Monday, March 26, 2007

On Wealth, Equality and Responsibility

By Donna P. Hall, MPH, MBA

It hasn't even been a century since American women won the right to vote, so we are still working toward full equality in many fields, including sports, employment, salaries and, yes, personal wealth. In fact, it's been only a few decades since the American woman was permitted a credit line of her own. As late as 1973, a married woman in Texas could not acquire a credit card without her husband's signature.

Despite the challenges women continue to face with regard to earning power (women still earn 25 percent less than men), it is women who control the household purse strings, decide most major purchases and hold the most consumer debt. And with education, experience and centuries of feminist prodding behind us, more women than ever before have control of significant assets.

The late 20th century saw a blizzard of new business start-ups, with women in 1990 starting companies at three times the rate as men. At the same time, the numbers of women entering college began to outpace male enrollments. As women assume greater roles in the business economy, their role in philanthropic enterprises has increased, as well.

Of the 3.3 million Americans with annual incomes greater than $550,000, women comprise 41.2 percent of the total, according to Learning to Give.

In the coming years, women's new found pull in the world of charitable and philanthropic giving promises to shape the mission of nonprofits in ways that male philanthropists never tried. As we celebrate Women's History Month, more women than ever see philanthropy as the means for making history today -- to leverage the work of today's ground-breaking women as they stand with the suffragists, abolitionists and liberationists of the past.

In a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, women were found to be more likely to donate their time to nonprofit organizations than are men. That fact is similar to the findings by University of Pittsburgh's Lise Vesterlund that women appear to be more personally invested than their male counterparts in the work done by the organizations to which they give.

Today I am privileged to be part of a philanthropic landscape that includes a group of more than 160 wealthy women, all determined to make social and environmental change, who are leveraging our giving by pooling our resources, collectively making grants and gifts to nonprofits whose goals comport with ours. As members (some anonymous) of the Women Donors Network, my colleagues and I contributed, collectively and individually, more than $120 million last year in pursuit of a social agenda for America that is very different from the one most of us grew up with.

We're seeking out creative ideas to help make the U.S. a better place for all people. Women donors are supporting ways to reduce unintended pregnancy, promote healthy families, provide quality education and preserve our natural resources. We care about sustainable agriculture and food policy; we worry about the rise of regressive social and political forces and seek to bring women's voices to the fore in our national debates.

The women donors I know wrestle with difficult questions and look for new ways to create social change: What does the Middle East conundrum mean to a woman funder who is committed to peace? How can we help change the way disaster relief should work after what we learned about Hurricane Katrina?

For each of these questions, philanthropists, through the Women Donors Network, have funded initiatives designed to offer answers. As women philanthropists increasingly take their concerns and resources into the marketplace of ideas, they make their mark on the public debate.

Women who give are putting our money where our rhetoric is. We have an agenda. We have a vision of meaningful social change for America, and we're working to make it real.
Hall is the President and CEO of the Women Donors Network based in Meno Park, California.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Women's History - Still Being Written

by Martha Burk

As we approach International Women's Day, advocates of women's rights have a lot to celebrate. Here and abroad, women are making strides on terrain both old and new.

This March, leaders of the nation's women's organizations concurred that the month dedicated to history made by women needs a name that reflects not just the landmarks of the past, but the ongoing achievements of women as we advance toward equality. This year, we celebrate the third month of the year not as simply "Women's History Month," but "Women Making History Month."

In the history books of tomorrow, 2007 will doubtless be designated a landmark year, beginning with Nancy Pelosi's election in January as first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Harvard University named Drew Gilpin Faust its first woman president in the school's 371-year history, and Frances E. Allen became the first woman to receive the highest award in computing in February. This country's very first public space dedicated to feminist art becomes a reality on March 23, 2007, when the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art opens in the Brooklyn Museum. The Center provides a permanent space for Judy Chicago's legendary work "The Dinner Party," honoring women throughout history.

Across the pond, the Wimbledon Championships -- the oldest Grand Slam event in tennis -- will finally join the United States Open and the Australian Open in granting equal prize money to female and male competitors. In France, women are looking forward to the likely election next month of Ségolène Royal as the nation's first female president next. If elected, she will join Michelle Bachelet of Chile, her nation's first female chief executive, elected last year.

Amid the progress, there are also setbacks. With the re-emergence of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan are back in the burqa, the head-to-ankle garment, and generally purged from public view. And women in Darfur, with fewer resources than men and primary responsibility for children, continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing genocide and rapes.

Here at home, the pay gap between women and men working full time (year-round) in this country remains a stubborn 24 cents on the dollar, and women are still the largest group of elderly poor. There's not much good news on the executive front either. A recent report from Catalyst, an independent research organization, says it will take another 47 years for women to reach parity with men as corporate officers in the Fortune 500. That's more than a full career span in anybody's book.

National women's groups in the U.S. aren't waiting for history to catch up with fairness. They're planning a national Women's Equality Summit March 26-27 in Washington D.C., to honor legislators who have done the most for women, and educate activists from around the country about areas where women are still left behind. Those activists will, in turn, lobby their members of Congress for faster results enacting measures that benefit women and their families. Summit participants will also hear from presidential candidates. It will be interesting to hear how many of them will address the pay gap, cuts in child health funds, the woeful lack of child care in this country, and why the U.S. hasn't ratified the international women's human rights treaty. And, oh yes -- the 900 pound gorilla -- ending the war. Polls show that women in both parties are far more anti-war than men, and we've known for years that nobody can be elected president without women's votes, even if they garner 100 percent of male ballots.

Speaking of gorillas, my favorite recent females-making- history story comes from the animal kingdom. Seems researchers in Senegal have established that chimps can and do fashion spears from sticks and use the tools to hunt small mammals. They say the landmark observation supports the notion that females, who do most of the crafting, are the main innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture. Could be true in the human realm as well, but we won't know till women are equal to men politically, economically and socially. So let's cheer these small steps for womankind, and hope that future steps will be giant ones.


Burk is Director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations.

Women and the Politics of Morality
by Amy Caiazza

Some are calling this the "new year of the woman." We have already seen one woman, for the first time, occupy the Speaker's chair during a State of the Union address and another emerge as the frontrunner for her party's presidential nomination. Indeed, for women leaders in U.S. politics, things have been looking up in the last decade. We've seen an increase in the number of women governors and the second woman to serve as secretary of state.

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have given us new inspiration to think about what the world might be if women were in charge. In large part, this debate has focused on what women's leadership might mean for policy: Would we have universal child care? Higher quality education and universal health care? Paid family leave? If women were really in charge -- that is, if women's leadership, lives, and concerns were fully included in politics from the local to the national level -- we could see even more earth-shattering change. We might see our country pursue a set of values that would shift the focus of political debate altogether. Women have the potential to push America to embrace values of mutuality, shared responsibility, and concern for the weakest and most disadvantaged.

America needs the kind of leadership that women can provide. We, as a nation, can look to myriad examples where we have fallen short: Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, increasing levels of economic inequality and hardship, a messy health insurance system and the war in Iraq. Women have a long, historical, lived experience that speaks to the new perspectives and values that they can bring to these issues. For all of the talk in recent years about "family values," it's been women who have tended to the values of our families, caring for one another and recognizing our responsibility to people other than ourselves. We understand that self-interest and individual rights are important but cannot be the only values that define our lives.

This perspective is not essential to being a woman, or even exclusive to us, but it is shaped by centuries of living out our historical roles, passed down, generation to generation, and is still often evident in how many women talk and think about politics.

While women have historically applied these values primarily to our families, homes, and in service to our communities, we know on some level that they are equally applicable, relevant, and profoundly important in public life at its highest levels. Now, as women take political leadership in increasing numbers, we hope to be taken seriously in the ways we discuss and consider our policies and practices.

This is a moral vision worth aspiring to. We need women's leadership to translate it into the practice of politics. Women can use their values to rethink policy and government in ways that acknowledge a sense of shared responsibility and recognize that people do not have control over all aspects of their social and economic lives. This should lead a rich nation to help its people, out of respect for basic dignity, when they have few choices in their quest to keep body and soul together.

It's not hard to imagine what America, under the kind of women's leadership we envision, might look like. Communities torn apart by disaster would get the resources they need to rebuild. Schools would have the resources they need to truly ensure that no child is left behind. We would not constantly toil to implement more tax cuts for the wealthiest. And we would not wage war against people who are not attacking us.

This is a moral vision that could pull us together rather than tear us apart and build empathy rather than hatred. It has very little to do with how politicians usually talk about moral values, but may be closer to how most of us live our lives -- and how most of the American people would have our government and politicians lead the country.

When politicians return to the mantra of moral values, we hope that women are at the forefront of those conversations. In the 2006 congressional elections, women voters led the call for fundamental change. Their voices should be heeded. We believe that an infusion of women's political leadership carries the promise of reframing our policy debates in ways that bring new and fresh ideas about the values we pursue as a country. We believe that, given the chance to lead, women just might hold the country to a new, and higher, moral standard.


Caiazza, Ph.D., is director of Democracy and Society at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Moms Making History - and Policy
by Valerie Young

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz carries crayons in her purse. She also coordinates the pick-ups and drop-offs of her children's after-school activities. Nothing remarkable in this; certainly, millions of mothers do this every day. But this mother of three, a Florida Democrat, happens to be a member of the United States House of Representatives. And that makes it pretty remarkable indeed.

Not so long ago, mothers in the labor force were advised not to keep family photos on their desks, or the kindergarten art project tacked up over the file cabinet. Almost overnight, it seems, motherhood has emerged as an important employment asset, at least in the political arena. That's because most households in which children are being raised are run by a working mom; today 70 percent of households with children have all resident adults employed outside the home.

And so, as we celebrate what leaders of women's organizations call "Women Making History Month," we note that Nancy Pelosi's first few speeches in her history-making role as Speaker of the House were full of references to her status as a mother and a grandmother. When Hillary Clinton declared herself a candidate for the 2008 presidential election -- making history in national polls that show her as a frontrunner -- she invoked the phrase "as a mother" almost in the same breath as "I'm in it to win." Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), a single mom, is raising a 4-year-old daughter. And you just can't get more obviously maternal than Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (D-WA), pregnant and due this May.

Now that mothers are stepping into positions of political influence, hope for some real change in our public policies is spreading. Women in groups such as MothersOughtToHaveEqualRights, the National Association of Mothers' Centers, Mothers & More, MomsRising, and the Mothers Movement Online have been advocating for paid family leave, accessible and affordable child care, healthcare reform, and better family policies in the workplace, among other proposals.

Congress appears be tuning in, evidenced by a recent Senate committee hearing on a paid sick leave bill, the Healthy Families Act, and by the floating of numerous plans for universal healthcare. On March 27, the Congressional Action Day of the Women's Equality Summit, women from a broad range of organizations will converge on lawmakers to press a family-friendly agenda.

As women legislators bring the sum total of their experiences to Capitol Hill, we are certain that today more members of Congress than ever before know what it's like to have a sick child at home on a day you absolutely have to get to work; to spend way too much of your income on childcare, if you can find it; as well as other care-giving dilemmas encountered millions of times a day in households around the country. (If only they could learn what it's like to put off filling your own prescriptions so you can pay for medicine for your kids; thanks to the comprehensive health insurance they enjoy as members of Congress, they'll have to take my word for it.)

Almost three-quarters of American mothers work outside the home for money, and the majority are working full-time. With household income virtually stagnant in recent years, women's wages are critical to making ends meet. The lack of adequate support for care-giving in the United States is appalling, and mothers aren't they only once who suffer the indifference. Americans are living longer and, with pensions, savings and retirement benefits shrinking, will be working longer and caring for ill or disabled parents, in-laws, spouses and others, all at the same time. That's why we, as a nation, so badly need the paid family leave advocated by mothers' rights organizations.

The legislator-mothers currently serving in the House and Senate are singularly placed to tackle these critical public policy issues, and bring to them a certain practical expertise not typical among members of Congress. The healthcare delivery system is in shambles, with 46 million Americans uninsured. The Family Medical Leave Act is currently under threat, in the process of a review being conducted by the same Department of Labor that has implemented other cutbacks in worker protections and compensation. As it is, the act covers only half of the private sector workforce. The well-being of most Americans will depend in the future on the enforcement and expansion of the act to include all workers, and to provide paid leave, so eligible workers can actually afford to take it.

The women currently making history in Congress know this, see this, and live this. To Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, I say sharpen your crayon. It's time for some serious multi-tasking.


Young is the advocacy coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Unbought and Unbossed: Following Shirley Chisholm's Path
by E. Faye Williams

As we celebrate Women's History this month, countless references will no doubt be made to the historic strides made by America's women politicians this year, when we saw, for the first time, the gavel of the Speaker of the House wielded by a woman, and a woman candidate emerge as the frontrunner for her party's presidential nomination. And it looks to be an historic year in Black political history, as well, as an African-American senator is touted as a serious contender for the same nomination. Indeed, these are historic precedents in all of American history.

But more than 30 years ago, one person embodied two "firsts," when Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York threw her hat into the ring of presidential politics when she announced her 1972 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her slogan spoke to neither her race nor her gender, but to the state of U.S. politics in her time (and ours): "Unbought and Unbossed."

Shirley was a woman of "firsts." She was the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, the first woman to run a meaningful campaign for the presidency of the U.S and the first to chair the National Congress of Black Women, the organization I am privileged to lead today. But to hear Shirley tell it, she'd rather be remembered as "a woman who had guts" than a "first."

I was blessed to meet Shirley while she was in Congress. Like so many young women, I was inspired and awed by her audacity in choosing to run for president. Unfortunately, 35 years later, a woman has yet to win the presidential nomination of either of our political parties, but the momentum generated by Shirley Chisholm assures us that the men-only presidential ticket is a state of affairs that simply can't last.

In 1968, when Shirley came to Congress, it was a lonely place for any woman, never mind one who wasn't white. Today, 87 women serve in the Congress -- 16 in the Senate and 71 in the House, of which 14 are Black. A woman serves as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and many chair powerful committees. "Firsts" do matter when they serve so well that others are inspired to follow.

In 1972, Shirley explained her rationale for running a presidential campaign for an office yet unattainable by a Black person or any woman, as an act that "itself can change the face and future of American politics -- that it will be important to the needs and hopes of every one of you -- even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win."

Shirley was right about changing the face and future of American politics. Just think for a moment about all the women who are serving in state legislatures, as governors, as mayors of cities. Many of these victories are an extension of her races in 1968 and 1972.

Yet, as a nation, we have yet to fulfill the legacy of Shirley Chisholm. As I review the list of legislative priorities that inspire this month's Women's Equality Summit and Congressional Action Day, organized by the National Council of Women's Organizations and the Younger Women's Task Force, I find much of the work Shirley began still unfinished.

In 1970, Rep. Chisholm, a schoolteacher and nationally renowned expert on early childhood education, co-authored a comprehensive childcare bill that met the veto pen of President Richard Nixon, who called it the "Sovietization of American children." Shirley pressed Congress to increase the minimum wage and to provide funding for health care, battles we continue to wage today. She advocated equal pay for women and men; today, women still earn 76 cents for every $1 earned by men. She spoke boldly of a woman's right to reproductive freedom, rights that today are in peril.

Shirley Chisholm's 1970 floor speech introducing the Equal Rights Amendment is considered to be one of America's most important political speeches. And we have yet to ratify this simple statement of equality of the sexes.

So this March, more than simply celebrating women's history, we've got our eyes on the present and the future -- on women making history. Shirley Chisholm laid out an agenda for bringing freedom and justice to all Americans, women and men of all races. It's our task to fulfill.


Williams is the national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.