The Vermont Bar Association partnered with the Vermont Council on World Affairs, Emerge Vermont and UVM’s Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Program to host an International Women’s Day panel presentation and reception on Friday, March 8th at the UVM Alumni House. Thanks to these co-host sponsors and also to the following generous sponsors: Sheehy, Furlong & Behm, PC; Primmer, Piper Eggleston & Cramer, PC; Gravel & Shea; Vermont Women’s Fund; The Kehoe Law Firm; Downs Rachlin Martin, PLLC; Murdoch, Hughes, Twarog & Tarnelli, PC, The Vermont Community Foundation and Leslie Black, Esq, the event was truly a success. In true International Women’s Day spirit, the panel met its goal of celebrating and recognizing the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women!
Moderated beautifully by Assistant Attorney General, Molly Gray, four amazing women got to share their stories about their paths and passions regarding their pursuit of equality on many fronts. After an introduction by VCWA Executive Director, Tricia Preston and opening remarks by Attorney General T.J. Donovan, Molly Gray opened up the panel discussion with panelists: Hon. Denise Johnson, retired Vermont Supreme Court Justice; House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski who is the Executive Director of Emerge Vermont; Sefakor Komabu-Pomeyie, Founder and Executive Director of EEDP Africa and Dr. Felicia Kornbluh, Associate Professor of history and Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies at UVM.
T.J. Donovan opened the discussion speaking about the importance of equal pay and the Office of the Attorney General’s goal of placing women in positions of authority. Molly Gray asked poignant questions while allowing each panelist the opportunity to tell their stories, in detail and in their own words. Sefakor Komabu-Pomeyie told a touching story about growing up with polio and being deemed ‘cursed’ or ‘evil’ by her society in Ghana because of the disability. She credits both God and her strong mother with giving her the ability to become the advocate she is today.
Nearly all of the panelists wove in stories about their own strong mothers who were themselves trailblazers and who gave the panelists the courage and the idea that they could pursue their goals. Felicia Kornbluh spoke of her mother being a labor lawyer at a time when women represented maybe 2% of the nation’s lawyers. Felicia pursued journalism at a young age, becoming an editor at aged 14 in newly liberated Cambodia. She has spent her life’s work on children’s advocacy, welfare reform and women’s access to healthcare, being a child herself when her children’s advocacy began!
Jill Krowinski spoke of her own experience being initially inspired by seeing protesters at planned parenthood facilities effectively hindering so many women’s access to quality health care. She spoke of her time at planned parenthood, but also of her recent assistance with the current codification of reproductive rights at the State Legislature this year. Jill was so honored and proud to be part of what will likely end up being the most civil and respectful conversation about abortion the country has seen. She also spoke of the work that is underway regarding paid family leave, since the U.S. is essentially the only developed country without some form of paid family leave.
Hon. Denise Johnson spoke of her years as an advocate, prior to joining the bench, where she fought cases about more subtle forms of workplace harassment and inequality. She told the chilling story of a cable company’s ‘lurking’ case, which laid the groundwork for hostile workplace decisions. She also summarized her efforts in an equal pay case, where the company’s most senior female still made less than the most recently-hired male – a case with the added complexity that the roles between them were slightly dissimilar. Justice Johnson lamented that women are still fighting the exact same fight, with the same types of issues, from decades prior. But while she noted there is certainly still work to do, the legal battles did make vast improvements for some of the most critical issues facing women in the workplace.
The theme among the panelist was remarkably similar. While there have been so many great strides toward achieving equal pay, harassment-free work places, access for the disabled, diversity and inclusion, and access to healthcare and reproductive freedom, there is still much work to be done. In speaking with many attendees, it goes without saying that just hearing these incredible women share their stories left the audience inspired, hopeful, awe-struck, determined and proud.
Please scroll down to view pictures from the event!