In the Interest of Black Women
By Dr. E. Faye Williams
Trice Edney News Wire
March is designated annually as Women’s History Month. I always enjoy this and other cultural observances by allowing myself to deeply reflect on the progress by the designated group as well as any new or existing obstacles placed or remaining in their path to full enfranchisement.
While women have unique and specific goals in their struggle for social justice, I’m particularly concerned about the impact of cultural and political imperatives on women, especially African American women.
Many who observe Women’s History Month mistakenly become solely absorbed with the achievements of women from some artificial starting point. Whether that point is the date of the ratification of the 19th Amendment or the more recent era of “Women’s Lib,” too many, even women, have come to accept the achievements from those points as “sufficient.” Many declare that to strive for additional, unrealized goals for social justice to be “overreach.” More tragically, those achievements deemed as sufficient leave African American women farther behind the power curve than their white counterparts.
It’s an understatement to say that issues related to gender discrimination are too wide-ranging to be discussed in an article of this length. However, the two most pervasive issues affecting Black women that are deserving of discussion are those related to economics and health, and as with any discussion promoting a benefit to women our interest is in the empowerment of women — increasing our personal effectiveness in all facets of life.
Unlike unsympathetic critics, it’s not enough to count the number of jobs held by women. A fair analysis of the circumstance of women does not just include the number of women promoted or the performance awards they received. The most significant underlying issue in the arena of women’s employment is that of pay disparity commonly called “the gender wage gap.”
We have the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but there is no legislation that protects women workers from pay discrimination. An analysis of 2013 wages by the The American Association of University Women indicates that white women receive 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap widens as we analyze the impact on Black women who receive 64 cents for every dollar earned by white males for substantially performing the same work.
With an increasing number of dual-income households and single-parent households, this pay disparity has a significant impact. This impact is seen in everything from family nutrition to healthcare, housing, effective parenting, educational opportunities for family members, and exposure to environmental factors impacting on physical well-being (crime, disease, etc.). More and more women serve as the primary bread-winners in family units and/or their income plays a more important role in the financial stability of the family.
The significance of these bread-and-butter issues has a carry-over impact on the women’s physical health and the health of the family. If any reader is unwilling to accept my experienced-based analysis on this issue then I refer you to the theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply stated, the human condition is to satisfy the physical needs of food, shelter and safety before any other ‘Higher’ need. Accepting this reality, I have seen women do without food in order to feed their children. I’ve seen them forego medical treatment because they could not afford to take off from work, much less afford a doctor bill.
Yes, March is Women’s History Month, but it must be viewed and treated as more than a commemorative event. As our social order continually redefines itself, we must be mindful of the impact of our changing structures especially as they affect those of us who have a history and tradition of second-class citizenship — first as enslaved people and then as women.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women, www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788