Press Release about New England Regional Convention
written by Judith Myrick, Brattleboro Branch
Published by Brattleboro Reformer with the title
"Kunin Says Equality is Not Enough"
Women have achieved equity in many professions, including the field of education. But, according to former Govenor Madeleine Kunin, that is no longer enough. "We need to believe the political system can hear our voices and that we can achieve change" by becoming political activists. Kunin was one of two major speakers at Saturday's New England Regional Conference held at SIT. The overall theme was "Finding and Using Our Public Voices" - a theme also echoed by the second speaker, Dr. Karen Houseknecht, of Connecticut. In her address, which was received with a standing ovation, Kunin challenged her audience with the question: "Why don't women move up to positions of power in politics or in corporate life? Do women have different impacts when they lead?" In essence, she felt that women are more likely to volunteer in their local communities or to work with a local non-profit, but are unlikely to enter the political arena unless
invited to become a candidate by others.
"Volunteering is important, very much so. But entering politics is more likely to create needed social change," she stressed. "I also believe women are more patient with compromise across party lines, which is an important asset. They tend to bring the needs of outsiders into the process and to be more inclusive. For instance, men have not experienced gender discrimination, whereas women have. They can bring their own life experiences into the conversation." She cited three countries - Chile, Liberia and Germany - where women have recently been elected leaders of their respective governments. "These are countries where we would not have expected this to happen. But here in the U.S., people are still asking: 'Are we ready for a woman
president?' And we expect women to act in certain ways. We say: 'She's either too tough' or 'She's not tough enough.' Do we criticize men for such qualities?"
The author of two books, including "Leading a Political Life," Kunin is now writing a new book in which she will try to prove that there are women who believe their voices can be heard, and that they have the passion to believe the political system can be changed. On the positive side, she
revealed that both Vermont and New Hampshire have had women governors and that they have the highest percentage of female state legislators (about 23.8%), whereas the southern states have the lowest percentage. But at the international level of government, the U.S. ranks sixty-ninth out of 187 nations in terms of its women representation. Surprisingly, Rwanda, in eastern Africa, ranks first, she explained, "because after the genocide, women there took up the challenge for the survival of their children" by voicing their concerns politically.
Dr. Houseknecht, who is Vice President of Biological Sciences at ASDI, Inc., a multinational corporation dedicated to enabling drug discovery, described her personal journey from being a public speaker to becoming "an activist voice for those who can't - or who believe they can't - speak up for themselves." As an example, she related how she had been invited to speak to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. She decided to include in her speech an eye-to-eye challenge to the leadership present in the audience "to create a climate where sexual harassment is recognized and an attempt made toward systemic change." She felt the women in the Academy audience could not voice such concerns themselves. "We need to find our passion and speak out on such issues." The afternoon session was titled "Finding and using our AAUW voice" and shared models for mission-based program, membership outreach and organizational structure. Introducers and facilitators for the day included Patricia Ho, Andrea Weisberg, Gail Smith, Carol Virostek and
Maggie Ford, assisted by Hollie Bagley, Pat Bologna, Charmen Goehring-Fox and Pat Rathbun.