August 23, 2004
On Aug. 26, 1920, women in this country won the right to vote. If President Bush and John Kerry want to honor that watershed struggle, they need to speak to the concerns of today's working women.
Those concerns include decent wages, decent health benefits and on-the-job equality for all.
Women are a huge voting bloc to be reckoned with. In 2000, more than 59 million women voted in the presidential election.
And this year, with women making up two out of every three undecided voters, the presidential candidates would be wise to address the needs of working women nationwide.
Diane Frye of Carrollton, Ga., has a simple request. "I want a job that will pay for my meals and rent," she says. Frye is looking for work and needs to move from a home that has a hole in the roof and lacks heat or air conditioning. She is a single mom, caring for her 18-year-old autistic son.
Three out of every five minimum-wage earners are women. A single parent of two children working fulltime at the federal minimum wage still falls below the poverty line, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Women desperately need to see a raise in the minimum wage.
Julia Perkins of Milwaukee is working several part-time jobs, none of which offer paid sick days. "I want a workplace that allows me to take care of my children if they are sick," said Perkins, "and I'm going to the polls to make a difference for my families and families across the country." Her 10-year-old and 15-year-old children are diabetic.
According to a study by Harvard School of Public Health Professor Jody Heymann, three out of four low-wage workers receive no sick days at all. For part-timers -- a growing sector of working women -- five out of six workers have no paid sick days, according to the Institute on Women's Policy Research.
Virginia Chivers of Caroll County, Ohio, just wants to be treated equally. She's been passed up for promotion five times -- one of the last times to a man she trained. "I think it's wrong. I can do that job as well or better then any man can. It blows my mind that they try to get away with this," said Chivers.
The issues of fairness and equality are key. Women need tough enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Last year, women filed tens of thousands of discrimination charges. It's clear that discrimination against women is rampant.
Eighty-four years ago, women won the right to vote. Bush and Kerry should make that vote even more meaningful by acting in the interests of today's working women.
Sangita Nayak is an organizer for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, which is a grassroots membership organization of low-wage women (www.9to5.org). She can be reached at email@example.com.