National NOW Foundation Times  >> Spring 2008 >> Article

Summit Brings Activists and Experts Together for Economic Justice for Women

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

Left to right: Dr. Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR; Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever, director of NCNW's Research, Public Policy and Information Center, and Kim Gandy, NOW Foundation president.
Photo by HIP, Inc.
Left to right: Dr. Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR; Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever, director of NCNW's Research, Public Policy and Information Center, and Kim Gandy, NOW Foundation president.

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, more than 120 panelists assembled for 36 compelling workshops, an evening reception with political leaders, a poster session, and time in between spent networking, information sharing and strategizing.

Workshops Offer Breadth and Depth

Some of the extensive workshop offerings included: effective childcare systems in the U.S. and abroad, 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 impact of Hurricane Katrina on women, targeting of women and people of color by subprime mortgage lenders, and reforming the U.S. health care system.

A number of researchers from other countries, including Turkey, Ghana, Venezuela and England, discussed their 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.

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.

Guest speaker E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women.
Photo by HIP, Inc.
Guest speaker E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women.

IWPR conducted a track of workshops that examined values-based feminism. The Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Rev. Dr. E. Faye Williams, spoke on how collaborative activism can strengthen our movement.

Keynote Speakers Tackle Issues of the Day

The first plenary keynote speaker was Gail Perry-Mason, who rose from receptionist to first vice president at Oppenheimer and is the author of books about how to financial security. In a lively and hilarious speech, Perry-Mason offered sensible advice for personal debt reduction and how women can avoid outliving their money.

IWPR President Dr. Heidi Hartmann spoke about the need to build the intellectual capital of the women's movement and address women's participation in the labor force, the segregation of jobs by sex, pay equity and other factors in advancing economic justice.

Workshop presenters (left to right): Erin Matson, Kassidy Johnson, Rose Afriye, Elisabeth Crum.
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Workshop presenters from "School, Salary and Savings: Sister to Sister Advice" (left to right): Erin Matson, Kassidy Johnson, Rose Afriyie, Elisabeth Crum

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the NCNW's Research, Public Policy and Information Center, sent greetings from Dr. Dorothy Height, 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., and the need for presidential candidates to address how the new "green" economy 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 started off with Astrid Pregel, former consul general of Canada and president of Feminomics Inc. Pregel asked participants to look with their "gender lens" as she described the ways that women drive the world economy.

Janice L. Mathis, attorney and vice president of Rainbow PUSH's education arm, spoke movingly of how the barriers that seem to divide different groups of women may actually be bridges in disguise. Martha Burk, author of "Your Money and Your Life" and money editor at Ms. Magazine, examined the ways our tax dollars are really being spent and how more women in Congress could change that.

Speaker Dr. Jane Smith was joined by some of her students from Spelman College.
Photo by HIP, Inc.
Speaker Dr. Jane Smith was joined by some of her students from Spelman College.

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 on African American women's votes for the next U.S. president.

NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy encouraged the audience to imagine how different our world would be if: societies truly valued caregiving; everyone had healthcare and a living wage; 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, national coordinator of SisterSong, spoke about advancing women's rights by applying a basic human rights framework, along the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, Eleanor Smeal, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. magazine, closed out the summit with an impassioned talk about how women here 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, we hope, to a strengthened commitment to advance women's status and well-being everywhere.