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Public Interest Week keynote Greenberger shines spotlight on “war on women,” encourages advocacy

March 15, 2012

By Kai Syuen Loh C’15

MarciaGreenberger_web4.jpgThis year’s Public Interest Week Honorary Fellow-in-Residence Marcia Greenberger C’67, L’70 shined a spotlight on women’s rights during her keynote address at Penn Law’s Silverman Hall on the evening of Wednesday, March 14.
 
Focusing on major issues facing women’s rights today, Greenberger’s presentation, “Working in Washington: Highs, Lows and What’s to Come,” drew upon her experiences as founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, as well as her experience as the first full-time women’s rights legal advocate in Washington, D.C.
 
“The highs are that there is lots of talk on the war on women [in America],” she said, adding that it was a positive sign that there was a great deal of focus on women’s rights in the current news cycle and the present debate on government funding for contraception.

“The lows are, of course, that there are these attacks [as part of] the war on women in the first place,” Greenberger said. “There are challenges being made on issues we thought were secure and could rely upon throughout time.”
 
Greenberger spoke on major issues facing women that she has encountered in her time in Washington. The main issues discussed were the pay gap between female and male workers, childcare, health insurance, and education.
 
Stating that women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, Greenberger illustrated efforts to bridge the pay gap, citing the annual Equal Pay Day as the day when women catch up to what men had earned the year before. Greenberger recounted her involvement in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the intricate process of getting the legislation passed.
 
“It’s all about seizing the moments that come and looking into the future,” she said of the legislative process. “As events present themselves you have to take the opportunities that arise.”
 
She also addressed the “abysmally small” portion of women and low-income families that get government aid to support childcare and sustain their families. Illustrating inequalities in healthcare, Greenberger said women are charged more than men for the same insurance, excluding maternity coverage not provided by employers.
 
MarciaGreenberger_web3.jpgIn response to an audience member’s question on her biggest worry in the “entrepreneurial” aspects of advocacy, she said it was “the serious state of education decline.”
 
“There is a lack of understanding in how government decisions affect the public,” Greenberger asserted. “There is an inability to sort what is the truth and what is not.”
 
Reflecting upon her years at Penn, Greenberger described her experience as a valuable one. She noted that the Law School’s multidisciplinary approach provided her with tools that have helped her  run the National Women’s Law Center.
 
Greenberger repeatedly invited students to talk with her at an individual level during her visit, welcoming the opportunity to engage. “Legal training is all about expressing yourself, becoming an advocate for what you believe in in the public sector,” she stated. “Being a law student is all about speaking up and getting involved.”
 
She also praised the concept of Public Interest Week, stating that during her law school years, “it didn’t even occur to us that a Public Interest Week could possibly happen.” Greenberger lauded the pro bono requirement for graduation and Penn Law’s focus on public interest.
 
In his introduction, Michael A. Fitts, Dean of Penn Law and the Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law, said Greenberger was respected for her capacity in “giving voice” to women and her influential role in shaping women’s rights. “[She] understands what it means to have a public interest career in law,” he said.
 
“I thought she was a wonderful speaker,” said Asher Levinthal, a second-year Penn Law student. “I learned that we should always advocate for issues we think are important, and be aware of traditional and untraditional avenues to do so.”
 
Public Interest Week began on March 12 and continues through March 16, and features a series of workshops, conferences, and special events. This year’s theme is “Abundant Justice: Leveraging Our Collective Resources for Maximum Impact.”