Ideas + Influence Inspire Change – The Challenge of International Women’s Day 2014

[Fighting] to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t just a nice thing to do….It isn’t some luxury that we only get to when we have time on our hands. This is a core imperative for every human being in every society. If we do not continue the campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live in — and the country we all love and cherish — will not be what it should be.  Hillary Clinton

The quote is from the The Shriver Report – and it may be because I have been following the reaction to that report that I review with mixed feelings the stories I’ve been gathering for a Minnesota Women’s Press calendar of activities planned to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.  ( Pre-pub tip –there are some great events in the works – check the next issue of MWP)

On the one hand it may seem quaint to be celebrating the century old IWD custom, a day designated in a time when women had no right to vote much less to have a say about how the home, the church, the town or the world was being run.  We’ve come a long way since those feisty women of the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Woman’s Day in February 1909.

Maybe it’s time to count our triumphs, bank the benefits, and exhale.

Or not.  Though the focus of IWD is global, clarity begins at home where it seems the urgency to categorize the rights, contributions or welfare of women has waned. Many institutions, even those that once made an effort to schedule events and raise issues, seem disinclined to budget the money or time to pause on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.

Maria Shriver and the raft of women and organizations that have joined her initiative suggest we think again about today’s domestic realities.  To wit:

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it.
  • The Violence Against Women Act continues to languish in the U.S. Congress.  The fact is that violence against women is major health problem and an horrific violation of women’s human rights.  35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • SNAP benefits, upon which countless women and their children and “invisible” elderly women depend, remain a political punching bag in Congress.
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women who often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. In 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • There were 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 per year in 2012 than in 2011, pushing the total size of that group to 733,000.
  • In 2012 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents. Many of these children live with parents who have been out of work six month or longer. Unemployment insurance covers only 36 percent of children with unemployed parents; unemployed parents are more likely to receive SNAP benefits than unemployment benefits.

Though the human mind can absorb just so many stats this small sampling makes the point that there are millions of women in this nation who are not swept along by the tide of women’s progress.

The good news is that there are women in positions to make change.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is “Inspiring Change”.  Decision-makers are “inspired to change” by those who elect, appoint, support, contact, or otherwise express their concerns and their ideas for change.  That’s where most of us come in.  IWD falls on Saturday this year – good time to think about how to inspire changes that will cast in legal concrete the rights and opportunities of women and girls, now and for generations who will someday walk in the path we forge for them.

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