Sunday, July 11, 2010

You're Wondering NOW

Since its creation in 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has been on the forefront of the feminist movement. NOW's focus is on securing reproductive rights, creating a fair and equal environment for women to work, play and live, and much more. It's the largest organization of its kind in the United States, with members spanning all ages, races and socioeconomic strata.

Jerin Alam, Co-Chair of the National NOW Young Feminist Task Force and NOW – NY State Young Feminist Task Force

As the organization grows and times change, new faces are taking their spots as the next leaders of the feminist movement. One of these women is Bangladesh-born, Jerin Alam. Jerin does double duty as the Co-Chair of both the National NOW Young Feminist Task Force and its New York State branch. NOW's Young Feminist Task Force has been responsible for protesting misogynistic films (Tucker Max, anyone?), collaborating with Emily Mays' Holla Back NYC, rallying with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, lobbying against anti-choice language in the healthcare reform bill and working with other organizations advocating for the rights and safety of women including Men Can Stop Rape. Jerin took time out of her busy organizing schedule to update us on what's going on within the movement and NOW.

How did you get involved in the feminist movement?
Feminism runs in my veins. My grandmother, a village woman from Bangladesh, betrothed at birth, married at 13, and mother at 16, was able to exert her will against a ruling authority – her husband. When my grandfather refused to allow my mother and aunts to continue their education, my grandmother told her daughters to go on [a] hunger strike until he caved in. She would feed them when he would leave for work. My mother and aunts followed her example and were, in their own ways, pioneering women in my home country.

My activism began in Bangladesh at the age of nine when I could not ignore the reality that children my age slept on the streets while I was able to have a home and attend school. With the help of my sister and friends, we met in the local park, and taught literacy skills to children. I continued this work until I left for America. The sexism, political violence and high crime in my beloved country alarmed my parents, and they eventually felt compelled to flee with their daughters when I was 11.

In America, I became the president of the Women’s Rights Coalition at Hunter College in 2007.

What role do you play at NOW?
I am Co-Chair of both the National NOW Young Feminist Task Force and NOW – NY State Young Feminist Task Force. I serve on the NOW NY State Council as part of my duties as the co-chair of the NOW – NYS Young Feminist Task Force.

How is the Young Feminist Task Force impacting the lives of women? How do you operate on a national and local level?
The national YFTF serves as a liaison to the National NOW Board, to advise the board about young feminists. We also present workshops during the national conference. The NOW-NYS YFTF has been involved with various projects involving everything from fighting intimate partner violence to health care reform and reproductive justice. Our 25 members reside all around the state, and range in age group from teenager to 30. Our diversity does not end there; we have members of all different religious and ethnic backgrounds, as well as members who identify as female, male and queer. We also differ in opinions, even within the feminist realm but all identify with the other f-word.

Currently, who are some of the key players in the movement?
I am hesitant to answer this question because as one of my mentors, Marcia Pappas, President of NOW-NYS states, the movement belongs to all of us; not only the famous ones. Obviously, I think the NOW national officers are key players. I had the pleasure of meeting Terry O’Neill, NOW President, at a breakfast for Congresswoman Maloney, who has been a long-time advocate for women’s rights herself. Terry is incredibly human and down-to-earth. Action VP Erin is only 30 years old, and is another down-to-earth young feminist who I predict will lead NOW one day. Ellie Smeal and her campus organizers at Feminist Majority do a great job of helping college feminist groups. Gloria Steinem is another down-to-earth icon who keeps on going strong. Liz Abzug, daughter of the legendary Congresswoman Bella Abzug, leads the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute to help young girls and women. She believes in and practices inter-generational dialogue and cooperation to benefit the feminist movement. However, for each Gloria Steinem, there are countless unsung feminists who spend their entire lives fighting for the cause.

What are some of the key issues women should be aware of?
NOW has been fighting for years to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. For 30 years women around the world have waited for our country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This women's rights treaty has been used around the globe to help women claim property rights, address systemic sexual violence and increase our representation in both private and public leadership. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world not to have yet ratified CEDAW. Tell your Senators to ratify women without restrictions and no more delay.

Currently, I am concerned about the continuation of abstinence-only funding by Congress after repeated studies showed they do not work. Crisis Pregnancy Centers receive funding from these funding sources. These fake clinics tell women, “women do not enjoy sex before marriage, condoms don’t protect against STI’s, and contraception is abortion.” There are many of these clinics even in supposedly progressive cities like NYC. As I mentioned, two of the NOW-NYS YFTF members are working on exposing these places and enacting laws that would require them to list the services they provide. You can help.

My first passion within feminism is ending violence against women. That is why I worked over two years, even after graduation, to help pass the sexual-assault policy for CUNY. Rape is still the most underreported violent crime. I work with organizations like SAFER and RAINN to help fight the cause.

Is feminism for every woman? What about the woman who doesn't consider herself a feminist?
As Gloria Steinem said, “when people ask if I am a feminist, I answer, what’s the alternative? Being a masochist?” I cannot believe any intelligent woman would not consider herself a feminist. It was the “radical” feminists who gave us little rights like the 19th amendment and crazy things like being able to work and not be considered our husband’s property. I am so sick of hearing women say feminism is not necessary because we already have the rights we need. I would like to ask them why this post-feminism world still has women earning only cents to a man’s dollar, 1 out of 3 women in the world being victimized by domestic violence or sexual assault, and girls as young as 9 getting eating disorders.

Do you believe women will ever achieve total equality?
Absolutely. Every day, more and more women and men join the longest revolution. I am proud to know quite a few wonderful male feminists myself.

How do you see ladies lotto's role in the midst? How can women who follow us be apart of the bigger plan? How can we all work together?
Ladies Lotto is a great forum to bring together women from around the world. I believe women can change the world if they just come together. I would love to see a closer collaboration between Ladies Lotto and NOW.

Click here to read more about how you can get involved in the feminist movement.

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