Teresa Younger has been renewing the conversation about feminism since becoming president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women 18 months ago. She has launched a 52,000-mile “listening tour” and has made appearances around the country, like one held Thursday in Santa Fe.
“We have to provide leadership and strive to make everyone completely uncomfortable until we have women at the table where everybody is comfortable,” Younger said before her remarks at a legislative reception at the Rio Chama Steakhouse organized by NewMexicoWomen.Org, a program of the New Mexico Community Foundation to address issues affecting the state’s women and girls.
Younger was the keynote speaker and drew some 200 people, including Sens. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, whose wife was one of the organizers, and Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo.
In May 2014, Younger was named the new CEO and president of the organization founded by Gloria Steinem in 1972. She’s long been the front of the women’s rights movement.
“In order to have full equality, we have to have true equity” and “involve as many diversified voices as we can,” Younger told the crowd Thursday. “When women have full equality, men will also have full equality.”
When newspapers and magazines are full of the stories about the problems of boys, people sometimes think women and girls are not struggling. After all, they’re now a majority in many professional schools and beat out men in graduation rates. But that’s not the real picture, especially in places like New Mexico, where 42 percent of third-grade girls are not proficient in reading.
“It’s easy to say, ‘She’s successful. She did this,’ ” Younger said. But what’s important, she said, is not to look out for the best “but for those who need it the most.”
The crowd, mostly women, loved her. “She’s a rock star in the best sense,” said Liz Bremner of Santa Fe, a former member of the Ms. Foundation board who was there to support NewMexicoWomen.Org. “She embodies what the next generation of leadership is all about.”
Since 2012, NewMexicoWomen.Org has dispersed close to $300,000 in grants for programs that impact women and girls. The organization focuses on issues such as gender-based violence, access to reproductive health services, environmental justice, economics, transportation and health care.
In 2015, it focused its grants on women’s economic self-sufficiency. Nine grants totaling $73,700 were awarded to groups such as Girls Inc. in Santa Fe, Adelante’s Mujeres de Adelante program and the Southwest Women’s Law Center, which pushed for the 2013 passage of New Mexico’s Fair Pay for Women Act.
While New Mexico ranked 15th for women’s pay in a 2013 study by the American Association of University Women, that doesn’t tell the full story, program manager Fatima van Hattum said. Women in New Mexico are still paid 79 cents for every dollar men earn. And for some women, it is even lower: 69 cents for African-American women and 66 cents for Hispanic women, according to another study.
“What women are still losing is significant,” van Hattum said.
In the current legislative session, NewMexicoWomen.Org is supporting constitutional amendments that would allow New Mexico to tap into a $15 billion endowment to fund early childhood education programs across the state. It is also supporting legislative efforts involving reproductive rights, fair pay and protections for victims of domestic violence.
House Bill 161, for example, introduced by Rep. Deborah A. Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, says a parent might not have to cooperate with child support enforcement to be eligible for child care assistance through the state Children, Youth and Families Department if there is fear that the other parent could cause harm. The bill also calls for staff training on protecting victims of domestic violence.
House Bill 158 would provide family planning coverage for Medicaid recipients, including contraceptive drugs or devices.
NewMexicoWomen.Org and its partners are opposing HB 211, which would prohibit local governments from creating a minimum wage higher than the state minimum.
Before joining the Ms. Foundation, Younger was executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, where she successfully advocated for raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave.
Younger currently serves as a board member of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, where she works to increase the number of women in elected and appointed offices, and she also works with the National Advisory Board on Religious Restrictions to protect health care services threatened by mergers between community hospitals and religious-based health systems, her biography says.
Patricia Tujillo, an associate professor at Northern New Mexico College, attended Thursday’s event to give the local perspective on women in Northern New Mexico.
“Girls face a lot of systemic problems such as entrenched poverty,” she said. “That means they can have all the potential in the world, but if they don’t have a strong foundation, they wind up two steps behind.”
Contact Anne Constable at (505) 986-3022 or [email protected].