By Jessica Bauer Walker
International Women’s Day, celebrated around the globe on March 8, passed with hardly a blip on Western New York’s radar. I hear many women saying that they can do anything. It’s true that girls and young women are excelling in school and graduating from college at a higher rate than boys and men. They are also entering professional careers in record numbers.
However, as women age, their progress begins to stall relative to men. As women have children and bear the responsibility for sick or aging family members, they lose ground. Their pay can plummet to 70 percent of that earned by a man doing the same job. Overt discrimination, for example, lack of family/medical leave and child care subsidies, exacerbate the situation, and pay equity policies that help women achieve par with men – all standard practices in other industrialized countries – are limited or non-existent in the United States.
More subtle discrimination forces women to soften strong, well-informed opinions lest they be characterized as bossy and aggressive.
Part of the problem is that women are not present at the top levels of societal decision and opinion making.
The Erie County executive, Buffalo mayor and entire slate of Common Council members are men. The vast majority of elected representatives on a state and federal level are men. The major development companies in Buffalo are owned by men. While women are the backbone of the local health care and education workforces, top executives of hospitals, health insurance companies, the Buffalo Public Schools and most institutions of higher learning are men. The Buffalo News is published and managed mostly by men, as are most other local media outlets.
Sixty percent of households in our region are headed by women. Many of them are women of color who are also fighting racism and/or living in poverty and managing the constant stress of just getting their family through each week. Whether on their own or with a partner, women are the ones who bear and nourish the next generation with their own bodies. Women’s work is also found in pots of soup, piles of laundry, comforting children who cannot sleep and caring for elderly parents. This work, which literally sustains humanity, is mostly unrecognized and undervalued. This “women’s work” is piled on top of work in a labor force that similarly undervalues its female workers.
Women must stand up for themselves and support each other – across sectors, race, class, neighborhood and anything else that currently divides them. We also need men to help us build more safe, inclusive and equitable environments, because when girls and women are healthy and well, so is society as a whole.
Jessica Bauer Walker is executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo.