Kirsten E Gillibrand

Power of Women Speech – April 13, 2018

Kirsten E Gillibrand
April 13, 2018— New York City, New York
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Six months and eight days ago, a story broke in the New York Times that lit a match on a fire that is still burning. It was about Harvey Weinstein, but as we all know it was about much more than that.

It was about the systemic devaluation of women in our society. It was about the abuse of power. It was about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and sexual harassment that women experience every day across America within the existing power structure of society.

It was a moment when this scourge finally began to come out of the shadows and many of the people in this room helped give that fire the oxygen that it needed to burn, none more so than Tarana Burke.

Tarana made this her life's work a decade before there was a hashtag and famous people taking up her cause. But she knew then that it wasn't just about her. She knew that it was about all survivors, including black and brown women who are too often forgotten or marginalized.

People in this room have joined this mission. We saw the power of women when they stood up and said “Me too,” when they stood up and took action and said “Time’s up.”

It became more than a moment. It became a reckoning a movement that was necessary and yes, at times painful, because it includes people we love.

But we must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry or any one person. We must not lose sight that this conversation is ultimately about whether we value women.

And for too many institutions, their actions speak louder than words. Time and time again we've seen institutions protect predators by disbelieving survivors, by blaming survivors or even worse retaliating against them when they report. Employers mandate forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements in standard employment contracts.

So what I'm asking you all today is to keep going. Keep using your voices. Use your platforms, use your name, use your time, use your energy to do the hard work that is ahead of us.

Let us use our collective power to fight together for women everywhere up and down the economic ladder who don't have bosses in the public eye. And I'm talking about hourly workers who might work in retail stores or hotels or restaurants or on farms or in businesses or in bars—all who cannot today call out their abusers because it's not an option.

So to achieve lasting change, we need to fight this everywhere on behalf of everyone by insisting on accountability, ending forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements, working to bring more women leaders into every single industry.

When you have a woman in charge of your company, of your business, it changes everything. Women in positions of power have a different lens, have a different view, and so when women decide to own their ambitions it changes the world.

So run for office. Go for that corner office. Make that film. Take the risk, because America will only achieve her full potential when every woman and girl reaches theirs.

And just one example. Imagine the day when we have 51% of women in Congress. We only have 22 [women] in the U. S. Senate, only 18 percent in the House of Representatives. Do you think this U.S. Senate would still be doing nothing to change the sexual harassment system where members of Congress get to play by their own set of rules, get the taxpayer to pay their settlements? Do you think we would finally change that, a system that's designed to protect predators over and over again?

I can tell you the answer's no, because every single woman in the U.S. Senate—all 22 of them, Democrats and Republicans—joined together to demand a debate on the Senate floor to pass a bill that I helped to lead.

Time’s up, U.S. Senate. It is time for Congress to clean up its own act and take this problem seriously. It's time to bring the Congressional Harassment Reform Act to the Senate floor so that we can have a vote up or down. I dare any of my colleagues to vote against it, because I believe that collectively across the board we together are writing the most important, the next chapter of the women's movement.

It is up to us to keep raising our voices, to fight for what we believe in, regardless of what it is. At this moment of great challenge and opportunity, we need to speak truth to power. We need to have the courage to fight. We need to stand up for what we believe in. We need to say no when it is wrong. We need to be heard in all places, from all platforms. We need to change the world.

Thank you for being here.