This month marks the 165th anniversary of the historic Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights gathering to be organized by women in the Western world. Thanks to women’s rights activist, Lucretia Mott, who planned the event, and with the attendance of activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, we have come a long way in the fight for women’s equality. In July 2013, House Democrats proposed: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families, an agenda focusing on the issues that hard working women struggle with everyday: fair pay, paid maternity leave, and affordable day care. The agenda will enable women to achieve greater economic security, raise wages for women and their families, and allow working parents to better support and care for their families.
Things are improving but progress is slow. Although we see a glimpse of hope in recent news, since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, the wage gap between men and women has been closing at a very slow rate. In 1963, women made 59 cents on average for every dollar that men earned. In 1999, women earned 72 cents to the dollar. Today, women’s earnings hover at 77 cents to every dollar paid to men. Unfortunately, the gap is even more pronounced for women of color. According to a recent report by the non-profit group Women’s Way, compared to white men, Latinas working full time earn 45%; black women earn 56%; and Asian women earn 70% of what white men earn. Also, a woman with a bachelor’s degree earns less than a man with some college but no degree, and a woman with a bachelors, graduate or professional degree earns less on average than men with solely a bachelor’s degree.
There are several reasons that the wage gap persists. Women face social norms and are pressured into choosing traditional roles. Women are directed to jobs that pay less and women pay a “care penalty” for time they spend out of the workforce because of care-giving responsibilities. Yet, while this may give us reasons why women earn less than men, there is still evidence that gender discrimination exists: when men move into a traditionally female-dominated occupation, like nursing and teaching, their salaries tend to be higher than women’s.
The wage gap is an act of institutionalized domestic violence against women and girls in the same way that a batterer perpetrates financial abuse – limiting their victims’ opportunities by engaging in employment sabotage, for example – the wage gap limits women’s opportunities to earn a living so that she can stay safe, make her own decisions, and have power over her own destiny. Women impacted by domestic violence would have a much better chance of survival outside of an abusive relationship if they were guaranteed fair and equitable pay for their work and the wage gap is part and parcel of a larger epidemic against women that would seek to limit that opportunity, confine them to traditional roles, and sustain a supremacy against women.
There needs to be a dramatic shift in the way we think or else this issue will remain stagnant. There was significant improvement in the wage gap in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, when we had a very active women’s movement, when we were engaging in legislative techniques to battle discrimination. It is critical therefore that we continue to fight for our right as women to earn everything we are entitled to earn. How can we make that change? One suggestion is that we work with schools, guidance counselors and unions, and individuals who have influence over the kinds of career choices that girls make. We should create a supportive environment for women to choose to work in nontraditional employment.
Meanwhile, it is up to all of us to recognize that the wage gap limits the economic freedom of half of our population. Encourage a young woman to expand her career options; cultivate the notion that women have value in our society and deserve equal compensation for their efforts; help girls understand that they can be whoever they want to be when they grow up and work in any field that they desire. We’ve come a long way since the Seneca Falls Convention but we still have a long way to go.
By Douglas D. Lowell
One brave woman declaring it’s not fair and she isn’t going to take it anymore has sent ripples through the state and the nation, putting a spotlight on the plight of domestic violence survivors who, for the most part, carry their burdens in silence. Thank you, Carie Charlesworth, for speaking up. A second-grade teacher at a private school in San Diego and the mother of four children, Carie lost her job because school officials feared her ex-husband’s menacing behavior was too much of a risk, putting students and other staff in danger. Her own kids, all students at the school, were asked to leave as well. The outrage of it all: victims of domestic violence being punished for the behavior of their abuser. At her greatest time of need, Carie and her children were ostracized and made to feel they were the ones who had committed a crime. We’re told this situation is not unique. A 2011 study by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center’s Project SURVIVE found that nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported either being fired or fearing termination due to domestic violence. There ought to be a law, but there isn’t. Carie’s dismissal made national headlines and this past week she testified before a California Judiciary Committee in Sacramento, pleading for support of Senate Bill 400. That bill would not only prevent employers from firing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, but it would also require companies to make efforts to protect them. SB 400 passed through the committee by a 6-1 vote. Employers and communities need to surround victims with support and protection. Additional safety planning or moving Carie and her children to another school might have been a solution, albeit one with some cost and effort on the part of the employer. Sadly, Carie’s situation is the tip of a very big iceberg. Coincidentally, when the World Health Organization released the first major global review of violence against women last week, domestic violence was declared a health problem of epidemic proportions. Nearly 40 percent of women killed around the world are slain by a former or current intimate partner. To be sure, the highest rates of violence are in regions in the world where domestic violence is not deemed illegal, including many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. But, as we see with the Carie Charlesworth situation, laws alone are not sufficient to break the cycle of violence or bring adequate attention to the issue and enough support to the victims. We need more outrage. We need to actively support women who have the courage to break free of abusive relationships and resist the urge to turn our heads or believe her safety and well-being as well as that of her children are hers alone to confront and resolve. As individuals, we need to actively support, through volunteer service and financial contributions, organizations that advocate for victims. We need to applaud companies that do the same for their employees and their communities. The WHO findings are shocking and sobering. Lest we think otherwise, this is our epidemic. We are not immune. We are accountable. As overwhelming as the problem may seem, we can make a difference if we open our eyes and our hearts and, yes, our pocketbooks. Let’s support the Carie Charlesworths of the world. Let’s do something about it.
Doug Lowell, the father of three daughters, serves on the board of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence (www.nextdoor.org) and is a director of workplace resources at Cisco Systems. He wrote this for this newspaper.