Mar 08

On International Women's Day, Some Thoughts about the Impact of Inequality

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 03/08/2021 12:31PM


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Our Quote of the Week reminds us that the lack of inclusion of and regard for women has a detrimental effect on all of us. On this International Women's Day, let us be mindful of the milestones we've reached on our way to equality, and let us also examine the ways in which inequality has held women back and has adversely affected our workplaces, our policies, and the systems in which we all operate.


During the early days of his 1976 Presidential bid, Sargent Shriver addressed the Women's Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, California. He listed a variety of "women's issues" he would focus on as President, including lack of equal representation in the workforce, lack of pay equity, gender discrimination, rape legislation, maternity leave, child care, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which, almost 46 years later, has still not been fully ratified). 

It's notable that in the speech, Sargent Shriver says: "There really is no such thing as a 'women's issue' that isn't also a 'men's issue.' [...] Real equality would be as liberating for men as for women [...] Men are imprisoned by the very stereotypes that oppress women. The economic rat race and the macho model are the other side of the male dominance coin. What's involved in this struggle is no less than the most profound of all questions -- what does it mean to be a human being?" In these words, we hear Sargent Shriver's challenge to a status quo that limits all of us as human beings. And it is because "women's issues" also impact others, that he asserts that "the women's movement must be America's movement."

It is undeniable that we seen a great deal of progress with gender equity and equality since Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1975. In politics, we've seen a notable increase in the number of women leaders. When Sargent Shriver gave this speech, there were only 16 women in the US Congress; today there are 143. In 2021, we elected the first woman Vice President in the United States, Kamala Harris, and we also have the first Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen (who was, incidentally, also the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve).

But while the progress is real, it is also far too slow. Many women are still struggling. The economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women, as research from the United Nations and the European Union has shown. Violence against women has also surged during the pandemic. And in the face of unprecedented struggle, our male-dominated systems still tend to uphold the "anti-human economic policies" to which Sargent Shriver referred in 1975. For example, while the data shows that even a $15 minimum wage would still not cover the basics of life in most US states, we are still unwilling to raise the federal minimum wage beyond $7.25--a rate that has not changed in 12 years.

We have plenty of examples that women's leadership can benefit all of us. To name just one, consider the solid management of the COVID-19 pandemic by women in leadership roles throughout the world. Let us learn from these positive examples and let us correct our course, so that we may create a more inclusive and prosperous society for all of us.

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