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Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

This week we’ll turn to women’s rights in light of recent actions of the Trump Administration, such as the rollback of the protection of college-campus rape victims, the new threats to reproductive rights, and the slashing of maternal health coverage.

The Facts

These attacks are unacceptable and demand a response. The people of this country cannot let progress be halted in the fight for equality. Nevertheless, it is important to take note of the serious gaps in equity that predated this administration. Unfortunately, the fight for women’s rights has historically been fought for and by privileged white, affluent heterosexual women.

To truly advance gender equity, we need to attend to ways gender gaps are further moderated by factors like race, class and gender identity.  If we don’t, initiatives that close gaps for some women may not improve or might even exacerbate gaps for other women.

For example, advocates for pay equity often point out that women earn 79 cents to every dollar earned by a man. Next, with respect to gendered violence, advocates note that 1 in 5 women are victims of rape or attempted rape, 3 women are murdered a day by an intimate partner, and 4.8 million women are victims of domestic violence a year.

However, while all women are at risk for sexual and domestic violence, pay discrimination, and underrepresentation in leadership positions, some women face more barriers and challenges in their pursuit of safety, well-being and prosperity. Addressing inequity for these women may require targeted efforts and examination of data from more diverse vantage points.

Race and Gender Identity

Shockingly, the Wikipedia page for “gender pay gap” includes data on the effects of age and class on the pay gap, but not race. However, race discrepancies are far from subtle; while white women earn 79 cents to the white man’s dollar (the figure we so commonly know), black women earn only 63 cents and Hispanic women earn a horrifying 54 cents.

This trend in under-representing certain women in the statistics we choose is also seen in the data for violence: the figure for women experiencing rape or physical violence is 30-50% higher for Black and multiracial women than for white women.

We also see discrepancies in sexual orientation and gender identity: the rates of violence are also higher for lesbian/bisexual women and transgender women, with 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women experiencing violence compared with 35% of heterosexual women.

Attention to averages can obscure profound differences in the experiences of different women, based on race, gender identify and class. When we use blanket data and approach women’s rights from the perspective of a privileged white woman, we risk creating a one-size-fits-all model for gender equality that doesn’t reflect the needs of those we claim to be serving.

Attempting to be inclusive by focusing on common ground results in a lack of acknowledgement of the issues that mainly affect our most vulnerable. The priorities of women’s rights movements should coincide with the largest threats to gender equality, not simply the goals of the privileged.

For example, when gender equity movements are lead predominantly by white, wealthy women, we neglect issues that have been solved for the privileged but that others must still grapple with. One clear example is voting rights; white women have few issues when it comes to exercising the right to vote, yet women of color are still often disenfranchised (refer back to our post from two weeks ago). Furthermore, while the privileged need not worry about access to affordable Pre-K or childcare, a lack of safe and affordable full-day options forces many women to lose advancement opportunities or pay in order to care for their children. Neglect of this issue disproportionately harms underprivileged women, yet is often glanced over because it is not an issue for those who largely lead movements for gender equality.

This week, take the time to reflect on how we can best advocate for all women — and especially women who face compounding disadvantages of race and class– and promote real change within the United States.

If you agree that we must expand our definition of gender equality because “oppressions are interlinked and cannot be solved alone” (as displayed in the cartoon), look below for actions you can take.

If you disagree with our stance on this, please leave us a comment. We are here to encourage discussion, and would love to feature alternative views.



One Comment

  1. Ellie Baker Ellie Baker December 6, 2017

    Your article is powerful and well-articulated. I believe your perspective is applicable to many issues, and accounts for a lack of effectiveness within movements for social justice. Lack of diversity in leadership positions will lead to ineffective strategies to remedy issues at best, and minority groups being completely overlooked at worst. Your ideas within the article remind me of the controversial issue regarding a white artist’s painting of Emmett Till at the Whitney Biennial that was protested by many. Interesting question, do we have a right to speak for the experiences of others through a sense of empathy rather than personal experience, and can this truly effect change?

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