by Natalie Scruton Federle
Legislative Committee Co-Chair, WBAI Director
On Monday, October 23, 2017, in the ongoing wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and inspired by the resulting #metoo campaign, a group of women – all of whom work in Illinois government and politics and have done so for years, at different levels, and in different roles – penned an open letter describing a few of the many experiences of sexual harassment each has faced regularly in their professional lives. In the letter, called “Illinois Say No More,” the authors demand that elected officials, and men in all industries, be held accountable for their actions, empowering women who want to share their own stories of harassment to do so and calling for society to take a stand against the rampant sexual harassment that women face daily.
The next day, the Chicago Tribune reported on the letter; the campaign has since been reported on over fifty times in the last week alone, garnering national attention. After only one week, almost 300 people have signed their names in support of the letter and #ILSayNoMore.
Seizing this important moment, on October 26, 2017, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz introduced a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives urging lawmakers to work to change the culture that breeds sexual harassment. The very same day, the General Assembly introduced legislation to reform and tighten the processes by which women report sexual harassment in the Capitol, to ensure the wide-spread enactment of anti-sexual harassment policies, to increase the attendance at sexual harassment training by constitutional officers, legislators, State employees, and lobbyists, and to penalize those who are found to have violated anti- sexual harassment policies. A hearing on the bill, HA2 to SB402, will be held on October 31 at 10am in the Bilandic Building (160 N LaSalle St, Chicago). We encourage everyone who is interested to attend, and to complete a witness slip in support.
As female lawyers know, the experience of sexual harassment is not unique to government and politics. Whether working in private practice, government, at a non-profit, or in a non-traditional legal role, female attorneys have been experiencing sexual harassment in many forms since the first women entered law school. We are not paid equally. We are not promoted at the same rates. And we all have stories of male partners, supervisors, senior associates, Judges, and clients touching us, speaking about our bodies as sexual objects, and threatening us if we do not give in to their desires. And when we complain, fight back, and refuse to be harassed – we are mocked, demonized, and have our careers derailed. The #metoo and #IlSayNoMore stories are authored by female attorneys all over the country and here in Illinois, including by members of the WBAI and the leaders of our organization.
The Women’s Bar Association of Illinois is proud to support the #IlSayNoMore campaign. The WBAI is committed to offering its members a way to join the movement, share stories if desired, and ensure that rampant sexual harassment against women begins to leave the halls of the Courthouses, law offices, companies, and workplaces we are working hard to conquer.
The WBAI will continue to support #ILSayNoMore as we ramp up our efforts to lobby the General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment – a legislative act that is 45 years late.