Where are we on women’s rights in the US? Event offers a glimpse

Panelists from the “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” event on Dec. 9, 2017 in Fresno State’s North Gym Room 118. (Daniel Avalos/The Collegian)

Equality for women was the message, and the ones calling for it were women.

Room 118 in Fresno State’s North Gym hosted the “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” event on Saturday in commemoration of Human Rights Day. The event was organized by the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley.

A number of successful women had a platform to introduce themselves to the audience, as well as shed light on what they called social injustices in the community, the country and the world.

The title of the event drew inspiration from Hillary Clinton’s speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women on Sept. 5, 1995.

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,” Clinton famously said.

Clinton was represented tangibly at Saturday’s event as well, with the presence of Amanda Renteria. She was recently named Chief of Operations for the California Department of Justice and was a top member of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Fresno State’s First Lady, Mary Castro, kicked off the event with an anecdotal speech about her life and the inequality she experienced growing up on a dairy farm in Laton, California. She reflected on her successes today.

“I know what it feels like to have people look through you, instead of look at you,” Castro said. “I know what it feels like to have people believe that they already know what your life path is going to be, and you’re not worth their time.”

She added that no one should ever be excluded, or feel like they have the right to make someone feel excluded.

Castro was followed by a speech from Renteria.

The self-proclaimed public servant began her speech with gratitude for the women speaking, for students, educators and her family.

Renteria struggled to fight back tears while thanking her family.

Soon, the packed room heard a call to action from Renteria.

“Why not step up now?” she asked the women in the room. “I know I wouldn’t be on this stage without people who stepped up when other people said to wait.”

She cited Castro, Clinton and Dolores Huerta as women who had “stepped up.”

Huerta, a social activist for 50 years who has received the Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award, was in the room when Renteria mentioned her and was next to speak at the event.

Huerta made sure the audience knew exactly what Renteria was asking them to do.

“What we have to do change this is we have to dismantle the systems of oppression, and part of those systems, of course, are people that are in office,” Huerta said.

She criticized Fresno County for its lack of support for the congressional candidates in the previous elections whom she felt were more deserving of votes. Those candidates included Renteria, who ran for a seat in California’s 21st congressional district, and Huerta’s son, who was defeated by Republican David Valadao.

Huerta repeatedly noted her observations of how far from true equality and fairness the country remains.

“We’re one of the few countries that has not ratified the United Nations’ convention to end the discrimination against women,” she said. “That really shows how backwards we are and what a long way we have to go.”

Huerta said that education is a key component in the advancement of equality for women, adding that women need to begin to become more and more financially independent from men.

“We as women, we have to think of ourselves as being able to do exactly what [men] do,” she said.

Both Huerta and Renteria were critical of President Donald Trump and his treatment of women and minority communities.

But Renteria said that the country is making social progress despite Trump’s victory. She said that defeating Trump and Republicans in future elections is a matter of “re-winning old battles.”

After Renteria’s and Huerta’s speeches, Dr. Francine Oputa, director of the Cross Cultural and Gender center, captivated the audience with a loud and colorful reading of Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.

The second half of the day included a panel consisting of Oputa; Fresno City College President, Dr. Carole Goldsmith; associate Vice President for legislative campaigns with Planned Parenthood, Patsy Montgomery; and Marjaree Mason Center Executive Director, Nicole Linder.

Each woman discussed a different topic at length.

Oputa focused on equity and equality, Goldsmith on education, Montgomery on health and family life, and Linder on domestic violence.

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