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Will Women Ever Achieve Equality?

As a nation we are unable to recognize the obstacles and needs of half the country.

Ninety years ago, a young man named Harry T. Burn, at the insistence of his mother to “ be a good boy,” changed his vote from “nay” to “yea,” and the generations-long struggle for women’s suffrage was at last won.

It is easy to catalog the progress of the last nine decades. Women can vote, own property, earn a paycheck and keep the money in their own bank accounts, go to college and play sports there, and yes, run for and hold elected office. Three of the last four Secretaries of State have been women. The Speaker of the House is a woman. Three of the nine Supreme Court justices are women. And let us not forget that a woman very nearly won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

But -– and of course there is a but –- it is not enough. Because despite these achievements, control of our economy and our government still rests almost exclusively within the hands of men. For women to achieve full equality, they must have a real role in making the decisions that affect their lives. And that role requires real, and proportionate, representation -- something 90 years of struggle for equality has yet to achieve.

In the private sector, while women now comprise the majority of the labor force, they are still vastly outnumbered by men at the executive levels. As of 2009, only thirteen of the Fortune 500 companies were run by women. And those women CEOs make only 85 percent of what their male counterparts make.

In fact, a study by the non-profit research group Catalyst found that at the current rate, it will take another 40 years for women to achieve "parity with men in the corporate officer ranks."

Forty years.

Will it take that long for women to achieve pay equity as well? Maybe. The incremental progress toward pay equity has not come without legislation guaranteeing women the right to work and to earn the same wages as their male counterparts -- and even then, a significant pay gap still exists today. As does the forceful opposition to such legislation.

Despite protestations from those who scoff at evidence of this disparity, like the Chamber of Commerce -– who has, for decades, opposed every single piece of legislation intended to address this disparity, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting pregnant women from discrimination, the Equal Pay Law, and the Paycheck Fairness Act -- the pay gap is real, and it is not merely the result of women choosing lower-paying jobs. It is a reflection of our deficiencies as a nation to recognize the obstacles and needs of half the labor force.

Just look at the utter failure of our country to address the reality of working mothers. Our country continues to treat working mothers as if they were an aberration, rather than the norm, and as such, any difficulties women encounter in trying to earn a living and care for their children is a problem for them to solve, a problem in which the government has no interest. Those women who "choose" to work and have families are left to their own devices, unworthy of the government's care or resources.  

But working mothers are, in fact, the norm: 80 percent of American women have children, and of those, 66 percent of them are employed, mostly in full-time jobs. A country that valued women, and mothers, would address the obstacles women face, rather than dismiss them as a consequence of women's choices, a consequence for which the solution is, according to the Chamber of Commerce, "choosing the right place to work and choosing the right partner at home."

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