Published March 9, 2021
By Kimberly Drelich

The general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation spoke this week in honor of International Women’s Day at a local event emphasizing that women’s leadership matters, from the local to the national and international levels.

The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut held the virtual event Tuesday, which was moderated by Margaret O’Shea, co-chair of the Foundation’s Women & Girls Funds Task Force on Public Policy. This is the second conversation on advancing women’s rights and gender equity.

The Community Foundation asked Diane Randall to speak because of “her leadership role on civic engagement work around policies and practices that create an equitable and just society for all” and because the Quakers were early proponents of women’s rights, said Pam Mola, the foundation’s communications officer.

In her opening remarks, foundation President Maryam Elahi referenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s statement when she was asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court: Ginsburg said people were shocked when she replied, "When there are nine," but she said there have been nine men and nobody’s ever questioned that.

“We know that women’s leadership matters,” Elahi said. “We see it every day in our communities and schools, health centers and all our nonprofit organizations, our state governments and, of course, the United States Congress and Supreme Court. Just imagine how different our conversations, decisions and communities would be if there was true equality.”

Elahi said it’s time to implement laws and practices that guarantee women’s equal rights in the United States. She called for the United States to ratify the global treaty to advance women’s rights and equality, called the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The United States led in its drafting and it was signed by former President Jimmy Carter in 1980 but it has sat on the back burner in the Senate.

“Let’s make every day Women’s Day,” she said.

Randall, who was the first woman appointed to be the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a nonpartisan Quaker organization that lobbies on issues concerning peace, justice and environmental stewardship, commended the Community Foundation for having a Women & Girls Funds Task Force on Public Policy.

“I am a huge champion of people being engaged in our governance,” she said.

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, one of the questions O’Shea asked was how to make a difference in advancing H.R. 1, which just passed in the House to advance voting rights through automatic voter registration, early voting, expanded mail-in voting and other reforms.

Randall said the bill is so significant for women in particular due to the expansion of early voting and same-day registration: “All of us lead very busy lives but it’s clear that if we open up voting in ways that assure election integrity, people will participate,” she said.

She called the move among state legislatures to roll back voting rights “disconcerting.”

To help build support for H.R. 1, she suggested people write letters to the editor and reach out to people in other areas to take up the issue. She said people also could ask supportive elected officials what more they can do.

Randall said education is a key component to upholding democracy, along with supporting institutions, such as libraries, and voting.

“The way that we provide the education and access to education is a huge way that we cultivate democracy,” she said.

Randall encouraged efforts to support women and girls considering running for public office in the region.

“I really believe that the more women who are elected to public office, the more people of color who are elected to public office, the more we’ll see changes in our public policies,” she said.

Mola said the Community Foundation held the event to recognize the important role that women fill in society.

“We know that when women thrive, their families and communities thrive, as well,” she said. She added that the foundation has four Women & Girls Funds in eastern Connecticut that support nonprofits “that help women and girls pursue positive, productive lives — for themselves and their families.”

Watch Conversation with Diane Randall of the Friends Committee on National Legislation: