Today marks 50 years since the passage of Title IX – the landmark civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding. The provision was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and began to pave the way for a more hopeful future for women and girls. Because of Title IX, women and girls can excel in educational attainment – now able to attend four-year colleges, prestigious universities, and professional schools for law and medicine, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Additionally, Title IX established protections for students of color, LGBTQIA+, and those who may be pregnant or parenting.
The discrimination that women and girls faced prior to Title IX was unnoticed by many women. They thought they were just supposed to get married, have children and run households, not study, obtain a degree and have a professional career. These societal hurdles were overcome in part by Title IX, but also by the dedicated work of the members of Congress who believed that women and girls deserve equality under the constitution. Congresswomen Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-HI) and Edith Green (D-OR) wrote the first draft, and Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) co-authored the official Title IX with Mink.
In addition to educational equality, Title IX requires equal funding and access for women and girls in athletics. Although there is still a long way to go before women and girls’ athletics are on par with programs for men and boys, they have still made steady progress in the last 50 years. Title IX requires equal opportunities for access to school teams, comparable facilities, and teams at large if an equal one does not exist. This requirement has paved the way for hundreds of top Olympic performances by the United States women’s national teams in basketball, soccer, and individual competitors in other sports.
Underlying educational equality is a strong prohibition against sex-based discrimination and harassment. Previously, when claims of sex-based discrimination and harassment were made by women and girls, LGBTQIA+ students and students of color were filed, school administrators often did not respond. Frequently, survivors of harassment just dropped out or moved to another school. Under Title IX, students may file complaints with their schools and with the Department of Education. Having their claims fairly adjudicated has meant that many students were able to remain in school and an improvement in the educational environment.
Thankfully, in the last 50 years, progress has been impressive. The college enrollment rate for women aged 18 to 24 has steadily grown higher than men since 2000, and so have graduation rates for women over men in many fields. The rates for women of color increased from 2000 to 2018. Women are even earning a majority of doctoral degrees now. Our country has been transformed in many ways by Title IX.
But the work doesn’t stop at an anniversary. There is still so much to be done when it comes to access and equality for students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, and women and girls. For this anniversary, NOW thanks and honors those who work to improve educational programs, such as career and technical education, STEM, athletics, pregnant and parenting students, and protecting against sex-based discrimination and harassment. We pledge to continue to advocate for equal education for all.
For more information about Title IX and its evolution, please read NOW’s issue advisory: Title IX: The Civil Rights Law that Opens Doors – 50th Anniversary
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The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the nation’s leading membership-based advocacy group dedicated to defending women’s rights, advancing equality and combating injustice in all aspects of social, political and economic life. Through educating, mobilizing, and convening a vast network of grassroots activists across the country, NOW advocates for national, state and local policies that promote an anti-racist and intersectional feminist agenda. Since its founding in 1966, NOW has been on the frontlines of nearly every major advancement for women’s rights and continues to champion progressive values today. More about NOW’s efforts and resources is available at NOW.org.