Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Expert Opinion / GRAWA President’s Message: Celebrating accomplishments; looking to the future

GRAWA President’s Message: Celebrating accomplishments; looking to the future

Kimberly Duguay

GRAWA held its annual New Member Reception last week, an event that is always one of my favorites. It is a social event that both welcomes new members and recognizes members who have been practicing law for 25 years. It also provides an opportunity for women of different generations to socialize, network and to learn about each other’s experiences. In fact, more and more attorneys who have been practicing for many years are either newly joining GRAWA or returning after leaving for a period of time.

It is wonderful to hear the backgrounds of young attorneys and imagine the opportunities they will have in the future. It is also inspiring to learn about the endeavors of many of our older members, and appreciate the work that they and others have done to make those opportunities possible. The advancements of women should be celebrated, but it is also important to keep an eye on the work that still needs to be done.

Currently, about 23.7 of state legislators are women. Only 22 percent of legislators in New York are women, and in the U.S. Congress, that number is only 17 percent. These numbers not only affect the laws and policies that are developed in our legislative bodies, the lack of visibility affects how women are viewed and treated.

This was evident in the recent treatment of Sandra Fluke, who testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee as a third-year law student and women’s reproductive rights activist at Georgetown Law School. Ms. Fluke testified on provisions in the healthcare reform law that mandate coverage of contraceptives and their application at religious-affiliated institutions.

Ms. Fluke, who was denied the opportunity to speak before the House Oversight Committee during a hearing on women’s reproductive health while an all-male panel of religious leaders testified as to why religious institutions should be allowed to deny coverage for contraception, sought to explain the impact that a denial of contraceptives would have on women and their families, and to remind lawmakers that contraceptives are often prescribed for medicinal purposes.

Agree or disagree with the healthcare reform law or the coverage of contraceptives, the attacks on Sandra Fluke that followed were nothing short of disgraceful.

Sandra Fluke was publicly assailed like no one else who spoke about the legislation. She was accused of being a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Where initially it appeared as if these gender-based character attacks were limited to social commentators, they expanded to such people as a congressman and even a University of Rochester Professor of Economics.

I am optimistic that these shameful attacks directed at Ms. Fluke’s character rather than the content of her speech, are not supported by the majority of men or women. However, it is a brutal reminder that women still have a lot more work to do to have a voice in the legislative process, which remains dominated by men.

Disagreements on legal and social policies should be premised on the content of those policies. As a women’s bar association, we support the right of women to be heard in legislative proceedings and respectful public discourse, and condemn efforts to silence our many voices by use of gender-based character attacks. Notably, Sandra Fluke will be part of a panel at the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Center For Women’s Leadership this week that will explore the challenges facing our ailing health care system in an effort to develop sustainable remedies.

The panel is part of Meliora Weekend. For more information you can see the University of Rochester website. I fully anticipate that it will be a model of how civilized public discourse can lead to the development of constructive ideas.

As I reflect on the warmth and the shared support that was present at our new member’s reception, and at all of our events, I appreciate and celebrate the many accomplishments of those who have tirelessly worked to advance our organization’s mission to support and promote women in the legal profession and society. I optimistically look to the future and to those who will take this torch and carry it forward in continuing this important work for generations to come.

Kimberly Duguay is the 30th president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys and an appellate attorney at the Monroe County Public Defender Office, where she practices in the areas of criminal and family law.