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Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:09 am

Working on women’s issues

Speaking out for workplace equality on International Women’s Day

Maryam Mostoufi of the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield.
PHOTO BY LEE MILNER

 

On March 8 women gathered at the State Capitol Rotunda around the Illinois Welcoming the World statue of a woman extending her arms, which reads “commemorating the work of the women of the state of Illinois.”

Maryam Mostoufi, from the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield, a nonprofit Islamic organization, began her speech chanting the chorus of Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman,” which she said reminded her of her role models: her grandmother and great-grandmother.

The crowd cheered as Mostoufi urged women to be “bold.”

“Look up at the glass ceiling, let’s rattle it!” she said, referring to the issue of unequal pay between men and women. “Maybe the change won’t occur during our lifetime, but it can come for those who follow us if we are bold.”

Lawmakers and community members spoke out on women issues, including workforce inequality and the need for funding women’s resources, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Mostoufi said in an interview she experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in her younger years, prior to the establishment of Title VII, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

“Forty years ago there was no one that stood up for you, you had to stand up for yourself,” she said.

Mostoufi added that women’s behavior is often perceived negatively when speaking out on an issue in the workplace.

“Women often times are branded as being too aggressive, whereas for a man, the same behavior is seen as a strength,” she said.

Women lawmakers gathered to promote legislative changes that address women’s issues, including the Equal Pay Act, which was approved in committee on March 8. The bill would prohibit employers from screening applicants based on their previous wage and salary.

Other bills included the Healthy Workplace Act, which would provide paid sick days to employees, and the Living Wages Act, which would increase the minimum wage for new contracts and subcontracts beginning January 2018.

Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, sponsor of the Healthy Workplace Act and a cosponsor of the amended Equal Pay Act, said although she is a legislator, she identifies herself as a mother, daughter and granddaughter.

“Senator was not on my birth certificate,” she said. “You can’t say you want women to participate fully in the workforce and then not give us access to family leave or child care...it just doesn’t work that way.”

Women cheering at the International Women’s Day event.
PHOTO BY LEE MILNER

 

Meanwhile, Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, urged funding for child care assistance, sexual assault and domestic violence resources and the MAP grant.

Ammons said women make up two-thirds of low-income recipients of MAP grants.

She added there is a need for funding women cancer screenings. Ammons said her daughter survived cervical cancer, and two other friends survived breast and ovarian cancer.

“Just by luck, they found that cancer on time to save their lives,” she said.

Other speakers included Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Jonna Cooley, executive director of the Phoenix Center and Veronica Espina from the Springfield Coalition on Dismantling Racism.

Mostoufi, who grew up in Iowa, was the first woman in her family to attend college, with her grandmother’s financial support and motivation from her great-grandmother, a woman’s suffrage participant. She obtained her degree from Southern Illinois University.

Mostoufi said she visited her great-grandmother after obtaining her master’s degree to give her the news, and to thank her for believing in her.

“Grandma was living in a nursing home due to advanced Alzheimer’s disease. I took her hand and held it and wondered where the woman I had known had gone,” she said. “She looked up on me with unbelievable clarity and said, ‘I’m glad….That’s something I always wanted to do.’”

Mostoufi said she has learned much from her experiences.

“We never know what we say or do that would trigger something deep within another woman,” she said. “We have an obligation to lay the foundation that makes attainable all goals to the next generation.”

Contact Debby Hernandez at editintern@illinoistimes.com.

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