Saturday, August 26, 2006


Posted August 26, 2006

Goal: Achieve equal representation by the year 2020


Looking at the Inter-Parliamentary Union's website makes me wince in embarrassment for my country, the self-proclaimed ''world's greatest democracy.'' This is where 230 years after independence, women do not have equal rights and occupy a measly 15.2 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress. The latter, according to the IPU, put the United States at No. 67 in the world for electing women to national assemblies --just ahead of Angola and badly trailing Vietnam, Uganda, Germany and Cuba among countries with large legislative bodies.

Happy Women's Equality Day?

Women's Equality Day was not instituted in 1971 simply to celebrate women's hard-won right to vote. The late U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug led the charge for a joint resolution of Congress that ''designated August 26th, the anniversary date of the passage of the 19th Amendment as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights'' -- because ``the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled to the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States.''

An Equal Rights Amendment has been on the table since 1923. But it has been ratified only by 35 states. Florida is not one of them. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us that, ''Every constitution written since the end of World War II includes a provision that men and women are citizens of equal stature.'' American soldiers, moreover, are dying in Iraq every day to make sure that women occupy 25 percent of the Iraq National Assembly, while U.S. women -- who make up more than one-half of our population -- are stuck at under 16 percent.

What is wrong with this picture?

Countries around the world have made deliberate efforts to accelerate the election of more women, with dramatic results in some countries such as Sweden (No. 2) and South Africa (No. 14). A few women in key 2006 Congressional races are being supported and touted as control of Congress hangs in the balance, and politicos across the land are scrambling to get women's votes.

But how many more seats in Congress will all that actually give women on Nov. 7? When will women march for an issue important to so many women like a ''living wage'' with the same passion that they march for reproductive rights?

Our political leaders remain silent on the issue of taking concrete steps to give women equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and equal representation in Congress. Too many women keep going along with the status quo, either because they are uninformed or in denial. And the media gloss over the fact that U.S. women do not have equal rights and almost never reveal that 19 states have not a single woman in either house of Congress.

We're given all sorts of reasons for this disgraceful state of affairs, but we need to stop analyzing and start doing. Members of Congress who annually cosponsor the ERA should do something to make it happen. Political parties should change their rules to accelerate the election of more women. How about a constitutional amendment calling for one female and one male U.S. senator from every state? That will both go a long way toward equal representation and guarantee that no woman will go without her voice being heard where major issues are debated and laws are made.

If we put our collective minds and resources behind a concrete plan, equal representation could be achieved by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage -- and we would never have to celebrate Women's Equality Day again. How about that?

(Paula Xanthopoulou is a member of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women, as well as the City of Miami Commission on the Status of Women.)


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