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Two Pioneers’ Birthdays Remind Us That Women’s Rights and Civil Rights are Indivisible

By Becky Roloff, YWCA of Minneapolis President and Chief Executive Officer
March 27, 2014
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This week included the birthdays of people who make a difference to how the YWCA carries out its work.

Dorothy Height, who passed away several years ago, would have been 102 on March 24. And Gloria Steinem, who is still living, will be 80 in April.

Both women intrinsically understood the fight against racism and sexism is one fight never to be separated. Dorothy understood this through her long and legendary stand on civil rights with the leaders of her day, including leadership positions she held with the YWCA of the USA. Gloria Steinem has been a fighter for the rights of women long before her founding of Ms. magazine in the 1970s.

Hillary Clinton said this about Dorothy Height, “Dorothy Height understood that women’s rights and civil rights are indivisible. She stood up for the rights of women every chance she had.”

I personally heard Gloria Steinem say, “The fight against racism and sexism is one fight never to be separated. If someone believes it is acceptable to own another human being because of their color, they will also believe it acceptable to own someone because of their sex.”

Pay attention to your surroundings the next few days and find something with “YWCA OF MINNEAPOLIS” on it — not hard for many of us. You will find two things.

  1. The mission of our organization — Eliminating racism; Empowering women — is incorporated into our name and
  2. both statements of the mission always travel together.

This is by design, not by chance. We believe that civil rights activists “got” the issues of the women’s movement, and the women’s movement “got” the issues of the civil rights movement.

So what?

It is a big “so what!”

It means that through all of the specific work the YWCA does in Health and Wellness, Girls and Youth, Early Childhood Education, Racial Justice and Public Policy, we mindfully incorporate our mission. Of course, we have our Racial Justice programs, but I am talking about a philosophy and practice that goes beyond that. It  is the lens we use in our decisionmaking on how we value diversity, how we build programs, how we hire and promote people, how we show that through working on reducing sexism and racism, our organization is better at everything we do.

While incorporating our mission into our name can occasionally be used against us by people who wish to do us harm, it is a powerful thing that I am proud that we do. The reminder is constant of the mission we have, and the many ways we practice that mission.