Should Women Be Equal?April 01, 2013
I refuse to make the case for why women should be equal to men. The answer — for me and for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) — is self-evident: an unequivocal yes. But whether women have equal rights with men is another question entirely — and one with a disappointing and infuriating answer. Our inability to say yes to such a question means that every day, half our population has to fight harder only to receive less. We can change that.
Equality is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because I believe women are equal to men doesn’t make it true in the eyes of society or the law. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who has said that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to women. Imagine my surprise when I read that a sitting member of the Supreme Court believes women are not covered by that all-important constitutional protection. His pronouncement should send fear and outrage through anyone who cares about equality of rights and opportunity.
We still live in a society that pays women less than men for the same job position. The unexplained portion of the pay gap for women one year out of college is 7 percent, and the pay gap gets worse for women the longer they are in the workforce. AAUW research shows that 10 years after college, the unexplained pay gap for women widens to 12 cents on the dollar. Women work just as hard but earn less, even with the same major and in the same field.
The federal budget sequester also illustrates this lack of equal rights in its disproportionately negative effect on women. Rather than a shared sacrifice, the sequester slashes programs that benefit women, and it cuts the budgets of agencies intended to protect civil rights, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and the civil rights divisions at the Department of Justice and Department of Education.
In some ways, the fact that equality of the sexes is a lingering question provides us with the answer. If women truly had equal rights, this question would likely never cross our minds, let alone be fodder for discussion.
Until we live in a society where the answer to both questions — should women be equal and do they have equal rights — is unequivocally yes, organizations like AAUW will continue to hold politicians, judges, and the public’s feet to the fire. Donate $20 today to help ensure that all women — half the population — can live in a society that affords them the full benefits of equal rights.
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