Convening near Seneca Falls on the 150th Anniversary of the first women's rights convention in the U.S., more than 50 prominent women leaders today called for "bold actions and legislation at all levels to transform our society to assure equality and human rights for the girls and women of the next millennium."
The leaders, whose collective experience in the women's movement totals more than 1,000 years, gathered at Forum 98 to write a new Declaration of Sentiments, echoing the 1848 call to action. They used the occasion to reaffirm their connection to the activist women of the 19th century and to call for equity, justice, power and the defense of women's rights as human rights.
Noting that 1998 is also the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued by the United Nations, the signers of the new Declaration stated, "In linking these two important anniversaries, we add our voices as U.S. women to those of other women in this country and around the world who are seeking to realize equality and human rights for all."
The Forum 98 Declaration calls for action on three fronts:
* Women Take Leadership: The Declaration calls for a more inclusive, humane and just society, to be achieved through the equal representation of women in public office as well as the removal of institutional and structural barriers to equal power. Affirming women's fundamental human right and responsibility to full political participation and leadership, the Declaration calls for "dramatically curtailing the power of money in electoral politics" and for "open and accountable decision making in all public forums." It demands a culture of peace and calls for "rejecting the glorification of war and violence." It asserts that full democracy cannot be achieved until women and men share leadership in all the institutions of society.
* Women in an Equitable and Productive Economy: The Declaration calls for "creation of an economically just society that embraces the full participation of women in every aspect of economic life and requires that all employers provide living wages, decent and equitable working conditions, and equal respect for women and men." Specific features of such a society will include equal pay for work of equal value, work and educational environments free of violence and sexual harassment, equal representation in senior management and on the Boards of Directors of corporations and businesses, and an adequate safety net for those unable to work.
* Women in a Just and Caring Society: The Declaration underscores women's and girls' fundamental human right to full recognition of and respect for bodily integrity and reproductive self-determination. It insists on the right to sexual self-determination including freedom from violence, sexual abuse, rape, coerced pregnancy; protection for the right to safe abortion and safe birth control; and freedom from harassment based on gender or sexuality at all ages. It also states that "providing care is the most valuable and important societal work, is indispensable and central in a compassionate society, is work in which men and women should share fully," and calls for recognition of the right to be compensated fully for the work of providing care.
Forum 98 participants concluded their work by endorsing two resolutions for action. The first resolution calls for a National Women's Equality Act for the 21st century and pledges to mobilize support for it. The second calls upon the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), first adopted by the U.N. in 1979 as an international declaration of support for the achievement of full equality between women and men.
The participants, all prominent in health, business, government, media and education, including leaders of major women's organizations, spent three days in closed session at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva in upstate New York, a city about six miles from Seneca Falls, the site of the 1848 convention, and then moved to the University of Rochester for two days to discuss the document with local, state and national organizations and the general public.
The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute on Women's Health concurrently held sessions on issues of women's health and questions of access, options, ethics, the environment, public policy, and education. Recommendations were presented by Dr. Sheila Ryan, Dean of the School of Nursing at the University, and included in the Forum 98 Declaration for the Next Millennium.
The findings of both groups were reported Thursday, July 16 during the public sessions of Forum 98, a national conference on women's issues co-sponsored by the University of Rochester and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Copies of the documents and press releases from Forum 98 and the Blackwell Institute can be obtained on the Forum 98 website (www.Forum 98.org), at the recommitment ceremony in Seneca Falls at the Women's Rights National Historic Park, or by calling the Susan B. Anthony University Center at the University of Rochester, (585) 275-8799.