March 8 is International Women’s Day–a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women. In more than 50 countries, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.
Observance of IWD was formally established in 1911, following rallies and protests by women globally–including in the U.S.–for voting rights and fair wages.
Although there have been significant inroads for women in the 103 years since, most notably in the past 25 years, women are still fighting the same battles they were in 1908 when 15,000 women took to the streets of New York City to demand fair wages and working conditions.
In 2014, as President Obama noted in his State of the Union Address in January, women still earn less than men–77c for every $1 a man makes for the same job, on average. Over a lifetime of work that adds up to a half million dollars for the average woman. A half million. There’s your house, your kids’ tuition and every vacation you ever wanted, women.
And it’s actually worse with more education. Women with Ph.D.s make an average of 46% less than men with Ph.D.s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s the same wage gap as the one between women and men who never finished high school.
Of the Fortune 500 companies, only 22–or 4.2%–currently have women CEOs and 135 still do not have a single female executive officer. When Mary Barra was made CEO of General Motors last December, she became the first woman in the world to run a major automotive company. Yet Barra, who has worked at GM for 30 years, is making $4.4 million in total compensation–salary and stocks. The man she replaced, Dan Akerson, made $9 million. And in fact Akerson will continue to make more money than Barra: He was hired as a consultant to GM at $4.68 million a year. After he was replaced by Barra.
Barra may be on the high end of the wage scale for women, but if wages for women increase at the rate they have since 1989, it will be another 50 years before women achieve wage parity.
The wage disparity matters a great deal as it sends more and more women into poverty every year in America. According to the most recent U.S. Census, poverty rates in the U.S. are highest for families headed by single women. In 2010, at the last census, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were at or below the poverty level, as opposed to 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households at the poverty level.
In Philadelphia, the numbers are even higher: 36 percent of female-headed households live below the poverty level, according to a status report last month from the state. Among women with children, more than 40 percent are living in poverty. And poverty delays learning by about two years, according to a 2013 Stanford University study–so mothers living in poverty have children living at an educational deficit.
That’s the money gap for women. Then there’s the politics.
Among the governors of the 50 states and six territories, only five are women: four Republicans (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina) and one Democrat (New Hampshire).
In Congress, the percentage is nearly as bad. Of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, there are 20 women–the highest number ever. In the House of Representatives only 79 of the 435 congresspersons are women.
Of the 50 largest cities in America, only five have female mayors and only one of those is mayor of a city in the top ten—Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, TX. None of the other top ten cities, including Philadelphia, has ever had a female mayor.
Women are so under-represented in political office, if representation of women in Congress continues to move at the pace it has over the past decade, it will take another century to reach equal representation there.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women holds its annual conference each year around International Women’s Day to coordinate efforts for women’s rights in the social, political and economic arenas. The 2013 conference focused on a growing problem in the U.S. and globally: violence against women and girls. The theme was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
The UN Commission Status Report was succinct as it was grim: Seven in ten women globally–including in the U.S.–will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes.
The majority of these acts of violence are perpetrated by intimate partners–husbands, boyfriends. Most of the other acts of violence against women and girls are committed by family members or other men known to the victim. Rarely strangers.
As the report noted, “Violence against women and girls is a gross human rights violation that fractures families and communities. It has enormous social, economic and productivity costs for individuals, families, communities and societies.”
The Philadelphia Police Department’s blog site notes there were 143,534 domestic violence calls to police in 2012, the last year for statistics. The police blog also notes these are the calls–not the number of incidents, which are thought to be significantly more than reports of the crime. The blog also asserts that one in every three women has experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or stalking by a current or former intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
On March 4, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights released the statistics on the largest study of violence against women in Europe. That study matched the Philly Police blog–one in three women throughout the EU over the age of 15 have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse, with 8 percent reporting a violent incident in the past 12 months.
In Philadelphia, the number of reported rapes of women over 18 has been between 945 and 1,100 for the past five years. The number of non-rape sexual assaults is significantly higher. The Philly Police blog states that only 54% of rapes are reported in Philadelphia, although advocacy groups put that percentage of reports much lower.
Before I wrote this column, I was checking my Twitter feed for news as I do every morning. There was a tweet from President Obama which read: I believe when women succeed, America succeeds #StandWithWomen
If ever a tweet demanded response, it was this. Does Obama “stand with women” as his hashtag states? If that is true, why are only three of the 15 members of his Cabinet women–only one of whom was also in his first administration? If he stands with women, why didn’t he nominate Gen. Ann Dunwoody for Secretary of Defense instead of Chuck Hagel? Dunwoody has far more experience both in the trenches and in the Pentagon than Hagel. And of course that nomination would have made history.
If Obama stands with women, why did he nominate Larry Summers–embroiled in scandal over his sexist extremism at Harvard University–to be Chair of the Federal Reserve instead of the most qualified person, Janet Yellen? Yellen was Obama’s choice only after Summers withdrew due to the ongoing controversy and scandal.
We don’t celebrate IWD in America. There’s no federal holiday for any woman on our federal calendar, let alone every woman. Yet the statistics in this column explain why we should not only be celebrating IWD, but hearkening back to the issues that caused it to be founded in the first place.
Women have the vote now, but we still don’t have fair wages or equal representation in government. More than 250 years ago the shout went up in Boston Harbor against the British: “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”
We wrenched ourselves from the grasp of the British. But more than two centuries hence, women are still fighting that same battle in every aspect of their lives in the world’s most powerful nation.
How is it possible that women are still fighting the same fight they were when IWD was first proposed? And that Philadelphians, living as we are in the birthplace of liberty, have never had a woman mayor? Nor have we had a woman governor or woman senator. And America–more than 50% women–has never had a woman president.
Whether you celebrate March 8 or not, the facts of women’s second-class status remain: we are the poorest, the least well-paid, the most abused, the least represented in America. That doesn’t just deserve a day to contemplate, it deserves a day of reckoning.
This column first appeared in The Independent Voice March 5, 2014