Guest Commentary Opinion

Fight for gender equality continues well into the 21st century

They say that “blatant, intentional discrimination against women is far from being something merely to read about in the history books.” 

Those who think discrimination against women is ancient history should think again.

Oct. 11 has been designated International Day of the Girl Child by the United Nations. It’s a day that highlights the struggles and triumphs of all girls around the globe, but more than that, it’s a day to inspire us to take action to make the world a better place — an equal place.

Gender inequality is a multifaceted issue that spans all countries and cultures. Often, we are quick to point out inequalities in other countries but hesitant to focus on the discrimination happening right here in the United States.

It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, but women here in Texas are still earning about only  79 cents on the dollar compared to men. In today’s economy, the majority of Americans are stretching and pinching their pennies, and women are automatically being given a disadvantage because of this wage gap. According to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this wage gap is equivalent to women working an estimated 59 days per year for free.

While the wage gap can at times be attributed to women legitimately being paid less than their male colleagues, it’s important to address the other factors contributing to this wage gap. The policies that many companies have are not “friendly” for women who have family and child rearing responsibilities. As a result, women may choose alternate career paths that offer more flexible, “family-friendly” jobs, but are also lower-paying and have fewer professional development opportunities and limited promotion potential. In 2010, nearly two-thirds of families had a mother who was either the sole breadwinner or brought home at least a quarter of the total household earnings. In light of this, it’s safe to say that the wage gap not only puts a strain on women, it also negatively affects their families.

Texas received an overall “F” grade and was ranked 45th in a state-by-state analysis on how women fare across the country. With 19.4 percent of Texas women and girls living in poverty and 24.7 percent of Texas women uninsured, it’s time to make a change. It’s time for women from all backgrounds, cultures and political affiliations to come together to fight for our futures — to fight for equality.

The data and research show that we have a problem, but we need to initiate the change we so desperately need.

The “go-to” answer often seems to be related to public policy decisions. While governmental policies are a significant part of striving toward equality, company policies and regulations also have a huge influence. By including gender equality plans and improving family leave policies, companies can initiate change, and studies show that it can help reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

It isn’t just up to our politicians or CEOs to change this situation. Communities and individuals also play a vital part in the fight to ensure that one day, all people can be truly valued, no matter their biological makeup.

It may be as simple as giving up a cup of coffee every week and donating that money to a charity which is committed to improving the life of women and girls around the world. It may also be speaking words of encouragement and pouring them into the lives of those young women around you. The point is that everyone can do something.

You can do something, too. And if you don’t, who will?

Christianna Burwell is a second year graduate student in the the Graduate College of Social Work and may be reached at [email protected]


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