter’s choices.

I felt a great sense of hope attending the National Archives’ series of National Conversations, this one on “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality,” in New York City last week. For an entire day, I heard from national figures and activists from around the country, all leaders in women’s rights, gender equality, and advocacy on complicated issues such as equal pay, education, family planning and women’s health rights, preventing sexual harassment and domestic violence.

The day kicked off with a conversation between journalist Soledad O’Brien and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady’s granddaughter, who now works at Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. The two women talked about gender equity and the significance of women’s history as part of American history. “To advance gender equity, we need to have conversations everywhere,” said Roosevelt. “Equity means making sure that every person has the same opportunities. It’s important to have this conversation right now — even in the grocery line.”

It was inspiring to listen to Roosevelt talk about her grandmother, from whom she learned to use her attributes to support others. Her grandmother also encouraged education as a significant part of every young girl’s life. “Having early access to childhood education impacts a woman’s sense to enter the workforce and brings stability to her family,” she told the audience. The most powerful lesson learned from her famous grandmother was saying “I believe you,’ that’s really powerful.” Her strength and determination set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

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Panelists spoke about their experience in both personal and professional quests for gender equality and human rights, many of whom have been speaking out for women’s rights since the civil rights era. Arlinda Locklear, a prominent attorney based in the South, talked about our individual roles in the struggle for gender equality. It’s really up to all of us to change the course of history. She said, “A human right is not just about rights and rules. It’s about responsibility, culture, not leaning in and standing up.” Columbia Professor Alonda Nelson reminded us about significance of keeping everyone in the conversation.

After an inspiring day, one thing was clear to me: These conversations need to happen at the dinner table, but they need to happen everywhere else, too. It’s up to us to speak out, to use our voices and platforms and to tell stories about not only ourselves but everyone around us.

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