Women’s Equality in the 21st Century

 

21st-Century-Women

There’s more to do, but American women have made great strides in the last 98 years (GettyImages.com).

Last Saturday, Americans marked the 98th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. While April’s “Equal Pay Day” typically attracts more media attention, “Women’s Equality Day” has the potential to be more significant.

Rather than focusing solely on one largely debunked economic issue, Women’s Equality Day celebrates the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women a say on every public policy issue. In that sense, it was ironic that Glamour recently complained that the White House issued a “one-dimensional” proclamation, narrowly focused on “the economy: a World Bank initiative, childcare for working mothers, and getting women in STEM fields.”

First, childcare may be an economic issue, but it’s also very much about a woman’s striking a balance and acknowledging that she is not only a wage-earner but also a mother; that’s family policy. Second, encouraging girls to pursue STEM fields may have economic consequences, but it’s also an educational issue.

Writing in Refinery 29, Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee Jess O’Connell wants this day to be about increased access to abortion and “no-copay birth control.”

Taken along with Glamour’s response, which specifically cited the gender pay gap, sexual assault, abortion, and free tampons for prisoners, these articles offer an instructive example of where women like me part ways with organized feminism.

Glamour is right about one thing: much work remains on our way to full equality for women and girls. However, beyond tackling sexual assault, which I second, my priority list looks a bit different. If organized feminists truly wanted to unite and represent women across the political spectrum, here are seven issues they might consider addressing:

Domestic Violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women “have been physically abused by an intimate partner” and one in seven women have been stalked. No woman or child should live in fear for her physical or psychological safety. We need both community-level social service and legal remedies to protect vulnerable women and children, who are more likely to be at risk for abuse in unmarried families.

Human Trafficking. Trafficking exists worldwide, including in the United States. “The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally,” 55% of whom are women and girls. And according to the Polaris Project, “in 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.” Americans must do better about identifying trafficking, punishing perpetrators, and supporting victims.

Infertility. According to RESOLVE, the national infertility association,1 in 8 couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.” Infertility is a painful personal experience that is often suffered silently. In addition to encouraging couples to consider starting their families earlier (so they have more viable options if there are fertility issues), urging school boards to update sex ed. curricula would also be helpful.

Adoption. According to Rabbi Susan Silverman, the founder of the adoption advocacy organization Second Nurture, “‘there are [currently] 400,000 kids in the foster care system, one-quarter of whom can now be adopted, and between 8 and 12 million kids in orphanages internationally.’” Notice that latter number is an estimate, because many countries don’t officially track these children. Every one of them is vulnerable and worthy of a forever family. Religious leaders have a role to play here, as do government officials, who should do what they can to facilitate adoption at the state level.

Sex-Selective Abortion. Sex-selective abortions regularly occur in the United States, not just overseas, and they eliminate large numbers of girls. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only seven states currently ban sex selective abortions. Clearly, state legislators should make that number 50.

Fragile Families. One out of three American children are currently growing up without their biological fathers. In many cases, fathers would like to be involved with their families but either don’t know how or are kept away by corrosive government policies. Policy experts at the state level should study and experiment with program design, so that policies encourage, rather than discourage, paternal involvement, including by teaching that marriage is linked to responsible fatherhood.

Child Marriage. “More than half the states have no firm minimum age for marriage,” meaning that young American girls can be trapped in marriages to men who would otherwise be charged with statutory rape. While this may not be the national norm, this legal loophole still affects “about 57,800 minors in the U.S. ages 15 to 17 [who] were married as of 2014,” according to the Pew Research Center. We don’t allow minors to drink or smoke. Why do we allow them to commit to lifelong unions (quite possibly involuntarily)? State legislators should address this legal loophole to protect vulnerable girls and young women.

As these weighty issues underscore, much work remains to be done on the way to full equality. If organized feminists decided to focus their attention here, I’d happily join forces, because supporting vulnerable women, girls, and families needn’t be a partisan cause.

This article appeared on the Family Studies blog.

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