Bittinger: Women’s Equality Day

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(HOST) As a member of the steering committee of the Vermont Women’s History Project – created by Vermont’s Commission on Women – commentator Cyndy Bittinger is thinking about important milestones in women’s history.

(BITTINGER) Today is Women’s Equality Day.  On August 26, 1920, women finally got the right to vote when a young Tennessee legislator listened to his mother- not the lobbyists-and voted for ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution.  On this day in 1970, I celebrated by marching in New York City with Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and 50,000 others to mark the fiftieth anniversary. Actually that day made the women’s movement a household word.   The goals were lofty including equal opportunity in work and education, reproductive rights, and free 24 hour day care for children.

Today’s anniversary is the 89th and it’s still important to reflect on the progress we have made.

For example, we have just witnessed the confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court – the third woman ever to gain this coveted seat of power. And we have a female Secretary of State-also the third woman to hold the office – who is actively working on women’s issues across the globe.

Looking at our state, as of 2005, Vermont ranked high on five indices of women’s well being according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.  We are 8th among the states in political participation, 10th in employment earnings, 8th in social and economic autonomy, second in reproductive rights and seventh in health and well-being.  In terms of Vermont’s leadership and public life, women are not yet numbering 50% on local school boards or select boards.  That’s important since it’s often the entry point for political participation for women. And only 37% of our legislature is female, but that’s still higher than most states.

Nationally, women make up over 55% of our college students.  Yet, there is a digital divide and that is important since jobs are often based on information technology skills that will be in demand as we go forward. Nationally, only 21% of students pursuing Information Technology degrees are female and, in Vermont, it’s only 8 percent.  On the other hand, women comprise 64 percent of the University of Vermont medical student body, but the faculty and chairs still are male dominated. Women own 30% of our businesses and that is promising.

However, the wage gap is still a crucial issue.  Women earn just 78 cents for every dollar that a man earns, even though women are becoming the primary breadwinners in more and more families, and half of women will retire without a partner.

President Obama acknowledged this when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Restoration Act so that women have more time to file for restitution if they’ve been paid less than their male counterparts. He expressed his personal satisfaction that this was the first bill he signed as president and he urged Americans to keep standing up for what is right and – quote – "close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons."

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