After the Stupak Pitts Amendment hijacked health care reform, and in light of the too frequent headlines about rape, domestic violence, the wage gap and the glass ceiling, it is easy to despair at the state of women’s rights today. However, there are a few key things women can be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Here’s our list of top ten reasons for women to give thanks.
- The Lily Ledbetter Act. The very first act President Obama signed was the historic Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Ledbetter Act reversed a Supreme Court ruling from 2007 so that women can file discrimination claims 180 days from their last discriminatory paycheck, not 180 days from their employer’s initial decision to pay them less. Lilly Ledbetter, a former Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. employee, became a symbolic figure in the right for equal pay after the courts denied her first suit against her former employer. When Obama signed the act named for her, he made good on his campaign promise to support women’s rights.
- Global Gag Rule Repealed. Obama made another significant move to restore women’s rights back in January when he repealed the “global gag rule. Also known as the “Mexico City” Policy, the gag rule was a Reagan-era policy that denied federal funding to international family planning organizations if they provided abortions or even lobbied for abortion rights in their country. Abortions rights activists believe Obama’s action helps to reduce the number of women dying from high-risk pregnancies and increase access to much-needed reproductive health services.
- Solidarity. The Passage of the Stupak-Pitts amendment as part of the House healthcare bill last month was a definite blow to women’s rights. But if there is a silver lining, it is the fact that women’s organizations quickly mobilized to take swift action before the Senate passes their version of healthcare reform. Tons of petitions to the Senate were tweeted, blogged and emailed as women made it perfectly clear that they are not a pre-existing condition.
- Five Women Win Nobel Prizes. The Nobel Committee awarded its high honors to five women this year. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the prize in economics. Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Carol Greider won the prize for physiology or medicine. Professor Ada Yonath was awarded the prize in chemistry. And Herta Muller won the Nobel Prize in Literature. For five women to win the award in the same year is significant considering Nobel Prizes have only been awarded to women 41 times between 1901 and 2009.
- A Wise Latina. After particularly sexist confirmation hearings, Justice Sonia Sotamayor was appointed to the Supreme Court. She is only the third woman to serve on the court and is the country’s first Hispanic justice. The high court is more diverse now than it was six months ago.
- Women in the Cabinet. No, Hillary Clinton is not sitting in the Oval Office this year. But she is travelling the world as Secretary of State giving voice to women’s rights, and human rights, everywhere. And Secretary Clinton is joined in the Cabinet by several other strong and competent women – Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer. Currently one third of the current cabinet is made up of women.
- Women Surpass Men on the National Payroll. Due in large part to the recession hitting traditionally male-dominated sectors hardest, women have recently surpassed men on the national payroll. We realize this is not all good news. Women still earn, on average .77 cents for every dollar a man earns. And nobody wins when we undervalue one of our greatest natural resources – working women. Still, we are thankful that the shift in the nation’s workforce has amplified discussions on work/life balance and the need for family-friendly policies such as paid sick days for working caregivers.
- Men Doing Laundry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest American Time Use Survey, men are doing more housework than they have in the past. On an average day, women spend 2.6 hours on household activities (housework, lawn care, cooking, etc.) and men spend 2 hours. It’s still not parity. But it’s progress.
- Improved Unemployment Benefits. Traditionally women have collected fewer unemployment benefits than men. That’s due in part to the fact that low-income and part-time workers, often women, don’t qualify for benefits. However, new federal eligibility criteria will make unemployment benefits more accessible to part-time workers. This is good news as we navigate a jobless recovery.
- A Strong Slate of Women Candidates. Women still represent just a woeful 17 percent of Congress. But we are thankful for organizations such as the Women’s Campaign Forum (WCF) which supports progressive women’s candidates. Already the WCF has lined up an excellent slate of women contenders for 2010.
Yes, there is plenty of work to do to advance the rights of women everywhere. But we are thankful, and hopeful, that change is on the way.