One Woman Makes a Difference 2018 Annual Awards Dinner

Hosted by CWEALF (Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund) 

Remarks by Maryam Elahi, 2018 Honoree

I am honored and humbled to be amongst this august group – these remarkable three women being recognized this evening. Tonight, we celebrate CWEALF’s 45th Anniversary – a night to recognize the great work that CWEALF does, its achievements and to commit to our continued support for this important organization. We have two tables of trustees, staff and friends here as a testament of our commitment to CWEALF’s important work advancing women’s equity in Connecticut. 

We are going through a period of social transformation in this country. This is a good thing. But we need to recognize that change does not come about without resistance and pain. The “me too” movement, “year of the woman”, “black lives matter”, “science is real” are all a part of this transformation – but there is so much more. This movement is about welcoming a change in demographics in the country and a deeper understanding and commitment from the ground up to social justice and economic equity. The bottom line is that our voice matters. We need to be at the table - in the room where it happens. The European Union has been pushing to have women be 40% of the members of corporate boards and California just mandated one woman to be on each corporate board. Really? I am not in favor of crumbs. Are you? It is like saying that it is ok if one out of ten women get to vote. This suggests a semblance of power-sharing – and does not indicate any real commitment to parity. 

We need to be 51% at every table where decisions are made – in the board rooms, executive, judicial and legislative bodies – local and national – every decision impacts women and those we love and support. And our work is not done until we have true equality and equity in this country – and see that it is reflected in every aspect of our domestic and foreign policy.  

Since hearing Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony on Thursday, I have felt a deep sense of grief. Grief for all the survivors and victims of sexual violence. It is the most pervasive human rights violation happening in our world today. We should always support survivors, never accept impunity for the perpetrators and work to prevent sexual violence in our communities. We need a major cultural shift in the world – let us begin with our communities here in Connecticut. Since I am a forever advocate, I came tonight with some ideas of what each one of us can do about it. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Mentor a young person and help them take informed positions on the challenges we face.
  • Encourage feminists - men and women -  to run for positions of leadership. 
  • Ask your elected officials where they stand on women’s equity and let them know that their stance will impact how you vote.
  • Write checks to support feminist organizations, go to rallies and join committees and boards.
  • If you serve on a board, volunteer to be on the key decision-making bodies - executive, governance or search committees, and make sure that women have the majority voice in those committees.
  • When women’s voices are hushed, call it out.
  • And finally, always try to take a public stance that favors justice, fairness and equity.

We have much work to do but this moment is filled with great opportunities to organize. We need to be courageous and guided by a moral compass.

I believe that we can move mountains – we just need to keep our focus. In difficult moments, I like to think about our heroines – great people like Harriet Tubman, the Grimke sisters, Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. And so many of you in this room. We are the change agents. 

All of us make a difference because we have loving friends, supportive colleagues and encouraging mentors around us. I learned about human rights violations when I was a senior in college and it changed the course of my life – from the pursuit of a career in medicine to one in human rights law. It seemed foolish for a refugee whose family had lost their livelihood to forsake a financially secure future for one fraught with uncertainty and political risk. But, I was very fortunate to have a feminist father who fully supported me with heart and soul. In accepting this recognition, I thank my good friends here, my colleagues and friends from Trinity College – thanks to you together we built an amazing human rights program at the college which continues to produce graduates with an understanding and commitment to human rights values, and my colleagues from the Community Foundation and other community partners - thanks to you, we are building a thriving community in Eastern Connecticut. Thank you Kate for your leadership and the staff and board of CWEALF for this recognition.



Honoree Maryam Elahi, President and CEO of the Community Foundation (center) with past and current trustees L to R: Ruth Crocker, Cathy Bokoff, David Schulz, Steve Larcen, Valerie Grimm, Lynn Malerba and Sandra Rueb.

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