Summit Brings Activists and Experts Together for Economic Justice

April 24, 2008

By Lisa Bennett, Communications Director, and Jan Erickson, Director of Programs, NOW Foundation

IWPR President Dr. Heidi Hartmann, Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the National Council of Negro Women's Research, Public Policy and Information Center, and NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy

An inspiring and diverse mix of grassroots activists, academic researchers and program managers came together at the 2008 Summit on Economic Justice for Women in Atlanta, Ga., April 11-12. The summit was convened by the National Organization for Women Foundation, the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

The two-day event featured plenary sessions packed with dynamic speakers, an extensive offering of compelling workshops, an evening reception with political leaders, a poster session, and time in between spent networking, information sharing and strategizing. Many participants reported that they were reinvigorated and eager to get back home and work on issues addressed at summit.

Workshops Offer Breadth and Depth

Workshop presenters from one of 36 workshops and roundtables

More than 120 panelists assembled to present in 36 workshops and roundtables. Some of the topics included: effective childcare systems in the U.S. and other nations, economic development strategies for single mothers, organizing domestic workers, dealing with women and HIV, building support for paid sick days, micro-enterprise as a successful strategy to impact race discrimination, continuing distress for Hurricane Katrina survivors, the targeting of women and people of color by subprime housing lenders, and reforming the U.S. health care system to attain universal coverage.

A number of researchers from other countries, including Turkey, Ghana and England, discussed their research findings and professional experiences. Lisa Harker, of the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, and at one time the child poverty "czar" for Great Britain, offered her perspectives on effective government-subsidized child care and poverty reduction programs. Shakuntala Das, Ph.D candidate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, discussed her research paper "Enhancing the Livelihood and Security of Women through Public Employment Policy in India." Olivia Burlingame Goumbri, director of the Venezuela Information Office in Washington, D.C., spoke on a panel with NOW Foundation's Executive Vice President Olga Vives, NOW Global Feminist Strategies committee chair Stephanie Ortoleva, and Phoebe Jones of Global Women's Strike, about "Creating Caring Economies Around the Globe to Advance the Status of Women, Families and Workplaces."

Summit participants agreed that the blending of research findings with feedback from program managers and service providers offered longtime women's rights advocates new information and renewed hope for their dedicated work. Email address lists were circulated at a number of compelling workshops where attendees wanted to focus more intently on helping women survivors of Katrina, as well as reforming our ailing health care non-system and pressuring Congress to aid women and families facing foreclosure because they were deceived by poorly regulated and greedy lenders.

Rev. Dr. E. Faye Williams, Chair of the National Congress of Black Women

IWPR conducted a track of workshops that examined values-based feminism with discussion by representatives from women's organizations and religious social justice movements. The Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Rev. Dr. E. Faye Williams, spoke at the track's luncheon on how collaborative activism can strengthen the movement for women's economic justice.

Keynote Speakers Tackle Issues of the Day

Leading off the plenary keynote speakers was Gail Perry-Mason, who rose from receptionist to first vice president of investments for the firm Oppenheimer & Co. and is the author of books about how girls and women can build financial security. In a lively and hilarious speech, Perry-Mason offered sensible and memorable advice for personal debt reduction and how women can avoid outliving their money.

Next to the podium was IWPR President Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who spoke about the need for groups like IWPR to help build the intellectual capital of the women's movement to help advocates move forward their agenda. Hartmann addressed women's participation in the labor force, the segregation of jobs by sex, pay equity and other factors in advancing economic justice.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the National Council of Negro Women's Research, Public Policy and Information Center, sent greetings from Dr. Dorothy Height, the council's chair and president emerita, who was unable to be at the summit. Jones-DeWeever talked about how women are impacted by the current financial crises in the U.S., including the mortgage crisis, and the need for presidential candidates to address how the new "green" economy being touted will include diverse people.

A Friday evening reception also featured an exciting line-up of legislators: U.S. Representative John Lewis, State Senator Nan Grogan Orrock, and State Representative "Able" Mable Thomas.

Saturday's plenary sessions started off with Astrid Pregel, former consul general of Canada and president of Feminomics Inc., a consulting company working at the intersection of gender, leadership, entrepreneurship and the economy. Pregel asked participants to put on their "gender lenses" as she described the ways that women drive the world economy.

Janice L. Mathis, an attorney and vice president of The Citizenship Education Fund, the 501(3) arm of Rainbow PUSH, spoke movingly of how the barriers that seem to divide different groups of women may actually be bridges in disguise.

Martha Burk, author and money editor at Ms. Magazine, spoke about how our tax dollars are being spent and the need for more women in Congress. Burk also signed her new book, "Your Money and Your Life: the High Stakes for Women Voters in '08 and Beyond."

Dr. Jane Smith, executive director of the Spelman College Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement

Dr. Jane Smith, executive director of the Spelman College Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, offered an early look at her soon-to-be-released research on the impact of race, gender and leadership qualities in determining how African American women cast their votes for next U.S. president.

NOW President Kim Gandy encouraged the audience to imagine how different our world would be if societies truly valued caregiving, if everyone had healthcare and a living wage, if we cracked the glass ceiling and ended violence against women, ended discrimination and bigotry, and if all political decisions were made with women, as much as men, in mind.

Loretta Ross, founder and national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, spoke about advancing women's rights by applying a basic human rights framework, along the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights championed by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Finally, Eleanor Smeal, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. magazine, closed out the summit in her inimitable way with an impassioned talk about how women in the U.S. and around the world are suffering because of poverty, hunger, misogyny, fraud, corruption, greed and armed conflict. Many in the audience were moved to tears and, hopefully, to a strengthened commitment to advance women's status and well-being everywhere.

View more photos | Photos by HIP, Inc.