In 2014 Congress voted down a bill which would have guaranteed income equality for women in the workplace. Will 2015 and the 114th Congress reconsider attitudes about women’s rights? Will 2015 be the year of the woman?
World War II changed the role of women in the United States. During the war women were forced to take jobs formerly performed by the men who were now on the front lines. Women continue to face the same obstacles as their grandmothers faced. One of those inequities is equal pay for the same work. In addition, professions which are predominately female produce a lesser average pay than those dominated by males.
Today the average pay for a woman is $706 weekly; for men it is $860 a week. A 2012 study discovered that after a lifetime of work, a woman working a full time job will lose $430,000 when compared to their male counterparts. Women began fighting for pay equality in the 1970’s, but the unfair situation persists in the 21st century.
The possibility of a woman, Hillary Clinton, becoming our nation’s 45th President has quietly resulted in some changes. Some companies are already restructuring their pay scales. More women are receiving middle-management promotions.
In addition Advocacy groups are quick to point out that the number of women voters is on the rise. They could be the single most important block in the 2016 election.
Companies must make other changes. The United States is far behind other nations in making the workplace family friendly. Although President Bill Clinton signed the ‘Family and Medical Leave Act in 1992,’ siblings and grandparents were not included. The twelve weeks allowed only applied to the nuclear family.
Far too many companies reserve the right to change schedules at will and with little or no notice. This policy is especially hard on working mothers.
Most nations have rules accommodating pregnant women. If lighter duty is required by a doctor, the woman must be allowed to remain working in a position relative to her needs.
A few states have passed legislation to ensure that domestic workers, including home health care workers, nannies and similar professions have a bill of rights which guarantees them minimum pay and other benefits comparable to other members of the workforce. The National Domestic Workers Alliance continues to seek legislation in other states.
It has been 20 years since the United Nations Conference on Women was held in Beijing. 189 governments agreed that all women should have access to an education; receive equal pay for equal work; be protected from violence; and participate in the decision-making process.
The murder of Pakistani school girls; Boko Haram and ISIS seeking to establish a so-called Islamic State which would be governed by sharia law placing women in a position of third class citizenry and creating sexual slaves; and the situation in our own nation where men pass laws deciding what a woman is allowed to do with her own body, all these are efforts to return women to a time 50 years ago when they had virtually no rights.
The African Union has already declared 2015 the ‘Year of the Woman.’ A conference will be held January 30 and 31 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Subjects to be discussed are education, health, agriculture, trade, women, and youth development.
By James Turnage
Urgent Action Fund-Africa