Martha Maffei, right, speaks as advocates for women's rights gathered...

Martha Maffei, right, speaks as advocates for women's rights gathered for a Women's History Month rally in Central Islip to highlight several advocacy issues, including support for New York's Women's Equality Act and immigration reform that takes the needs of undocumented women and victims of domestic violence into consideration. The event was organized by Sepa Mujer. (March 21, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Victor Manuel Ramos

Women’s rights advocates rallied Thursday in favor of an agenda that would counter gender discrimination and inequality as they marked Women’s History Month.

About 20 people gathered outside the Suffolk County Family Court in Central Islip to stress the need for policies that pave the way to better jobs, educational opportunities and safety for women.

“We want to raise our voices on issues of concern to women that have been somewhat invisible in our area,” said Martha Maffei, director of SEPA Mujer, a Central Islip nonprofit that provides support to Latinas trying to escape domestic violence situations.

The advocates were energized by Congress’ extension last month, and President Barack Obama’s signing two weeks ago of expanded protections for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act.

But they also called for passage in New York of a Women’s Equality Act being fashioned by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which will include pay equity and abortion rights provisions. They also want federal immigration reform that would include waivers for undocumented women and domestic violence victims who can’t always prove their years of work in the United States.

Cheryl Keshner, senior paralegal with the Empire Justice Center that advocates on behalf of poor people, also called on local governments to fund child care programs that allow women to seek work or study.

“There are many forms of violence against women,” Keshner said, “and the discontinuance of child care is one of them.”

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