International Women's Day: How's Illinois Doing On Gender Equality?

Mar 8, 2019

March 8 is International Women’s Day. It’s a call to raise voices within the women’s rights movement and strategize to create a more gender-equal world.

Reporter Dana Vollmer talked with Susan Bramlet Lavin, executive director of the Illinois branch of the National Organization for Women, about what’s been accomplished and what still needs work.

This interview have been edited for clarity.

DV: 2018 has been referred to as the “Year of the Women.” There was a surge of women candidates who ran for office — nationally and locally — and won. What stood out to you from that election cycle?

SBL: I agree, it was the year of the Year of the Women, for sure. Women, plural — thankfully and gratefully. It was obviously a definite response to the attacks coming at women’s rights across the board from the Trump administration. Women just decided they were not going to take it. They’re going to run and they’re going to win. They’re going to protect women’s rights, both here and in Washington D.C.

DV: Do you think the women’s rights movement has lost any momentum since then?

SBL: No, I actually think the momentum keeps building. I’m hearing so much talk about the 2020 elections already. Everyday, there’s a new attack from the Trump administration. I think people have moments of being weary. But I think the momentum is just going to keep building.

DV: One of the other things that stood out from last year, at least here in Illinois, was the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. That was a large moment in our state’s history, but there’s still not a constitutional guarantee for gender equality. What does that fight look like moving forward?

SBL: It was a wonderful, historic correction that needed to be made here in Illinois after 1982. Moving forward now, we need one more state.There’s been some movement in Virginia and it stopped, unfortunately. It’s been now popping up in other states. Here, again, it’s all about momentum. I think there’s a new generation of women — and of feminists — who are engaged in this and see that it is absolutely essential that women have constitutional equality.

DV: International Women’s Day is not only an opportunity to celebrate progress in the gender equality movement, but also to acknowledge the areas where we could be doing better. Can you talk about that?

SBL: Here in Illinois, with the election of Governor Pritzker, we’re seeing movement from the start of his administration with raising the minimum wage — which is a huge issue for women. We need to pass and have the governor sign the salary history equal pay legislation. There’s legislation pending already to expand anti-sexual harassment laws and to protect choice here in Illinois, as compared to the states around us. Paid family leave … there’s many things we need to keep pushing forward.

We had several laws passed last year go into effect — expanding the anti-stalking laws, expansion of services to help rape victims. Those kind of things we’ve seen in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

DV: One of the criticisms of the women’s issues movement is that it’s not always the most inclusive space for women of color, LGBTQ women, disabled women, immigrant women and so on. How do we correct that?

SBL: The whole issue of intersectionality is crucial — from the legislation we work on to our elections and the candidates we endorse. It has to be a part of everything we do within the feminist movement.

Every person in this state, no matter where they live, every women, every person who’s vulnerable, every person who’s marginalized, deserves their basic human rights. That should always be our message.

DV: Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, what do you think some of the most important women’s issues will be?

SBL: Well, I think it will be a lot of the same issues we’re dealing with in Illinois. There is a huge threat to Roe — both within the Supreme Court and legislation moving through different states that would gut Roe. Especially now with the threat to the gag rule, the threat to Title [X], keeping women from getting all the medical information they should be getting from their doctors. Economic rights, civil rights … these will be huge overriding issues going into the 2020 elections.

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