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AAUW: Perspectives on Gender Equity

The American Association of University Women, founded in 1881, has 170,000 members nationwide. Its mission is to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy. The vision is equity for all.

Gender equity is the concept that women and men are treated equivalently in terms of opportunities, rights and benefits. The goal is to change existing gender biases in society and thereby improve economic outcomes for all.

Gender equity looks to fix the system and expand opportunities for women. In the United States, women are promoted less often, sit on fewer corporate boards and make up a small percentage of company executives. They are paid about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, carry about two-thirds of existing student debt and leave STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields because of hostile environments.

AAUW seeks to improve gender equity by focusing on three areas: education and training, economic security, and leadership. AAUW advocates the following strategies: equal access to education, ensuring education is free from sexual discrimination, achieving pay equity, creating career pathways for women, deepening women’s retirement security and advancing the participation of women and girls in leadership roles.

Women and girls face gender equity issues in all walks of life. What follows is how one girl and a group of women fought gender bias and won.

Hannah Kozak was about to graduate from high school in Irwin, Pennsylvania. She discovered that girls were required to wear dresses for graduation and “did not think that was fair or right.” Hannah spoke to her class advisor and school principal — no luck. She then wrote up a presentation for the school board that included a history of women wearing pants.

Hannah argued, “I would like to remind you that it’s 2019. Women do not have an expectation to live up to; women do not have a certain standard to meet. We are not living in the 1800s anymore.” The outcome was that Hannah alone was allowed to wear pants, but that decision missed the point. She contacted the local television station and subsequently the school district removed the requirement that girls wear dresses to graduation. Hannah and some of her friends decided to wear pants to graduate.

In 2016, a group of six women formed CEWS, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. CEWS petitioned the California Coastal Commission to include a pay equity clause on the Mavericks permit sought by the World Surf League. The choice of the Mavericks big wave venue was deliberate. Women had not officially been invited to compete at the event in its 20-year history. Although the World Surf League first decided to pull out of the event, in September 2018 the organization decided instead to grant gender pay equity in its events globally. The women’s philosophy that spectators enjoyed watching women surf and that pay equity was good for the sport had prevailed.

“Equal prize money is a huge step forward for both surfing and more broadly the world of sport. We want to be at the forefront of pushing for equality in all walks of life, starting on the waves.” These are just two examples of how gender equity affects us all. Here are a few steps people can take to be a part of the solution.

Familiarize yourself with gender equity issues locally and nationally

Contact your state and federal representatives about upcoming gender equity legislation

Vote and encourage others to vote

Sign up for the free salary negotiation workshop on the AAUW website, https://salary.aauw.org

Paula Wiiken is an Ashland AAUW member.

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