NYC Human Rights Commission invites CIW to join panel of “international and national figures in the fight against sexual harassment and gender equity…”

Photo Credit: Adrienne Nicole Productions for the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray:  “How can we help harness this moment in order to grow and sustain the movement?”…

Last week, the New York City Human Rights Commission partnered with the Office of the First Lady Chirlane McCray and the Mayor’s Office of Special Projects and Community Events to host a panel discussion at New York’s historic Gracie Mansion with over 130 advocates, community leaders, academics, and City officials.  Building on the momentum generated by the Commission’s recent campaign to promote sexual harassment protections in the workplace, the event had a dual purpose. First, the Commission announced the release of its latest report, “Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Recommendations and Trends Based on 2017 Public Hearing Testimony”; and second, the Commission assembled an all-star panel to discus the question on the minds of millions of people across the U.S.: What is the future of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?

First Lady Chirlane McCray kicked off the event.  A longstanding force for social change in the Big Apple, the First Lady opened with a powerful reflection about how far society has come (and how much work remains to be done) when it comes to sexual harassment:

From left to right: First Lady of New York, Chirlane McCray (center, in yellow) next to Peggy Crull, former Executive Director of the Working Women’s Institute, and KC Wagner, now the Director of Workplace Issues at Cornell University’s ILR Metro District Office in New York City. Photo Credit: Adrienne Nicole Productions for the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

Tonight, we have some of the city’s trailblazers in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace here with us… They were doing this work in a church cellar in Midtown back in the 70s.  We didn’t even have a language to talk about sexual harassment back then.  It was just accepted — it was like paint on the walls — you just lived with it…

… Last year, a hashtag helped the world wake up.  People all over finally began to understand what many women, and so many of us here tonight, have known forever: Sexual harassment and assault are rampant.  But “Me Too” was never just a hashtag or a catch phrase.  Tarana Burke founded #MeToo over a decade ago as a way to help young girls of color who were survivors of sexual violence, and today, it has become a movement for all survivors of sexual violence, especially the most marginalized among us.  So the question is: How can we help harness this moment in order to grow and sustain the movement?  The answer starts with all of you.  We need your voices, we need your expertise, we need your stories, we need your solidarity.  We need your commitment to pursue change any way that you can.

The First Lady was followed by another stalwart defender of human rights in the City, Commission Chair Carmelyn Malalis, who introduced the evening’s formidable panel.  The panelists comprised “international and national figures in the fight against sexual harassment and gender equity,” including Katherine Franke, professor of law, gender and sexuality at Columbia University; Geena Rocero, model, producer and trans rights advocate; Alexandra Brodsky, attorney at the National Women’s Law Center; and, of course, Lupe Gonzalo of the CIW.  In turn, the panelists discussed many of the most promising efforts underway across the country today — in workplaces ranging from offices and college campuses to the modeling industry and the fields — in the fight against sexual harassment. 

Lupe (below, speaking) shared a brief history of the CIW’s own fight against sexual violence, noting that the farmworker community’s uniquely successful efforts have been led by some of the country’s most vulnerable workers, and highlighting the unique elements of the FFP that have made it into one of the country’s most effective anti-harassment programs today:

Photo Credit: Adrienne Nicole Productions for the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

We come from a farmworker community that harvests the food that many of you put on your plates every day. For many years, we suffered sexual harassment and violence — it was our daily bread.  Supervisors could simply pick up a female worker and take her to the edge of the field, sexually assault her, and there was nothing we could do about it.  There were no laws to protect us.  We had to seek another form of protection for us as workers, to ensure that our dignity as women would no longer trampled. 

So we began to call on large corporations, the buyers of the products we were harvesting, to concentrate their purchases only with farms where workers were being treated fairly.  Today, we have the Fair Food Program.  These large corporations are buying from these farms.  So if there’s a supervisor assaulting a woman, they have to be fired immediately, the farm has to take action right away.  As a grower, you have to choose — either you fire that abuser, or you lose purchases.  Now, as women, we have the right to report abuse.  Women in the fields now say: I feel safe to to go to work, because no one will be stalking me, or harassing me.  And if there is, I can report it. There is real participation by workers, and powerful market consequences for abusers.

Before and after the panel discussion, many audience members connected with each other and planned activities to bring more committed people together.  Meanwhile, news of the event and the message of its participants spread quickly over social media:  The hashtag of the evening, #NoMoreSilenceNYC, generated nearly 400,000 impressions across Twitter and Instagram!

We want to thank First Lady McCray, NYC’s Commission on Human Rights, and other inspiring panelists for the opportunity to share the CIW’s model for change, born in the tomato fields near Immokalee but rich in lessons for industries, communities, and government entities across the country, all joined in the same battle against sexual violence.