Women’s History Week was established in 1981, by a resolution of congress to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. In 1987, Women’s History Week was expanded to Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the historical contribution of women to human societies. This year’s theme, according to the National Women’s History Project, is “Builders of Communities and Dreams.”
Here on campus, “Social Activism, Social Justice: Women as a Force for Change” is being celebrated.
It is a harsh reality, that even in supposed “liberated” times, in a nation that prides itself for freedom and justice, women still do not share equality with men.
According to the latest census data, there are 149.1 million females in the US, outnumbering males (144.5 million), although not by much.
Men actually outnumber women by a small margin in all age categories until the age of 40.
After age 40, men have a higher death rate than women, so there are more older women than men. At age 85, women outnumber men 2:1. Women are not a minority after the age 40, women are the majority.
Yet, women do not have financial equality. The “Fortune 500” companies are the wealthiest in America. Only nine Fortune 500 companies are run by women, none in the top 100. The April 18, 2005 issue of Fortune Magazine lists Brenda C. Barnes of Sara Lee as 114 in the ranks, with assets of $19,566 million. Only 19 Fortune 1000 companies have women as CEOs.
Pay equality is not only an issue at the top. The National Endowment for Financial Education reports “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women working full-time, year-round, earn 72% of what men earn.” According to the Commission on the Economic Status of Women, the median income for women of all ages living alone in 1998 was $16,406-less than two thirds (63 percent) the median income of single men.
This discrepancy cannot be explained by lack of education: according to the US census, “31 percent of women ages 25 to 29 years had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2004, which exceeded that of men in this age group (26 percent). Eighty-eight percent of women and 85 percent of men in this same age group had completed high school.” The same study found that 56 percent of college students were women.
Political equality is also an issue. Three years after women got the right to vote, Alice Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment, which stated that women would receive equal protection under the law, as was given to men in the 15th Amendment. Since 1923, that law has come before every session of Congress. In 1972, it was finally passed by both Congress and the Senate, but it was never ratified by the 38 states needed to make it an amendment to the Constitution.
There are 14 female senators, out of 100 total, that equals 14 percent. There are 70 congresswomen, out of 435 Representatives 16 percent. There is one woman on the Supreme Court, and eight men, which amounts to 12 percent. Lack of female representation reflects the low status of women in the political sphere. There is no “equal justice” for women.
Women’s History Month is not a Hallmark holiday, a time to send a card or give Mom some flowers. It is a time to reflect on the status of women in our society and redress the issues that keep women from achieving their place beside men.