Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, spoke at Salem's Commencement on May 21. Smeal has worked at the forefront of nearly every major women’s rights victory since 1970—from the integration of Little League and police departments to the passage of landmark legislation, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Equal Credit Act, Civil Rights Restoration Act, Violence Against Women Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, Civil Rights Act of 1991 and most recently, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
In 1970, she joined the National Organization for Women (NOW), serving three terms as president of the organization. During her tenure as NOW president, she organized the first national abortion rights march in 1986, drawing more than 100,000 participants to Washington, DC. She has been instrumental in every major reproductive rights march since then, including the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the largest march of its kind in history with more than 1.1 million participants.
Working with the Feminist Majority Foundation, Smeal has led a number of initiatives and championed legislation that gives women more choices and more control over their reproductive health. She helped develop the National Clinic Access Project, a program that has trained thousands in non-violent clinic defense techniques, making women’s health clinics more accessible and safer. She led the charge on the Feminist Majority Foundation’s landmark 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the use of buffer zones to protect clinics, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center.
Expanding her fight for women’s rights to a global scale, Smeal launched the International Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan in 1997. The campaign initially worked to counter the Taliban’s abuse of women, and since the fall of the Taliban regime, Smeal has led efforts to increase humanitarian aid and restore full civil rights to Afghan women and girls. She has also taken an active role in involving young women in the feminist movement, initiating the Choices Campus Leadership Program, a groundbreaking organizing effort comprised of a nationwide network of campus-based feminist activist groups called Feminist Majority Leadership Alliances.