Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney represents New York’s 12th district of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Maloney is the first woman to represent her Congressional District; the first woman to represent New York City’s 7th Councilmanic district (where she was the first woman to give birth while in office); and was the first woman to Chair the Joint Economic Committee, a House and Senate panel that examines and addresses the nation’s most pressing economic issues. Only 18 women in history have chaired Congressional committees.
What inspired you to run for Congress the first time in 1992? What motivates you to keep going after all these years?
I was first elected to Congress in 1992, the ‘Year of the Woman’, when a record 28 women were elected to the House and Senate. Prior to that, I worked as a teacher and later an administrator with the New York City Board of Education. As the first woman to represent my Congressional district, I chose to focus a tremendous amount of energy on ensuring that our country provides equal opportunities for women nationwide, and on ensuring the human rights of women worldwide. The ability to make changes in the lives of my constituents keeps me driven to continue working hard.
Congress’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. How do you cope with the dysfunction and stalemate that characterizes Washington these days?
You can never give up. The challenges we face in Washington pale in comparison to the everyday struggles Americans face in their lives. I keep working hard and look for ways to meet in the middle and interact with my colleagues across the aisle to get things done. I’m proud of my bipartisan work in Congress around issues that don’t know party lines, like anti-human trafficking. Our government functions best when the people who elect us are engaged and informed.
What prompted you to push for greater tampon safety back in 1997? What progress have you seen on this issue since?
Originally, the bill was intended to create a program to conduct collection and analysis of data on Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a disease that was rare but more prevalent in the 80s and 90s, and linked to high-absorbency tampon use. The bill was named after Robin Danielson, a woman and mother who died from Toxic Shock Syndrome in 1998 at the age of 44. Since the bill’s introduction, there has been a movement for greater tampon safety and menstrual health. Greater awareness about the environment has led to more concern about the chemicals in our bodies, which is why the newer version of the Robin Danielson Act calls for new research conducted by the National Institutes of Health on additives in all feminine hygiene products.
What should our members know about the Robin Danielson Act? What’s the most important thing they can do to support the bill?
The Robin Danielson Act of 2014 will help American women make educated and informed decisions about purchasing feminine hygiene products. It will ensure that accurate information with regards to women’s health is readily available through research from the National Institutes of Health. The FDA requires tampon manufacturers to monitor dioxin levels but this information is not readily available to the public. There have been risks associated with feminine hygiene products and it is important that women be informed about these potential risks. The best way to generate greater support for the bill is for individuals to call or write their representatives in Congress and ask them to support the bill.
It’s shocking that chemicals found in feminine care products like dioxins, furans and fragrance chemicals do not have to appear on the product label. Women’s Voices for the Earth has thousands of members who want to see these ingredients disclosed and replaced with safer alternatives. What advice do you have for women who want to get more involved with this or any other issue they are passionate about?
Menstrual health has been considered a taboo subject by society for too long. This bill can help begin a conversation to encourage research and ensure that women live healthy lives. It’s great to raise awareness through word of mouth, but I’ve also become a fan of social media. Interested women can be advocates by sharing articles and information through their social media networks.
Less than 19% of our representatives are women, yet women account for 51% of the population. We need more women in Congress to ensure the issues that matter most to us are addressed. What advice do you have for women who are considering running for office?
I think the biggest hurdle is to make the decision to run! Why not? Women can increase their likelihood of election by first becoming active in local politics and community service. Studies have found that women often need encouragement to run for political office so if there’s a woman in your life who would make a great public or civic leader, tell her. She probably needs to hear it from you. Then, remember- there’s nothing left to lose but a disproportionately represented country unless you give it a shot!