A perspective of a USESSC member living in El Salvador.
The struggle of women’s rights in the United States has a long history. Although in March of 1776,
Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband, “remember the ladies,” it wasn’t until the 1830’s and
40’s that the struggle really began with the abolitionist movement and the quest for women’s suffrage
which finally passed in 1920.
When I was growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s,
women’s place was still considered to be in the
home. If women did work, opportunities were
limited mainly to being a teacher, a secretary or
a nurse. However, in the 60’s changes were
taking place. I participated in one of many
consciousness-raising groups whose purpose was
to raise awareness about our status, and the
National Organization for Women was founded in 1966. In January of 1973, the U.S. Supreme
Court recognized that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to make her own
personal medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion without interference from
Women now have many more options in choosing a career. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first
woman to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton was the
first woman nominated to be president by a major political party.
Although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
was passed and signed into law by President Obama in 2009 yet there is still an 8% pay gap between
men and women in the U.S. On average, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. Only
21 women out of a total of 50 members, or 21%, are serving in the Senate in 2017. Women make up
19% of the House of Representatives – 83 out of 435 members. Only 4 out of 50 state governors are
women. Women, who want to work in fields typically dominated by men, such as construction type
jobs, find that they are harassed on the job.
As a frequent visitor to El Salvador, I can’t help but contrast the struggle for women’s rights in that
country to that in the U.S. Salvadoran women have the added disadvantage of living in a culture of
machismo where domestic violence, unequal pay for equal work and women in poverty are norms.
However, women here are very well organized and are demanding to be heard. One area, which is
extremely troubling, is the law against abortion for any reason including when the life of the mother
is in danger or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. This law has resulted in women
who are serving time in prison just for having a miscarriage.
However, I find encouragement in seeing women worldwide marching, protesting and demanding
equity and equality. We must continue the struggle and never give up until all women are treated
fairly and given equal opportunities.
- Ann Legg.