Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is International Women’s Day, which is part of Women’s History Month (post on that coming soon). Today is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

But it is equally important to look at how far we still have to go. I wrote this last August for Women’s Equality Day (August 26) but never posted it. That means the numbers are slightly out of date, likely still accurate. I have updated dates and the references to “this year” mean 2023.

Women are FAR from equal in the United States. Despite being one of the most advanced and powerful nations on the planet, we rank 51 out of 149 countries in gender equality. To put this in perspective, all of our neighboring countries are doing better than we are: Canada is #16, Cuba is #23 and Mexico is #50.

This is due in part to the fact that white women earn only 82 cents for every dollar men make, and the numbers are even worse for women of color. Black women earn only 70 cents and Latina women, 65 cents for every man’s dollar. In addition, our government is far from equal. In the most gender-equal country, Iceland, women hold nearly 40% of parliamentary seats. In the United States, while we have a record number of women serving in Congress, we are still in the minority, with only 27% of members being female (24 of 100 seats in the Senate and 120 of 435 seats in the House).

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ERA–which still hasn’t been passed. The United States is one of only seven United Nations member states who do not have an Equal Rights law in their constitution (193 countries do) or a provision that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex (115 additional countries do). The other six countries without such a law are Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Tonga.

Now, you may argue that other laws such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment together mean equality for women. But they don’t. Court rulings and interpretations in the years since they were passed make it nearly impossible to prove gender discrimination in a court of law and leaving women open to the repeal or reversal of their rights at any time.

Women in the United States have been fighting to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution since Alice Paul first introduced it in 1923. The fight really gained steam in the 1970s and for a while it looked like it might pass, but the June 30, 1982, ratification deadline saw the ERA three states short of ratification. The ERA was considered dead until it was revived in March 2017 by Senator Pat Spearman. Nevada quickly became the 36th state to pass it, followed by Illinois and Virginia.

As of today, 38 states have ratified the ERA, enough for it to become law, though a few are trying to rescind their ratification. So what’s the holdup? That pesky 1982 deadline, which is not part of the law itself, but was put forth in its proposal. The Senate has voted to drop the arbitrary time limit for ratification and the measure has been waiting in the Senate since March 17, 2021. There has been no sign of movement and given current political trends, despite the need for it being greater than ever, it doesn’t look like the ERA will become law anytime soon.

Unfortunately, the future outlook for gender parity in the U.S. isn’t a sunny one, either. The U.S. loses about 2% in its gender equality score each year due to the factors outlined above, as well as a downward trend in women’s education and low political participation. The World Economic Forum estimates that at this rate, it will take another 208 years to close the gender gap in the United States.

What You Can Do

While this may seem depressing and a reason for apathy, these statistics should actually enliven and fuel us. As with the suffrage movement, it is only when women band together to demand their rights that change takes place. You CAN make a difference. Here are some suggestions to get involved:

  • The single most powerful thing you can do is VOTE! As we have seen in close elections in previous years, every single vote makes a difference. Whether you are voting for your local school board or president of the United States, you are influencing the future of our government, schools and political environment.
  • Join women’s advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters, the American Academy of University Women (AAUW), the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) or the YWCA USA. There are local chapters of every national group in most major and some smaller cities.
  • Contact your local, state and national representatives. Today it is easier than ever to advocate for change. Email, call or write your representatives, or talk to them on social media. Sign petitions online or when approached. Your representatives are meant to represent you and your thoughts and they can best do that when they know what is on your mind.
  • Run for office. Not everyone is suited to be in politics, but those who are should toss their proverbial hat into the ring. Even if you only serve on a school board or county council, you are increasing the number of women in politics and setting a positive example for future generations of women and girls.
  • Advocate for women in your workplace.  Don’t forget that doing your best work can get you promoted. By mentoring or being mentored, you’re shoring up the future of Mercy leadership. And don’t forget to consider female candidates (especially those of color) when you’re hiring.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know, the more of an informed voter you are and the better you can educate your children. You might want to start with current events, then look into the history of how that situation came to be and then brank off into other aspects. Try to get your information form credible sources and always be wary of information you see on social media.
  • Speak up and speak out. Each one of us has a voice and no matter what our culture says, we have the exact same right to use it as men do. Speak up in meetings; don’t let your male co-workers mansplain or talk over you. If you are active on social media, take a stance when you see injustice being done. (But please keep Mercy’s social media policy in place if where you work is known or can easily be identified.) Attend protests and rallies if you are so moved.

You can even help by joining women across the country who are fighting to get Women’s Equality Day recognized as a National Day of Celebration, the first step toward eventually making it a National Holiday.

As it is said, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” which means we also hold half the power in the world. If every woman did her part, together with our male allies we could affect major change.

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