Building Women Leadership to Power the Worker Rights Movement

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On Saturday, August 20th, women from across New York City gathered together for a full day Women’s Summit. We each had different backgrounds and spoke different languages. We were committed to fighting for workers’ rights within our own sectors, but were uniting through the NY Worker Center Federation (NYWCF) to bridge our work, grow solidarity, and learn from each other. Our spaces- the workplace, our homes, our organizing spaces- are too often dominated by men. While we believe it important to address gender justice with men and women present, women in the Federation asked for a separate space.

NYWCF views workers holistically. In order to grow a strong worker movement, we need to focus on ourselves externally as organizers and workers, as well as internally as strong members of our communities and as healthy people. We are women, workers, mothers, immigrants, New Yorkers. Because of this perspective, in addition to discussing organizing tools and concrete workplace practices, facilitators also carved meaningful time to share with each other, build relationships, and for personal reflection.  

We started out the day offering stories of challenges we have overcome as women. We shared in partners and then to the larger group. This helped the day to begin as a space of trust and a shared understanding of where we were coming from and the unique diversity in the room. One woman shared that she married young but was unable and unwilling to fulfill the expectations placed on her. She ended up divorcing and feels stronger as a result. Another participant told the group about her experience growing up with strict parents, unable to leave her house to visit friends or enjoy her life. Several women spoke of sexual abuse in the workplace and in home communities. We did our best to support each other and collectively felt the importance of coming together as women and as workers.  

Next, as a way to further build community, we wove together a visioning flag. We wrote down who we would like to thank for paving the way for us (answers ranged from family to Rosa Parks) and what are our visions for the future. The flag was beautifully strung across a window, shining light on our gratitude and hopes.

We then transitioned to breaking down identity and gender stereotypes. Who does society perceive as holding power? White people. Americans. Wealthy people. Heterosexuals. Men. Donald Trump was used as a common example. Who is perceived as powerless? Non-English speakers. Women. Undocumented people. LGBTQ folks. Poor people.

What are the gender boxes does society place us in? For example, a man is thought to be strong, never cries, he earns money, etc. What happens if we stick even a toe outside of those boxes? We are taunted, held back, our sexuality is challenged and we are targeted. This, we all agreed, is a problem.

The next part of the day was focused on how we, as women and workers, can use tools for asserting our rights, documenting abuse, and tactics for self-protection and support. We practiced shouting “NO!” We learned ways to support friends who might be experiencing abuse. And we rehearsed tactics for demanding respect and our rights as workers through theater.

Finally, we came up with demands for the world:

  1. End the Culture of Silence
  2. Security for all women
  3. Break the Box/ End Stereotypes
  4. Support Groups, Unity with Other Women
  5. Education/ Know Your Rights Resources

We look forward to continuing our work in the 2016 Delfino Leadership Training Institute, beginning September 24th. The first day of training, open to women and men, will continue this work in movement building and gender justice.

The organizations present at the 2016 Women’s Summit were: Street Vendor Project, El Centro del Inmigrante, NICE, Laundry Worker Center, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Enlace, RHIZA, and DRUM.

 

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