Several hundred participants turned up for Women’s Day on the Hill March 8 full of energy and a sense of empowerment.
Presented by The Business and Professional Women of Tennessee Inc., the “2017 Tennessee Women's Policy and Action Day on the Hill” worked with partners to make the day, on International Women’s Day, a success for the several hundred who participated.
Partners included Tennessee Women Political Caucus; Women's Political Collaborative of Tennessee; Advocates for Women’s and Kid’s Equality; Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence; Healthy and Free Tennessee; Memphis Area Women's Council; Contracts for Women Inc.; A Better Balance; AAUW-Tennessee; YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee; Nashville Feminist Collective; Tennessee Women Chamber of Commerce; The Next Door; Native American Indian Association of Tennessee; Exodus Inc., and other women's organizations.
Event organizer Zulfat Suara said since the beginning of this century, the day has experienced low turnout but the resurgence is no surprise considering anti-women legislation at hand. The measures are anti-reproductive rights, anti-refugee, and anti-public health care, she said.
“The significance for 2017 is that due to the political climate, many women are active and ready to be involved,” Suara said. “It is important for our legislators to hear from the constituent and how they feel about these bills.”
The day this year began with a group breakfast, featuring House Speaker Beth Harwell followed by break out groups to visit with legislators, then a group lunch and more visits. The day concluded with a women’s rights rally.
Alison Cooke, communications director for The Next Door (Credit: Ashley Heeney)
One participant of the event was Alison Cooke, communications director of The Next Door, an addiction treatment center especially for women, and one of the only gender-specific centers in the area. The center accepts pregnant women and provides treatment for uninsured individuals like the homeless.
“The idea of this group to get behind one another and me a stronger voice for issues that affect women is extremely important,” Cooke said. The Next Door has joined the fight against the state’s opioid epidemic.
“Beth Harwell has put together a task force on the issue,” Cooke said, adding that The Next Door would love to be part of it. “Our bottom line is that we want to help women and help stop overdoses. We want women to reach out to us for help and we would welcome the support from our representatives in making sure that Tennessee women know they have someone to call (at) 1-855-TND-HOPE.”
Anna Carella, co-director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, also participated in advocacy day.
“Healthy and Free Tennessee believes that people, including homeless, should have the freedom to make choices about their health that are in the best interest of their families free from government coercion or intrusion. Being pro-choice is being pro-family,” Carella said.
“What was alarming about Rep. (Matthew) Hill's defense of his bill (HB 1189) today is that he believes that the government should override science and medical facts in determining fetal viability. He is also confusing case law and constitutional right. Just because legislation hasn't been challenged yet in another state – he mentioned a law in Ohio – doesn't mean it's constitutional,” she said.
“As Rep. Clemmons said during testimony, the cumulative effect of all of these restrictions including other bills from 2012 and 2015 is undue burden on women seeking abortion. This bill will end up in court and is a waste of taxpayer money.”
“We know that access to contraception, not abortion restrictions, lowers abortion rates,” Carella said. “We need legislators to focus on making contraception more affordable and accessible for Tennesseans, not finding new ways to restrict abortion access.
“The biggest barrier [of the day] unfortunately is that some of our legislators have made up their mind to vote a certain way, and do not listen to reason and the voices of the people,” Suara said. “The past couple of years have been very hard for advocates in Tennessee.”
While last year saw a few “wins,” like the anti-stalking bill, there was a “loss” of The Tennessee Economic Council on Women, Insure Tennessee, and protection for refugees.
“Giving up, going away, or not challenging the legislators on bills that are not good for Tennesseans is not the solution,” Suara said. “It is against our ideals. We must continue to engage and to hold our elected officials accountable.”
(Top image: Participants in Women's Day on The Hill March 8. Credit: Ashley Heeney.)