Every August 26, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day. Women’s Equality Day, created in 1971 by the United States Congress, is designated as the date for the observance of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. If we want to be truthful, we should call it the “Women Were Given the Right to Vote” day because the current name is a misnomer. Women are still not treated as equal.
Women’s inequality is a multi-faceted problem. It crosses every geographic boundary, age, race, religion, political affiliation, education level and profession. It can be found in the healthcare sector, judicial system, welfare system, in every occupation and industry, at colleges and universities, in the entertainment sector, in sports, in the media and in our military.
Discussions about equality seem to be reduced to two topics; the first being equal pay or its real name — unequal pay. Rather than have an in-depth discussion about the systemic underpaying of women since before WWII, the conversation is reduced to the simple statement of women earning 77 or 78 cents to a man’s $1.00. It’s misrepresentative to show cases where women earn more than men as a sign that pay inequality is changing for the better. We are still talking about breaking the glass ceiling, how many women serve as CEOs or Board Members of Fortune 500 companies, when the reality is that 50% of working women felt that their career has been affected in some way by discrimination.
The second discussion topic about equality is the use of the word “feminist/feminism.” The simple definition of the word feminism is, “advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” There is no part of the definition that says anything about hating men. Calling oneself a feminist based on this definition is a good thing. What’s not good is allowing anyone to charge the word with negative and hateful emotion. In our quest for equality, we need to be less concerned with labels or definitions. It sidetracks us from our goal.
Inequality is endemic in women’s healthcare. In 1993, the FDA published guidelines to evaluate gender differences in drug trials. Last year, in 2103, the FDA reduced the recommended dosage of a popular drug because of the harmful effects for women taking a man’s dosage. This drug has been on the market since 1993 without acknowledging gender discrepancies. One of the most glaring oversights in medicine was the study of aspirin’s efficacy conducted on 10,000 men and ZERO women! These examples should be of concern to women, given that many drugs lack information about side effects and gender. Attacks on women’s healthcare under the guise of abortion prevention hurt women for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and more. In 2012 even a well-known breast cancer organization allowed politics to interfere in their funding of breast health care for poor women.
The most dangerous form of inequality exists in our justice system. According to the Justice Department, 2.1 Million women are assaulted by men every year. On average, three women are murdered every day by a husband or boyfriend. Seventy-six percent of intimate (female) murder victims had been stalked by their partners; 54 % of those women had reached out to police for help before they were killed. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the number of police officers under their own domestic violence restraining orders, responding to help these women in extreme danger? The cost to our economy, yearly, for domestic violence is over $5 billion.
The change in how rape is viewed is even more disconcerting. In the media, in the words and actions of politicians and in local communities, rape has been diminished and negated. The “try the victim” mentality that we have fought so very hard against has rebounded with incredible force. Sexual assault in the military and at colleges and universities is barely acknowledged and minimally addressed. Over 20% of college women will be raped — more than half will tell no one. By dismissing rape’s severity, it minimizes the victim and desensitizes us to the gravity of the situation. The message being sent by backlogged rape kits (estimates say over 400,000), is that rape is not that important.
Welfare is a favorite punching bag to talk about how people take advantage of the system. However, the severity of poverty’s threat to women cannot be allowed to get lost. Of women who head families, 40% live in poverty. Seven million more women than men are in poverty or deep poverty in the United States. The U.S. poverty level for a family is $15,750 for two people; deep poverty is 50% of that. Because of the constant political diatribe on “takers,” the survival of these families goes by the wayside.
In every industry and in every occupation, women have been affected by inequality through lower pay increases, skipped promotions, less valued project assignments, sexual harassment and more. Corporations need to develop a risk-averse, no tolerance policy for any behavior that does not see women employees as vital, important members of their economy. Inequality’s cost to corporate reputation, bottom line and future earnings needs to become a wake-up calls. And women need to learn how to vote with their wallet.
When will women achieve equality?
- When we no longer allow every conversation about women’s health to get derailed or shut down by the mention of abortion.
- When women decide if they want to be feminists based on what the word really means and not a negative, politically-charged, inaccurate redefinition.
- When equality becomes so important that what we call ourselves is irrelevant.
- When we fight back against inappropriate behavior and statements in the media and by politicians by calling and writing and voting!
- When we realize that our buying power and voting power has influence and can create real change.
- When we assure that rape/sexual assault is taken as a brutal violation and these actions in our military, colleges and universities and small towns across the U.S. have consequences.
- When our elected officials put aside their political differences and realize that enacting real protection for women in the work force and their homes is good economic sense. And, to show their commitment to preventing the politicization of women’s safety, health or economic opportunity, move forward and enact a Constitutional Equality Amendment.
And most importantly, when women see that achieving equality will only come from realizing that our greatest value is in our commonality as women. The subcategories we have created only serve to divide us. Women’s equality is a team sport — time to play ball.