This year marks the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in New York State.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand swept through Buffalo on Friday – not just to memorialize the noteworthy occasion, but to remind women of all the fights that remain ahead in this country.
"We are literally the only industrial country in the world that doesn't have paid family leave," she said. "Having a national paid leave program would mean more women could stay in the workplace longer. They would be able to achieve their full economic potential."
Issues including paid family leave, affordable child care and pay equity for women were touchstones for both Gillibrand and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, as both women appeared at the Hyatt Regency for the National Association of Commissions for Women. The event was held in Buffalo this year for the first time.
Hochul drew both laughs and applause as she humorously relayed the issues that many women in predominantly male-dominated fields face and the bond such women share.
"There is a sense that we owe it to each other to help each other out," she said. "I think a lot of people have a different perception, that when we figure out the secret sauce of success in the field, women kind of close the door and don't want to share the recipe. That is so false, that is so false. I think that's what people want to think because they get nervous when we get together and start plotting."
Both Hochul and Gillibrand – who was last in Buffalo early this year – took the opportunity to highlight women's suffrage as an example of a hard-fought campaign by women that should serve as inspiration for the fights that lay ahead. Legislation that supports women and families supports the entire economy, the two officeholders said.
"I promise you, until every woman ... is able to reach their potential, this country will never reach it's potential," Gillibrand said.
In a nod to the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in New York, Gillibrand also mentioned that she and other women senators successfully lobbied for passage of a bill to help celebrate and commemorate the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, three years away.
Gillibrand even gave credit to President Donald Trump for signing the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission Act into law.
"Hard to believe, but yes he did," she said.
New York was among the first states to give women the right to vote in 1917, but the 19th Amendment was not added to the U.S. Constitution until 1920.
Hochul said the centennial anniversary of the right to vote should not just be an occasion to look at the past.
"Someone 100 years from now will look back at us and say what did we do, what is our place in history, how did we move women ahead?" she said. "That is how we will be judged. And that is how we should be judged. … We have a moral obligation to make lives better for women. Because if we don't do it, who the heck is going to?"
Despite the disproportionate burden placed on women to provide family care, she said, women shouldn't feel forced to give up on what matters most.
"You hear about work-life balance," Hochul said. "There is no such thing. Don't even try."
In a brief meeting with reporters afterward, Gillibrand said she remains tremendously concerned about the Republican health care bill being deliberated by the U.S. Senate, calling it "disastrous, outrageous, harmful and hurtful" for all Americans. She also said women would be disproportionately affected because of the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood and the opportunity for discriminatory policies.