When Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore,” on her 1971 debut album, the words became a call to arms for women everywhere.
Although women have come a long way since then in achieving parity with men, they are still fighting for an equal place in society, a point driven home loudly at last Saturday’s panel discussion, “Standing with Women,” at Temple Beth Shalom in Flushing.
With guest speakers featuring elected officials and leaders of various activist organizations, and an audience of about 50, including a dozen or so men, the evening covered issues ranging from domestic violence and pay disparity to workplace discrimination and sex trafficking.
In announcing the event, Jonathan Eckman, chapter leader, northeast Queens chapter of Organizing for Action, indicated that “these are critical issues that, unfortunately, do not get enough attention.” It was hoped, he said, that the panel discussion would provide “an incredible way to both learn about the issues themselves and to discuss what we can do to help.”
Toward that aim, the first panelist, Rachelle Suissa, president of the Brooklyn-Queens chapter of the National Organization for Women, provided background on subjects ranging from work place discrimination to healthcare.
A typical woman, she said, loses half a million dollars over her lifetime because of inequality in pay.
Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, over 19 percent of women in the United States were uninsured, she said.
Further, Suissa explained, as a result of a discriminatory practice known as gender rating, women are often charged more than men for the same coverage.
According to statistics provided by NOW, only 15 percent of women are represented on corporate boards, and women make up only 18 percent of members of Congress and 24 percent of state governors.
NOW is calling for women to achieve equal representation in elected offices. It is also trying to expand economic opportunities and to break the glass ceiling which denies women corporate leadership roles.
Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, a fellow with the End Trafficking Project of UNICEF, focused much of her presentation on human trafficking, referring to it as the “fastest growing criminal activity. The profits are extremely high, the penalties extremely low. It’s happening right here in our own backyards.”
She suggested that “schools are seen as buffets for new recruits.” She encouraged the audience to “raise awareness of human trafficking, especially in the United States. Mobilize your communities to take action against it.
“I’m here to challenge everyone here to take the baton. You’ll be pleased to see the ripple effect. Use your power to change lives around the world,” she added.
Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) holds the distinction of being the youngest woman in the state Legislature, she said.
“We need to get equality in the legislature,” she said. “There are still a lot of issues that plague our state Legislature. Sexual harassment is still very pervasive.”
Picking up on the theme, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) said that it’s up to women “to put as many females in as many places as we can. Women in powerful positions do very dynamic things. We set a strong foundation. We’ve got to sharpen our elbows and make sure our voices are heard.”
Doreen DiLeonardo of Bellerose, a member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, said she chose to attend because “We’re still not there. We’re more than half of the population.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) greeted attendees by saying that “women play an expanded role in America’s workforce, in businesses small and large, and in our homes. Almost half of all workers are women, and 40 percent of working women are the primary breadwinners in their families. The success of our nation relies upon the economic security of these women.”
She lamented that “women make only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. It is time we elevate the economic issues facing women here in America to the national attention they deserve.”
After hearing the presentations, John Jay College student Monica Murillo, 21, of Whitestone, whose minor is gender studies, said there is a need for “all-around societal change. Women are so disempowered at such an early age.”
Khaair Morrison, a young man who grew up with a single mother and two older sisters, was on hand to “advocate for people who advocated for me all my life.”
A co-founder of The Voice of Youth Changes Everything, an organization that encourages education policy advocacy, Morrison suggested that rather than isolating minority or women’s issues, it is “important to take on issues that affect everyone in our society.”
This article originally had an incorrect statement about how many women from Queens serve in the state Assembly. We regret the error.