Celebrate the past; secure the future

By Laura Haight
President, DWGC

This is Women’s History Month when we celebrate the achievements of all women – and they are vast and consequential. But I am looking to where we are today and the achievements and accomplishments yet to be achieved.

For example, how well represented are we in governing bodies and how does that representation affect the quality and focus of public policy?

Evidence shows a strong link between peace and gender In countries where women play a significant role in government. Where women are empowered, societies are vastly more secure. Helping women realize their rights in fragile countries helps prevent conflict and increases the likelihood of sustainable peace. Those are the findings of Oxfam, a global charity that works to end injustice and poverty across the globe.

Across the globe, UN Women reports, women make up 34 percent of “local deliberative bodies” in 136 countries. 

Here in South Carolina, women make up 14.7 percent of the state legislature. That global number, of course, is an average. And there are countries with extremely low participation of women in local government. We are better than Nigeria, Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Ghana. 

Nationally, in the current Congress, 24 percent of the Senate and 27 percent of the House are women. Internationally, women make up an average of 26 percent of national governing bodies. There are five countries where more than 50 percent of the government is female – and they aren’t the ones you might think: Nicaragua, Cuba, Rwanda, Mexico, and the UAE. 

In 2018, the Institute for Women’s Policy gave South Carolina a D in income equality efforts and ranked it 43rd in the country with a $32000 median income for full-time, all-year employment. That study also showed that while women made up 57 percent of the workforce, only 36 percent were in professional or managerial positions. In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found women’s median income had risen to $767 a week but that the pay gap between men and women was one of the highest in the country (77.6 percent vs. the lowest in Utah of 72.7 percent). 

So what? Right? We’re doing OK. Right?

But are we really?

The continuing battle to control women’s bodies is not a religious issue, it’s a cultural one, designed to keep women from attaining the same education, achieving the same professional goals, and amassing the same wealth that a man does. If it was truly about the preciousness of all life, then the Legislature would be working hard to ensure those babies would have health care, that their mothers would be able to care for them emotionally and financially. And it has shown no such interest.

The fact that a bill in the state legislature to eliminate the pay equity gap cannot even get a hearing despite the yeoman’s efforts of Rep. Chandra Dillard and others is another salvo. 

And then there’s Medicaid Expansion that would not only benefit WORKING women who fall into the black hole between poverty and the Affordable Care Act, but also hand the state a massive financial windfall. Yet, it also fails to get a hearing. 

The other day, Rep. Dillard remarked on Facebook that she and the rest of the Democratic delegation were doing everything they could to support positive legislation and hinder the passage or push for amendments of some of the more damaging bills. But the Republicans have an insurmountable majority. 

This is Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate the past but secure the future. Not only is that what we are chartered to do but also what Emerge is focused on. Our featured speaker this month is Jessica Bright, the executive director of Emerge SC. She’ll be talking about how Emerge is tackling this challenge, especially after two election cycles that saw both Democrats and women lose ground in Columbia. 

Changing that trajectory is our joint mission as we prepare for the 2024 elections and in this month as we remember the accomplishments of so many women who pushed our community and our country into a better future.

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

– Margaret Thatcher

Want to get fired up? Register today for the March meeting. Can’t make it in person? No worries, register and get the Zoom link in your email.

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