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OPINION: Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month and work to achieve full equality

March 9, 2015 By Assemblymember William Colton For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblymember William Colton represents the 47th Assembly District, which includes  Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Midwood. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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With March marking Women’s History Month, it provides the opportunity to reflect upon the strides made by women past and present and the progress still to be made on the path to equality. For example, even in the year 2015, many women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. In fact, women are making a mere 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and it’s time for this to change.

Over the years, New York state has played a leading role in many pivotal events in the fight for equal rights, so we can and should continue leading the way for progress.

Throughout history, New Yorkers have long been at the forefront of the women’s equality movement, including both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two key figures in the fight for women’s suffrage. Stanton drafted the Declaration of Sentiments for the Seneca Falls Convention, hosted in 1848, to address women’s rights, and both Stanton and Anthony’s efforts were crucial in winning women the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

These women never gave up on their dream of full equality, and that’s why they continue to serve as an inspiration for women’s rights today. 

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New York state has also been home to many other pioneering women. Louise Blanchard Bethune, born in Waterloo and raised in Buffalo, was the first American woman to work as an architect and designed the historic Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo. Dorothy Thompson, born and raised in Lancaster, was a prominent journalist and trailblazer who became one of the most influential women of her generation.

In 1870, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, a Brooklyn native, became the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York state and the third to do so in the country. Gertrude B. Elion, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, was a biochemist and pharmacologist who developed drugs to treat diseases, including malaria and leukemia, and won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1988.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, another Brooklyn native, co-founded the Women’s Rights Project to fight gender discrimination and became the second woman on the Supreme Court. In 2001, Hillary Clinton became the first female U.S. Senator to represent New York state. She was a candidate for president in 2008 and was appointed U.S. Secretary of State in 2009. Sonia Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, becoming its first Hispanic justice and third female justice. 

These women are only a few examples of New Yorkers committed to breaking down barriers and achieving full equality. In 2014, on a local level in the 47th Assembly District, Nancy Tong became the first Asian American to be elected Democratic District Leader in Brooklyn.  I had recognized Nancy Tong and several dozen women from our local community who have worked to improve our society. At an awards ceremony, I presented Citations of Honor to these women, who volunteered or worked in a variety of fields, including business, education, humanitarian work, military service, community/civic affairs, health care, government and volunteering.

Nonetheless, there is still much to be done in securing full and equal rights for women. That’s why I have supported legislation that guarantees essential rights for women, including equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual harassment and family status and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, stronger human-trafficking laws and better protections for victims of domestic violence. 

As we recognize the many achievements of women, it is also important to continue making progress and recommit ourselves to achieving full equality for women.  I look forward to continuing to support legislation and public policies that ensure New York grants women equal opportunities and rights.  To learn more about women’s history or women’s equality measures, please contact my office at 718-236-1598 or email me at [email protected].

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