By Riley Karbon, Field Intern
While we contemplate our current economy and working conditions in the United States, we realize that a lot of disparities affect women in a uniquely negative way. Here are a few brief examples. First, women in the United States are paid 77 cents for every man’s dollar, regardless of the fact that women now make up the majority of the work force. Revised data released last week from the Labor Department showed that during four months in 2009, women held more jobs than men, and their lead was greatest just in January at 50.3 percent. These numbers reflect the nation’s non-farm payroll jobs.
Second, under the Family and Medical Leave Act women (and men) are only given 12 weeks of parental leave and are not paid for their time out of the office. This also only applies to parents who have been employed for at least a year at companies with more than 50 employees, leaving many workers without any parental leave guarantee. In addition, few workers can afford to take off 12 weeks without a paycheck — as a national survey has found. Lastly, U.S. women do not have an Equal Rights Amendment which would bolster their workplace discrimination suits. Currently the U.S. Constitution does not have any language indicating that all its protected rights are guaranteed to all citizens regardless of sex (aside from the right to vote). An ERA would greatly improve the economic status of women in the workplace. In comparison, let’s look at the dramatically different situation for our sisters in Europe.
The European Union believes that equality between men and women is a fundamental right and shares this as a common value among member states. They’ve made enormous strides in the last decade to work toward gender equality by passing various treaty provisions and directives regarding access to employment, equal pay, maternity protection, parental leave, the burden of proof in discrimination cases and self-employment. Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam gives the European community more authority to combat discrimination on account of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The EU knows the status of women in the workforce is still not where it should be, as they make 83 cents to men’s dollar, but the EU is making it a priority issue. Though not full equality, it is still six cents closer than in the U.S.
For more workplace specifics, let’s move to the member states. Under the French social security system, mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and up to 26 weeks for the birth of a third child. Germany offer mothers 14 weeks with full pay, Norway 42, and Sweden 96, of which 78 weeks are paid at 80 percent of the employee’s salary. Of course, those benefits are only given to those paying into the countries’ social security systems. More than 120 countries around the world offer some sort of nationally mandated paid leave; unfortunately, the U.S. is not a part of that group.
The U.S. must realize that the needs and rights of over half its work force cannot be denied, and great strides could be accomplished by following the European Union’s lead. National and international legislation exists to help combat gender discrimination in the workplace. As mentioned before, the ERA would enshrine women’s equality into the Constitution. Also, CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), is an international women’s rights treaty with language in its articles mandating the end of sex-based workplace discrimination, among other provisions. It has been adopted by all industrialized countries except for the United States. CEDAW and the Equal Rights Amendment have been pending for many decades, and now is the time for Congress to take action. Ask your members of Congress to support ratification of CEDAW and renewed efforts to adopt the ERA to help end gender discrimination in the workplace. Read more about: Constitutional Equality CEDAW