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National Organization for Woman co-founder comes to Mills

Priscilla Son
Priscilla Son

On Sep. 17 in the Student Union, Sonia Fuentes, co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), spoke on the state of women’s rights in the country. Fuentes’ talk kicked off the Mills College class of 1964 reunion, giving alums a comprehensive review of the progress made with women’s rights since their time at Mills, and what can still be done.

Fuentes was an active feminist during the equal rights movements in the 1960s and 70s. Fuentes joined the EEOC in 1965 to help enforce the newly-passed Equal Pay Act and Title VII in the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employee discrimination based on sex, race, gender, religion or national origin. After joining, she noticed the majority of the complaints that the EEOC received were regarding gender discrimination.

“Why did men have power when I didn’t?” Fuentes asked during her talk.

Dedicated to women and their rights, Fuentes helped found NOW, which was formed by a total of 28 women including feminist Betty Friedan. According to Fuentes, their goal was “to take the actions needed to bring women into the mainstream of American Society.”

NOW encouraged the EEOC to take implementing women’s rights seriously. Organizations, unions and government agencies followed suit, shifting to be more inclusive of women. The effects of Title VII spread across the country, raising awareness and implementing many of the changes that may seem normal today. During this time, issues such as job equality, child care, sexual harassment, women in the military and education were legally addressed.

“Legal rights that women obtained in this country since the mid-60s … have completely changed the face of this country and are well on their way to changing the face of the world,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes acknowledged that there are issues she believes still need to be addressed immediately. This list included many issues facing women such as sexual harassment, underrepresentation of women in politics, unequal work treatment, and domestic violence.

Junior Liz Blank who attended Fuentes’ talk, shared her thoughts on the women’s rights today.

“We are still fighting for wage equality and now we have to re-fight battles we thought were done with in the 70s and 80s,” said Blank.

Screenwriter Kellie Mekeown was invited to attend the talk by Fuentes and was moved by the discussion of women in society.

I heard everything I wanted to hear about the current status of women’s rights,” said Mekeown. “I got chills from the presentation.”