March 4, 2012

Speaking at Cornell, Senator Gillibrand Urges Women to Lead Sciences

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In her address Friday at the 22nd annual meeting of the President’s Council on Cornell Women, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spoke about the importance of recruiting women for jobs in the fields of science and technology.

Speaking at the Statler Auditorium, Gillibrand said the PCCW, an organization of accomplished alumni working to encourage women at Cornell and other communities to be leaders is “at the forefront of advocacy.”

She spoke about the need to inspire young girls and women to pursue careers in the STEM fields — which include science, technology, engineering and mathematics — by emphasizing how work in these fields can impact people and communities.

“Women are drawn to people and impacting the community. They don’t go into STEM fields because it isn’t obvious, initially, how they’re helping people,” she said.

Recruiting women in STEM fields, Gillibrand said, was particularly important for Cornell, which she said was on the cutting edge of the sciences with its New York City tech campus.

“The tech campus is an extraordinary project not just for New York but also for the entire nation. It’s perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we’re going to have in a very long time,” Gillibrand said.

Apart from encouraging women to become leaders in STEM fields, Gillibrand also emphasized the importance of calling more women to action in the world of politics, highlighting their ability to reach across party lines to build a consensus.

“During World War II, with Rosie the Riveter, we asked women to enter our workforce, because we needed them,” Gillibrand said. “Six million women entered the workforce, forever changing our economy. If we have six million more women voting tomorrow than today, that’ll make a huge impact.”

Gillibrand used her own story to illustrate the importance of role models in inspiring women to pursue careers in politics. She said her grandmother, who was a secretary for the New York State legislature and was involved in grassroots campaigning, served as a role model for her.

“From her, I learned [that] women’s voices matter,” she said. “I learned that grassroots advocacy matters, what we do on the grassroots level really can influence elections. What you do with your time matters. I learned never to be afraid, to put yourself out there, to be heard, to be part of the debate.”

Gillibrand also talked about her experience running for representative of New York’s 20th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. When she consulted a pollster at the beginning of her campaign, he told her that she had a small chance of winning.

Still, Gillibrand ended up winning the district.

“Miracle of all miracles,” Gillibrand said. “Nobody thought it was possible.”

Similarly, Gillibrand said that having the opportunity to hold Hilary Clinton’s seat in the Senate in 2009 taught her much.

“Despite all of the rancor in Washington and the belief that you can’t get things done, you can get things done if you’re willing to work on a bipartisan basis,” Gillibrand said.

Recalling her experiences advocating for the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a policy that, until 2011, barred openly gay individuals from serving in the military, Gillibrand said that “oftentimes we can make a difference in Washington, even when it seems so bleak.”

Gillibrand also answered audience members’ questions about recent policies she has voted on.

In response to one attendee’s question, Gillibrand said that the Blunt Amendment — which was voted down last Thursday but would have allowed employers with an objection to the Obama administration’s new birth control coverage rule to opt out — was an “absolute attack on the autonomy and health of women.”

“There has been a continuous attack and assault on women’s reproductive freedom in this Congress,” Gillibrand said. “They got elected because they said they would focus on jobs. They haven’t focused on jobs for a minute.”

Gillibrand expressed frustration that there has been so much attention to an issue that she felt was decided by the Supreme Court decades ago: access to contraception as a fundamental right.

“I think we need a wakeup call for anyone, male or female, who cares about women’s health or well-being, and doesn’t want this constant focus on reproductive issues,” Gillibrand said. “I hope the American public is listening to the rhetoric. They’re trying to put us back decades in how American women think about themselves and their healthcare … It is just outrageous.”

Original Author: Emma Court