International Women's Day promotes diversity, equality in Connecticut

Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, and Reia Chapman, its North Carolina Organizer, gave the keynote speech, "Intersectional Feminism 101," at Women's Day in the Capitol on March 9, 2016. (Kimberly Armstrong/The Daily Campus)

HARTFORD — Women of all ages, colors and walks of life met Wednesday morning in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol to celebrate Women’s Day with the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. Compared to the black and white photos of aging male officials that seemed to adorn every wall, the crowd of female professionals and students was positively vibrant.

Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, a national collective working to advance reproductive rights for women of color, opened her keynote speech, “Intersectional Feminism 101,” with a chant that soon morphed into a rousing singalong.

“We must fight for freedom. We must fight for justice. It will take all of us to get to the other side,” Simpson said with the crowd.

Simpson, who spoke alongside North Carolina organizer Reia Chapman, used race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw’s traffic intersection comparison to explain the intersectionality of racism, sexism and other prejudices. It’s not always easy to deconstruct the exact cause of an incident, Simpson said. A woman of color, for example, might face barriers because of her gender, race, class or other factors that contribute to her identity. Simpson said her own identity had been challenged in the past because of her involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement and reproductive justice.

“I had to tell people ‘you can’t pull me apart,” my blackness and my womanness aren’t separate, she explained to the audience. “Intersectionality is about understanding that we all are dealing with multiple layers of identity and that we are all dealing with multiple layers of oppression at the same time.”

Carolyn Treiss, executive director of PCSW, stressed the importance of intersectional feminism to Women’s Day in the Capitol during her introductory speech.

“I think that this speaks so much to the reason the PCSW has been in existence for 43 years,” Treiss said. “This day is about women, all women, and how we can all think about our diverse experiences and work toward gender equity in an inclusive way.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy, who spoke prior to the keynote, said he is proud of Connecticut’s progress on women’s issues during his time in office, including new domestic violence safety measures, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 and instituting the first paid sick leave program for state employees nationwide. A similar bill that would extend these protections to private sector employees is currently being considered by the Connecticut General Assembly.

“No one should ever have to go to work sick and afraid they are going to lose their job if they don’t show up,” Malloy said.

Secretary of State Denise Merrill, whose department registers businesses in addition to overseeing elections, echoed Malloy’s support for paid family and medical leave.

“Paid family leave is critically important, we are one of the few countries in the world that don’t have it,” Merrill said. “If someone has to take care of themselves or a loved one it shouldn’t hit your wallet.”

Merrill added that while female legislators have lost ground over the past few years, more women are starting businesses than ever.

“Workers issues are women’s issues,” Merrill said. “We have to make this state a great place to work.”

Malloy encouraged women in the audience to tackle these issues head on by getting involved with government.

“It brings a new depth and a new level of understanding when we have more women in politics. We have too few women serving in the legislature,” Malloy said.

Denise Rhone, co-chair of Young Women Rising, identified two up and coming feminist leaders as part of the Women’s Day at the Capitol essay contest based on the prompt “What is one of the most pressing issues facing young women today and how do you see yourself having an impact on that issue?” High school seniors Marissa Fugardi of New Milford High School won first place for her essay “E is for Equality and Equality is for Everyone” and Olivia Triplett of Ledyard High School placed second for her essay “Why I Chose to be the Ocean.”

Triplett, who read aloud from her essay, shared the memory of her childhood visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where she saw a poster of the United States’ president's side by side for the first time.

“I remember one thing about this bothering me. I didn’t see any women’s faces up there, only the grey eyes of old men staring back at me,” Triplett read. “I felt indignant, I felt dejected and I felt limited before I even knew what was out there for me.”

This, Triplett said, was when she realized that she would have to rise above society’s expectations for women to get where she wanted in life. She would have to become the ocean.

“These things have power and they won’t be stopped because anybody or anything unconsciously thinks they are less than they are,” Triplett read before the audience. “We have a power within all of us and we can’t be stopped.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.