New Jersey 1199ers Celebrate International Women’s Day

March 14, 2013

On March 8th, New Jersey 1199SEIU members hosted an International Women’s Day forum to recognize the leading role of women in creating positive social change. The event at the Rutgers Labor Education Center in New Brunswick, drew dozens of elected leaders and community allies from across the state, including State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono.

The day struck a celebratory tone but also included many moments of somber reflection on the challenges facing women today. Feminist activists from Bangladesh, Egypt, Haiti, the Philippines, and Zambia came to discuss the ongoing struggles to secure equal rights and win social and economic gains for women and girls in their respective countries. A common viewpoint shared by the speakers was that issues which are typically considered to be “women’s issues”—such as unequal pay between women and men or the lack of access to family planning and health services—are in fact problems that impact entire communities and affect women and men alike.

Regina Santos, an 1199 member from Newark who works as a dietary aide, shared with the crowd a personal story of the hardships of a difficult upbringing and of overcoming substance abuse: “I am here because I believe that my story can help empower other young women who have felt hopeless, who have been victims of violence, and who are looking for the support of a community to make positive changes in their lives.” Her speech received a standing ovation from the audience, which was deeply moved by her inspiring words.

One major theme of the day was the urgency of ensuring that across the nation in 2013, candidates are elected who will be staunch advocates on issues that are critical to working families. Special attention was paid to the gubernatorial race in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie is being challenged by Sen. Buono. Members endorsed Sen. Buono in January and invited her to speak at the event.

"It is so good to be around 1199SEIU women and men because you remind me of what we are fighting for. You are the caretakers of the most vulnerable, the sickest in our nursing homes and hospitals,” said Sen. Buono. “The work you do—just so you know this—keeps me going. You are the voices of working families who are united in a simple message that it’s time for a change in New Jersey.”

Other political leaders who attended the event includes State Senators Linda Greenstein and Rondal Rice, NJ Assemblywomen Annette Quijano and Mila Jasey, U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, Newark Councilman Ronald C. Rice and Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich.

It was clear to everyone present that while much progress has been made since International Women’s Day was first celebrated over 100 years ago, working people across the globe must remain united in the fight to win gender equality in all aspects of life in order to build a brighter and more equitable world.