Monday, October 22, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Mothers and Caregivers - Summit

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

Dearest readers, I'm sorry for the long break in posts - my father passed away during the holidays, so between holiday and sitting shiva things have been a little crazy in my house. But have no fear, blogging is back!

Saturday morning was Plenary IV. This plenary session was part of the Mothers and Caregivers Summit. According to the NOW conference website, “This summit…spotlight[s] the work of those who form the backbone of all societies: mothers and caregivers. Because women throughout time have been expected to automatically assume the responsibilities of child rearing and caregiving, the importance of these roles is overlooked and dramatically under-valued in our culture. The Mothers and Caregivers Summit, co-sponsored this year by NOW Foundation and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), will feature ideas about how mothers’ and caregivers’ contributions can be properly recognized and valued.”  I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

They always-awesome NOW Membership VP Allendra Letsome hosted the plenary. She first introduced Charon Asetoyer, the executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, who discussed Indigenous women’s health, especially as it pertained to reproductive rights and access to birth control and abortion. After Asetoyer came Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American Studies at University of Maryland in College Park, who spoke about women’s relationship to fashion, consumerism, and material culture. The next speaker was Miriam Zoila Perez, a birth and abortion doula and founder of Radical Doula, who talked about the intersection of birth activism and social justice. Next came Karren Pope-Onwukwe, a prominent elder law attorney, bar leader and community activist who spoke about women, aging, and their rights. The final speaker was Janice Lynch Schuster, a senior writer for Altarum Institute and its new Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, who discussed how women and caregiving.

I found all the speakers extremely illuminating, but I was particularly interested in Asetoyer’s discussion about Native American women’s health, especially reproductive rights and access to birth control and abortion. This was a topic I was completely ignorant about, so I was happy to learn so much about it. What really struck me was Asetoyer’s description of the sheer difficulty a Native woman living on a reservation would have obtaining either birth control or an abortion. As a New Yorker, I know that all I would have to do to get birth control is run to the pharmacy on my corner and pick up a prescription that my doctor happily gave me. In a stark contrast, women on a reservation would have to travel miles and miles in order to get birth control, ignoring the fact that they have children and/or other responsibilities at home.

I really enjoyed listening to Paoletti, even though I’m really not into fashion at all. I am a history geek, though, which is probably why I appreciated her discussion on how children’s clothing has evolved throughout the years through a lens of gender. I found the information she shared about the color pink as it relates to gender really interesting, since it’s something I’ve noticed on a firsthand level (and even written about). My mom once wrote an article about the development of the gender divide on the color pink, and she used Paoletti’s work as part of her research, so it was really cool to hear Paoletti speak in person.

Janice Lynch Schuster also got my attention when she discussed the sandwich generation: typically 40 - 60-year-olds who are caring for parents and children at the same time. I witnessed my mother care for her mother throughout my childhood, especially after my grandmother became ill. Although it was long-distance caregiving, it still took my mother a lot of effort and gave her a lot of strain.

I really enjoyed this session, since it was illuminating and full of information that I wasn’t familiar with beforehand. Since I always like to learn about various feminist and women’s issues, this was right up my alley. One can’t get much more diverse than putting Native American women’s rights, fashion in pop culture, birthing and maternal issues, women and aging, and women’s caregiving responsibilities together!


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your father's death. Sorry that I'm not sure how to say this in the feminine plural (for you and your mother): HaMakom y'nachem etchen(?) b'toch sh'ar aveilei Tzion vi-Y'rushalayim.

    Thank you for your informative reporting.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I believe "etchen" is the proper way to say it feminized.

  3. I'm so sorry about your father! God bless your family!