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May 26, 2013

Reflections on the Meaning of Memorial Day

The intention of Memorial Day is to honor all who died in America’s wars, not to celebrate militarism or bless war.

Instead of letting the holiday be co-opted to perpetuate militarism, let us resolutely focus on honoring those who have given their lives in our nation’s conflicts.

This Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again. War–and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it–gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.  [Read the full post]

May 13, 2013

Making Women Equal Economic Partners – Closing the Nation’s Gender Based Pay Gap

Women in the U.S. have made tremendous gains in education, employment and earnings in the past 50 years, but there is still a persistent gender pay gap. Even young working women continue to lag behind men.  And, unfortunately, the gap tends to widen from graduation onward.  Here are some sad facts about the gender wage gap that were summarized by The Center for American Progress from data compiled by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. In 2010 women who worked full time, year round, still only earned 77 percent of what men earned. The median earnings for women were $36,931 compared to $47,715 for men, and neither real median earnings nor the female-to-male earnings ratio have increased since 2009.

2. The gender wage gap does not only affect individuals—entire families are impacted by women’s earnings. In 2010, in nearly two-thirds of families (63.9 percent), a mother was either the breadwinner—either a single working mother or bringing home as much or more than her husband—or a co-breadwinner—bringing home at least a quarter of the family’s earnings. When women’s wages are lowered due to gender discrimination, their families’ incomes are often significantly lowered as well.

3. Women earn less than men within all racial and ethnic groups. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, white women earned 78.1 percent compared to white men, African American women earned 89.8 percent compared to black men, Hispanic women earned 91.3 percent compared to Hispanic men, and Asian women earned 79.7 percent compared to Asian men. The wage gap is lower for black and Hispanic women in part because wages for people of color tend to be lower overall. This gap occurs within racial/ethnic groups as well. In 2010, according to the Census Bureau, African Americans earned only 58.7 percent of what whites earned, while Hispanics earned only 69.1 percent of what whites earned.

4. Even though women are outpacing men in getting college degrees that’s not enough to close the gender pay gap. The American Association of University Women tackled the pay gap question by looking at workers of the same educational attainment—same kind of college, same grades—holding the same kinds of jobs, and having made the same choices about marriage and number of kids. They found that college-educated women earn 5 percent less the first year out of school than their male peers. Ten years later, even if they keep working on par with those men, the women earn 12 percent less.

5. Women are more likely to work in low-wage, “pink-collar” jobs such as teaching, child care, nursing, cleaning, and waitressing. The top 10 jobs held by women include: secretaries and administrative assistants (number one); elementary and middle-school teachers (number four); retail salespeople (number six); and maids and housekeepers (number 10). These jobs typically pay less than male-dominated jobs and are fueling the gender wage gap. These are also the “jobs of the future,” the kinds of jobs that the Department of Labor projects will grow faster than other occupations, so addressing the pay gap here will have long-term consequences.

6. The wage gap accumulates over time. Over a 40-year working career, the average woman loses $431,000 as the result of the wage gap. The pay gap accumulates in no small part because initial pay matters: If a woman earns less in her first job, when she takes a new job and her new employer sets her pay scale, they will often base it on her pay history. The lifetime wage gap for a woman who did not finish high school is $300,000, while the lifetime wage gap for a woman with at least a bachelor’s degree is $723,000. Making sure that young women understand the importance of negotiating for good pay from day one should be a pressing policy concern and is included in the Paycheck Fairness Act.

7. As women age the wage gap continues to grow. For working women between the ages of 25 to 29, the annual wage gap is $1,702. In the last five years before retirement, however, the annual wage gap jumps to $14,352.

8. Single women are even more adversely affected by the wage gap than married women. Single women earn only 78.8 percent of what married women earn, and only 57 cents for every dollar that married males earn.

9. More than 40 percent of the wage gap cannot be explained by occupation, work experience, race, or union membership. More than one-quarter of the wage gap is due to the different jobs that men and women hold, and about 10 percent is due to the fact that women are more likely to leave the workforce to provide unpaid care to family members. But even when controlling for gender and racial differences, 41 percent is “unexplainable by measureable factors.” Even if women and men have the same background, the wage gap still exists, highlighting the fact that part of the discrepancy can be attributed to gender-based pay discrimination.

10. Mothers earn about 7 percent less per child than childless women. For women under 35 years of age, the wage gap between mothers and women without children is greater than the gap between women and men.

There are pay discrimination laws on the books, but the continuing gender pay bias shows that enforcement is weak or lacking.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would help women and minority workers challenge discriminatory pay in the courts.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would be an important step further and close the wage gap by prohibiting gender-based pay discrepancies and banning workplace policies that prohibit employees from disclosing their wages with each other.  However, the measure has stalled in Congress and currently seems unlikely to even come to a vote in the House.

The gender pay bias is a form of discrimination as ugly as any America has experienced.  It hurts the women who are its victims and the families they support.  No society will ever achieve its full potential if it demeans and disenfranchises half of its population in this way.

May 4, 2013

We Can Stop Violence Against Women

A 4 year-old girl died recently from cardiac arrest at Care Hospital in Nagpur, India after being raped by a 35 year old man, Firoz Khan.  He was  later apprehended by police and confessed to the crime.  The girl was allegedly abducted from Ghansaur, a small town in central India, on April 17, and was found by her family the next day, unconscious and with severe head injuries.  Though she was quickly airlifted to a hospital in Nagpur and put on a ventilator, she did not survive.

This incident was the latest in a series of brutal assaults on very young girls that have sparked outrage in the country and raised awareness about how women and girls are treated in India, and around the globe.

Statistics collected by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women about violence against women and girls worldwide paint a grim picture of the scope of the tragedy.

  • Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
  • An estimated 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • Most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with husbands or partners as the perpetrator.
  • The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women was forced. The percentage is even higher among those under the age of 15 at the time of their sexual initiation.  Up to 45 percent of girls in this group reported that the experience was forced.

And the violence takes many forms:

  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation.
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18. Women who marry early are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and more likely to believe that a husband might sometimes be justified in beating his wife.
  • Women and girls are 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience various forms of sexual harassment at work. In Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea 30 to 40 percent of women suffer workplace sexual harassment.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools
  • Conservative estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been the victims of rape and other forms of violence during recent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.

Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances, results in death.

Over the years, there have been many theories about the causes of violence against women range from biological to social, political and economic.  To varying degrees, in many countries, women have restricted access, relative to their male counterparts, to education, health services and justice systems.  Gender inequality is often rooted in social attitudes and traditions, and enshrined in a web of legal statutes.

The United Nations has developed a list of recommendations aimed at dismantling gender inequality in all its forms and ending the violence it spawns.  But the very first step must be to bring this issue into the light where it can be acknowledged and acted upon at all levels of society.  In India, the recent brutal attacks against young women and girls have brought a public furor and activism never seen before.  This recognition of an intolerable situation is the first step to real change.  The struggle of women around the world for equality and freedom from violence is one that we all share.

We want to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.  Join the discussion – here, on Twitter and on Facebook.  (On Twitter use the hashtag #dtpfsvaw.)