Sunday, August 24, 2008

Women's Equality Day

August 26 of each year is designated in the United States as Women's Equality Day. Instituted by Representative Bella Abzug and first established in 1971, the date commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women in the United States full voting rights in 1920.

In his
2004 Presidential Proclamation honoring this day, President Bush said,

"The full participation of women and the protection of their rights as citizens are essential for freedom and democracy to flourish."

Nothing could be more true - not only in the United States, but throughout the world. I personally believe that our collective future is dependent on the education of young women and their full and equal participation in society.

But, in the U.S. and in New York State, the goal of full participation, so reliant as it is on equal economic, educational, and health care access, is moving at a snail's pace and in some instances stagnating and back-tracking.

In their 2006
Briefing Paper, The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) reported that "in no state does the typical full-time woman worker earn as much as the typical man. And, the number of women..."without health insurance has increased in 43 states," and "the poverty rate among women has increased in 15 states."

In New York State, this reality is particularly harsh for women of color.

According to the report "
The Economic Status of Women in New York State" issued by IWPR, "... strong disparities exist among New York’s women. While 87.9 percent of white women in the state had health insurance, only 80.9 percent of African American women, [and] 75.1 percent of Latina women...were insured. Lower rates of insurance coverage for African American...and Latina women may be attributable in part to their greater prevalence in jobs that lack health benefits... "

In addition, the report continues, "New York State ranks in the bottom third of all states in the nation for the proportion of women who live above the poverty line. Women in New York State were more likely to be poor than women nationally [and] since the late 1980s New York State has experienced an overall increase in poverty among women and a severe drop in its ranking from 30th to 40th in the nation. These trends call attention to poverty as an increasingly pressing problem for the state."

Reproductive health is always adversely impacted by poverty and lack of insurance. The number of poor and uninsured women in New York City without easy access to information and education about reproductive health care is a statewide and national embarrassment. As is the lack of a concerted effort to bring sex education and unplanned pregnancy prevention programs into our schools and communities.

We have much work to do in New York to bring real meaning to Women's Equality Day .

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