Barriers to Women’s Opportunities

Women are frequently given fewer opportunities in the workplace than their male counterparts, creating similar challenges to those faced by women in politics.

National Organization for Women

Efforts to create equity for women include the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW), in 1966.  This organization emerged during the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women led by Betty Friedan and others.

According to its Statement of Purpose, “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” The organization continues to work toward this goal today.

Lilly Ledbetter Act

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named after a female tire company employee from Alabama who successfully sued her employer for wage discrimination over a nearly 20-year period. The Act addresses a 2007 Supreme Court decision that disallowed legal action on wage discrimination after a certain period of time.

The legislation helps to ensure that individuals subjected to illegal pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

Title: Pres. Obama signs Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009; Source: American Progress

Continuing Sex Discrimination

Currently, there is no federal protection on the basis of sex in public accommodations. In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equality Act adds “sex” to the list of protections as well. This would ensure that women have equal access to spaces with the same protection under federal law that other categories currently have.

As Amanda Terkel explains at the Huffington Post, “This change would mean that a car dealership couldn’t charge a woman more than a man, simply because she’s a woman. Or a salon couldn’t charge men and women different prices for the exact same haircut.”

“Sex” would also be added to the protections for federal financial assistance under Title VI, meaning that women would also secure equal access to public funds, and no federal funding could be spent in a way that encourages or results in sex discrimination.

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite — or perhaps because of — historic and present obstacles to equity, women are consistently more likely to vote than men. In 2012, 63.7% of women voted, as compared to 59.8% of men.

However, even with high voter turnout women’s voices are still severely absent in our political arena. Legislative initiatives which support women’s basic rights are consistently voted down by predominantly white male-led legislative bodies. For women to benefit from public policy, women need to run for and win elected office. For marginalized Social marginalization happens when a group of people are denied equal and adequate opportunity to determine their treatment by the members of the broader society. It usually includes the lack of representation, recognition of rights and equal redistribution of resources and services women to benefit from public policy, women who hold relative privilege need to share the power.

Sharing the power means using the advantages that some women have to bring all women into more powerful situations. If women harness their existing power to run for office and lift the “women’s agenda,” the potential to be a force in U.S. politics is boundless.