March 4, 2014

Sandra Fluke ’03: Women’s rights are family rights

Sandra Fluke
Lindsay France/University Photography
Sandra Fluke '03 talks on campus March 1.

A staunch advocate of women’s rights and, in a broader sense, human rights, Los Angeles-based attorney Sandra Fluke ’03 does not retreat from sensitive public issues.

In her March 1 talk, “Making Our Voices Heard,” in the Beck Center at Statler Hall, Fluke stressed that so-called women’s issues should be reframed, for example, as family rights and workers’ rights. Her talk was part of the annual meeting of the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

Fluke received national attention in February 2012 when Congressional Republicans prohibited her from testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the need for contraception coverage in health insurance plans, and conservative pundits attacked her. She later spoke to a group of House Democrats and addressed the 2012 National Democratic Convention.

In her Saturday morning talk, Fluke stressed that women’s reproductive rights require continued activism. “If a movement stops swimming forward, the movement will die,” she said. “It will stop attracting new, and often younger, generations of people who are excited about the movement.”

Fluke went on to describe the caretaker paradigm of women in the home: “In the majority of homes in our country, women are still the primary caretakers, and caregivers of children, older relatives and of the home overall.” Caretaking will become a huge issue over the next few decades as the baby boomer generation ages, she said.

Thus, Fluke advised: “This is a women’s issue because it impacts women disproportionately, but we need to begin talking about it as a family issue. I feel rewarded by taking care of my family, but I’m thinking that another woman who is working, caring for somebody else’s family, would probably like to get paid.”

Fluke persistently conveyed that women’s issues should be framed as social issues: “The next time somebody asks you what women’s issue you’re concerned about, tell them you’re concerned about the minimum wage,” she said, adding, “The majority of the fast-food workforce is women, just like how the majority of all minimum wage workers are women.”

But some progress has been made, she said – “In California, I’m proud to say that we passed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights” – and she encouraged immediate action. “This issue of domestic workers is wide open for you to go home and make a difference on it,” she said.

Fluke received a B.S. from Cornell with a double major in policy analysis and management and in feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 2012.

Fluke announced Feb. 5 that she will run for the California State Senate.

Scott Goldberg ’16 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.