As the first woman ever elected to represent the 76th Assembly District, I believe it is crucial that we commemorate this monumental period that we are in – a hundred years since women first gained the right to vote in New York. At this uncertain time in our country for women’s rights, immigration policy, education, and health care, we must be reminded that we live in a state that has been a national leader in paving the way in shaping federal policy. Our future destiny is contingent upon the actions we take to shape the outcomes.
Much of my work in the State Assembly has been to introduce and support legislation to ensure gender equality in our great state of New York. This legislative session, I helped pass legislation that would expand access to breast cancer screenings without cost-sharing, to include breast tomosynthesis screenings, also known as 3D mammography. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in New York State. Each year in New York, over 15,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast tomosynthesis uses x-rays to collect multiple images of the breast from several angles and creates a 3D image of the breast. Studies have shown that it is more effective in detecting cancer in dense breast tissue, which is one of the strongest predictors of risk for breast cancer. The bill passed with zero votes in opposition.
On Women’s International Day, we passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Resolution calling on the 115th Congress to ratify the ERA into the Constitution. The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 and states were given ten years to ratify the amendment. However, according to Article V of the Constitution, a deadline is not required. As of 1982, 35 states had ratified the amendment – just three states short of the number needed to put the ERA into the Constitution. In March 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, which leaves only two states to go. I made a promise to my daughter, and my friends and neighbors in the 76th district, that I would fight tirelessly for women’s equality, and that means fighting against all forms of discrimination against women on the basis of sex.
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright celebrates Women’s History Month with fellow legislators in Albany.
Despite our State’s progressive reputation, no woman has ever served in New York State as governor, attorney general, or comptroller. In the State legislature, women have made strides, but not nearly as fast as their male counterparts. It is time to identify gender inequality in government, and pursue the necessary adjustments to better reflect gender realities in our society. I was proud to introduce and obtain passage of legislation that would identify how many policy-making positions are held by women in New York State government. The bill compels the Secretary of State to compile a list of policy-making positions held by women compared to policy-making positions held by men. The compilation will track the length of time an individual sits in his or her position and compare the number of positions held by men and women on the Department of State’s website. This will allow us to continue to push for gender equality in government by exposing where more work needs to be done to enable women to achieve policy and leadership positions as well as equal pay with men for equal work. I am hopeful that, by tracking this information and making it publicly available, our state will clear the path of inequities and enable all women to achieve their fullest potential.
As our fight continues in Albany, we must also look for ways to encourage girls and young women to realize their potential. This summer, in partnership with the Assembly Legislative Women’s Caucus, National Federation of Women Legislators, and Google’s Made with Code, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of women in the field of technology, I sponsored a free public viewing of the movie Hidden Figures and a Coding Party for young women ages 13-18 at a public high school in my district.
One hundred years after women in our State won the right to cast their ballots and make their voices heard in government, there is still work to be done. We must all do our part to continue to push for women’s rights and gender equality. On November 7, please be sure to exercise your right. Go to the polls and vote.
Rebecca A. Seawright
New York State Assembly Member, District 76