Vassar is one of the two historically significant venues where New York State's Governor Andrew Cuomo rallied support for the Women’s Equality Act, a piece of legislation crafted by a coalition of 850 women’s organizations in the state to remedy discrimination against women. On Wednesday, June 5, the day after Governor Cuomo announced the legislation in Albany, he spoke at the Women’s Rights National Park in Seneca Falls, NY, birthplace of the women’s movement, and later the same day at Vassar. “There couldn’t be a better setting for what we’re talking about today,” Cuomo said to a packed house in Students Building.
“Today is about values and principles and stating the obvious and having the courage to stand up and tell the truth about the obvious,” Cuomo said. “The truth is we discriminate against women in society and in this state and in this country and it is pervasive and we haven’t admitted it and it goes on every day and it’s a shame and it’s wrong and it’s immoral and it’s unethical and it has to stop and it’s going to stop in the State of New York and then it’s going to stop everywhere.”
Watch the video here.
The Women’s Equality Act addresses a host of inequalities in the workplace, in the marketplace, in the home, and in the legal system and strengthens protections for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. The most controversial component of the bill is the section that would align New York State law with existing federal law protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability or when necessary to protect the health and life of the woman.
While the measure is expected to pass in the Democratic-majority Assembly, the Senate Republican majority coalition co-leader Dean Skelos, whose cooperation is necessary to bring the bill to a vote, is strongly opposed. Those who oppose a woman’s right to choose, said Cuomo, “are very strong politically, and they are very good at making their voice heard. You have to make your voice heard.”
Cuomo’s goal is to get this legislation passed before the government recesses for the summer on June 20, and he called on those present to do “one little thing”—help get it passed. “When the people engage, politicians follow,” said Cuomo. “It’s the opposite of what they taught you in high school.”
“You need to lead,” he added.
Vassar came into being as an institution, he said, because “it was ethically right to give women the same education as men,” but also because it was smart. “If you want society to be the best it can be, educate everyone, not just half the population,” he said. “If you want this state to be the strongest it can be, then invest in everyone and treat everyone equally.”
—Julia Van Develder
Photo credits: ©Vassar College-Stockton Photography