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Ireland Speaks of Progress on Women's Issues

By Lisa N. Brennan-jobs

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and author of "What Women Want," spoke yesterday about challenges facing the women's movement in the twenty-first century.

Ireland encouraged women to take leadership roles.

"We can't just try to influence the people in power," she said. "We have to become them."

In her speech "Women, Politics, and Justice in the Year 2000," sponsored by Radcliffe College, Ireland addressed issues ranging from equal economic opportunity to the protection of reproductive rights.

After Ireland's speech, local activists and members of the Radcliffe community spoke about poverty among females and abortion rights.

The speakers were followed by a panel discussion.

Ireland spoke of the progress that her 300,000 member international organization has made since she was a child.

"Young activists today are light years away from where I was," she said. "We didn't have a word to describe sexual harassment."

Ireland cited landmarks such as the voting rights act, the recognition of both birth control and abortion as constitutional rights and increased rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals as examples of progress.

She cited the change in popular lingo, from fireman to fire fighter, and from policeman to officer as advances.

"We've changed the language, the culture," she said.

Yet despite the advances, the women's movement faces a backlash, Ireland said.

"As we speak, Congress is trying to repeal or limit a domestic violence gun ban," she said.

She also cited what she called a "direct frontal attack" on Roe v. Wade in Congress--a proposed ban on partial-birth abortions--as evidence that the government is making a "real effort to roll back our rights."

Ireland emphasized the importance of a group movement and a strategy to achieve change.

In the words of Frederic Douglass, she said, "Progress concedes nothing without a demand."

As NOW moves into the twentyfirst century, Ireland hopes to strengthen alliances within the feminist movement, continue intergenerational dialogues moving and continue advancing the movements.

"When I started this we were wearing 59 cent pins," she said, referring to the compensation women received to a man's dollar for the same amount of work. "Now we're up to 79 cents," she said

She also cited what she called a "direct frontal attack" on Roe v. Wade in Congress--a proposed ban on partial-birth abortions--as evidence that the government is making a "real effort to roll back our rights."

Ireland emphasized the importance of a group movement and a strategy to achieve change.

In the words of Frederic Douglass, she said, "Progress concedes nothing without a demand."

As NOW moves into the twentyfirst century, Ireland hopes to strengthen alliances within the feminist movement, continue intergenerational dialogues moving and continue advancing the movements.

"When I started this we were wearing 59 cent pins," she said, referring to the compensation women received to a man's dollar for the same amount of work. "Now we're up to 79 cents," she said

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