Women’s Struggles and Triumphs

Guest Commentary

Volume CIV, No. 3March, 2004

City Councilmember Christine Quinn

I was extremely flattered to be invited by Local 802 to write a piece for the Women’s History Month issue of Allegro. In preparation for this piece, I began to reflect on both the significant gains in equal rights made by women and the tremendous amount of work that remains.

It is only appropriate to talk about women’s rights in the context of the labor movement and the fight for economic justice because the two are inextricably linked: There can never be justice until all people have full economic equality. Both Local 802 and I share this belief, and this shared commitment is at the foundation of our deep relationship.

However, when in good health, it is easy to forget how essential being healthy and having access to quality health care is to participating in all aspects of life, including the workplace.


As a member of the New York City Council, I pride myself on representing the people and places of the Theatre District, and have joined my district’s musicians wherever they have had a fight. When musicians were locked out of the New York City Ballet in December 1999, I was happy to provide a pair of ballet slippers to dress up Local 802’s all-too-familiar inflatable rat.

Last year, when musicians were fighting to save live music on Broadway, I proudly walked the picket lines, participated in press conferences, and spoke directly with the highest levels of management to communicate my support of the musicians.

When Local 802 asked for my help to negotiate the necessary permits and police cooperation for a march through the Theatre District, I saw it as a continuation of our close relationship and happily did so.

Local 802’s fighting for the rights of all musicians follows in the tradition of such great women labor leaders as Mother Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Dolores Huerta.


I am proud to be a part of this movement and to carry the fight for women’s rights inside City Hall as the chair of the Health Committee. I firmly believe that women will never have equality until all women, regardless of their race, income or sexuality, have control over their own bodies.

Access to family planning and reproductive health services has been one of the single most important factors in allowing women to participate in the workforce and gain independence. Women must be empowered to make their own decisions about when and if to have a child.

As chair of the Health Committee, I have been very aggressive in pushing for expanded reproductive health access, and I have overseen the passage of several pieces of legislation that increase women’s access to emergency contraception (EC).

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene must now carry EC in its sexually transmitted disease clinics; hospitals contracting with the city must inform rape victims about EC and provide it upon request; pharmacies that do not carry EC must post signs stating so.

I have also joined several of my colleagues in urging the FDA to approve over-the-counter sale of the EC.


In an effort to expand access to health insurance to thousands of New Yorkers, I am working hard to pass the Equal Benefits Bill, legislation that would require all companies doing business with the city to extend to domestic partners all of the employment benefits, including health insurance and family leave, that they offer to married couples.

This important civil rights bill will help countless New Yorkers that are currently without health insurance gain coverage.


All of us can relate to the terror of breast cancer. After a City Council investigation revealed unacceptably long wait times for screening mammography, I convened a mammography task force comprised of providers and advocates which, among other things, is establishing a referral number that facilities with long wait times can provide to their patients so that they might arrange an appointment at another facility that can accommodate them more quickly. I anticipate that this referral line will be up and running within the next several months.

I am also advocating for increased federal support of the Patient Navigator System, a system which helps women of color who have had suspicious mammograms get the follow-up care they need by pairing them with hospital staff who guide them through the various stages of diagnosis and treatment.


Clearly, much work still needs to be done and the fight for women’s rights will not be won without taking to the streets and demanding them. This is why I am supporting the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. on April 25, and organizing a bus to leave from my district. If you are interested in joining me on this bus, please call my district office at (212) 564-7757.

Christine Quinn represents the third council district in the New York City Council.