Women on the Bench: SCBA International Women’s Day Breakfast Seminar
by Andi Liebenbaum
It is no small honor to share a stage with, let alone moderate, a panel among exemplary members of our judiciary. And while the undercurrent of our discussion on March 8 at the SCBA Event Center to celebrate International Women’s Day was that our panel should not have had to stand out for anything other than intelligence, experience, and professionalism, the panel did stand out for more, because all of us on the panel, and literally all but one person in the audience, are women. At our 110th anniversary celebration of International Women’s Day, and as we approach the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, it is still exceptional that a panel and audience of all women in the law is needed to call attention to the notion that women (still) face obstacles, discrimination, and gender-based frustration in the workplace. It is likewise brave and telling that a single man – thank you for joining us and being such an engaged listener and participant – joined us. Just one.
Judge Kimberly Mueller’s keynote address hit many notes that sounded clear and true. Discrimination is not necessarily overt and obvious. While women’s “herstory” is critical and we should know it, women’s herstory is actually just history, and we have to work to make sure women are written into the pages of the past as well as the future. We have to pick our battles, and we have to reach back and help others, particularly now that the world is better at acknowledging the role and needs of all people who face barriers. Just as women’s rights are civil rights, so are the rights of LGBTQIA people, people/women of color, people/women of faith, and immigrants.
Equally motivating and introspective were Judges Stacy Boulware Eurie and Emily Vasquez. Boulware Eurie emphasized how vital it is that members of the bench know and reflect the communities where they serve. As Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court in Sacramento, she saw many children and adults of color, many women trying to help their children. She draws upon her own life, her own personal experiences, and her ability to connect with people as the source for her professional successes. During the conversation between panelists and panel, she encouraged people to be comfortable with their own paths. With no recipe or easy formula for going from associate to partner, or from bar to bench, she encouraged the audience members to know what they want and to make the best possible choices to get there.
Also, from the Sacramento bench, Judge Emily Vasquez stressed that International Women’s Day is about every woman of color, every white woman, every LGBTQIA woman, every female worker regardless of occupation. She emphasized that honoring all women is important because we are all interconnected; and that we all suffer when women around the world are deprived of basic human rights. She stated that we share the responsibility of educating the world for better treatment of women. Like Judges Mueller and Boulware Eurie, Vasquez agreed that there has been progress, but she reminded the audience that the work towards equality is not done, and she encouraged attendees that when they encounter hardships, failure or obstacles in their lives not to be discouraged, but instead to use that hardship as motivation to succeed. She concluded her remarks by encouraging attendees to take the lead in educating the public about the importance of gender equality, pay equality, and access to equal justice for everyone so that we can make a positive difference in society.
Beyond incredible presenters, the SCBA’s celebration of International Women’s Day provided an opportunity for dialogue. In addition to asking the panel questions of their lives and journeys, members of the audience were asked questions too, which provided a venue for comfortable interaction and feedback, and a flow of ideas, concerns and support. The SCBA hopes to turn a panel presentation on International Women’s Day into an annual event, and we hope to see the discussions and audience become more diverse as our stories become history.