What is Woman Today?
Hunter holds a panel on womens' rights
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Hunter USG in collaboration with Hunter Students United, the Welfare Right Initiative, the Women & Gender Studies Department and the Women’s Rights Coalition, presented an afternoon forum titled What is Woman Today? on March 28. This panel discussion aimed to look at where women stand in the world today and where they want to be in the future. The forum brought to light some of the major social issues facing women and what must be done to bring about concrete change and equality.
The event opened with a dynamic and impressive spoken word performance by Janelle Scarlett called “Truth,” an excerpt from The Vagina Monologues. “Hurt to one is a hurt to all,” was the message of the spoken word performance. With this in mind, the discussion opened by looking at our Republican Party presidential candidates and their anti-poor comments. The forum featured three main speakers: Jennifer Lee, who spoke about the current economic, social and political struggles of women today; Katherine Cross, who addressed the politics of gender equality, women’s and transgender rights; and Sarah Pomar, who discussed the issues women face, and the ways in which the rights of women are under attack. The forum also covered the issue of birth control, and the topic of racism in our educational system today.
Jennifer Lee asserted that society needs to find better ways to help the poor instead of looking for ways to blame them. The focus on the Republican candidates started here, as many in the discussion felt that the Republican frontrunners displayed a lack of regard for America’s poor. Being poor is not a character flaw, and being on welfare does not mean you are lazy, Lee emphasized. She went on to state that the majority of those on welfare are single mothers, and thus, “the attacks on welfare are an attack on the rights of women ...We must try to understand that welfare is not a free ride nor is it a comfortable way to live. Welfare shames women and does not have a good exit strategy, making it a catch-22,” said Jennifer Lee.
One student in the audience commented that some social workers are infamous for making disrespectful comments to the effect of, “ if you were married” or, “if you stop having kids, perhaps you wouldn’t be in this predicament.” From here the discussion moved to debate the ideology that a woman needs a man in her life to be a successful citizen. Katherine Cross led this discussion, and gave the audience a brief historical overview of the how this ideology became mainstream. “The rise of industrialism in America,” she said, “made the American public believe that it was the man who was the main breadwinner and made the contribution of women secondary and most times go on unacknowledged.”
Katherine Cross went on to address the issues that face the transgender population, such as allowing trans people to get identification that reflects their gender identity, not the gender that the state or government wishes to attribute to them. She also spoke about the recent attempts to dismantle certain “pink collar” trade unions, such as the teachers and nursing unions, and noted that women are the majority members of both of these groups. “Why are the police and firefighters unions not under the same attacks? Because they are mainly men in those unions, that’s why,” Cross said.
Sarah Pomar spoke about the issues that women are today facing in school settings. She spoke about the drastic cuts to CUNY childcare programs that provide babysitting services to CUNY students. Pomar went on to discuss on the militarization of the Hunter campus, with increased security presence throughout the college. “We are cutting programs that help our female students to fund things like more Campus police,” she said. The discussion spotlighted the importance of education, for women and minorities especially. “Education is empowerment and that’s why education is being attacked,” said Christina Chaise, one of the event’s organizers.
The discussion concluded with a short film called Get with the Program, winner of the Hunter Campus Film festival. The film touched on the fight to make Women and Gender Studies (WGS) a fully funded and respected academic program here at Hunter College.
“The violations of women’s right are a violation to human rights,” said Cross, who went on to emphasize that the fight for equality begins at the educational level, “Knowledge is at the heart of the power we must have!”