WOMEN’S EQUALITY FORUM: Looking back and moving forward

By Terry O’Neill*

Today, August 26, marks the anniversary of the end of the 72-year fight for women’s right to vote. That’s right – our forebears faced 72 years of ridicule, ostracism, abuse, imprisonment … and also hope, determination, courage, and eventually, victory.

Securing the right to vote was a huge step toward equality for women, but the struggle continues. In fact, my travels this week encapsulate both the successes we have earned and the challenges we face. Today I’ll celebrate Women’s Equality Day in West Hollywood, California, where I’ll speak about our successful effort to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, where we legislatively overruled the Supreme Court on the time period in which victims of discrimination can challenge unequal pay. This was a victory – but it’s not a perfect solution. Today women on average still are paid only 78 cents for every dollar paid to a white male with African-American women earning only 64 cents, and Latinas 58 cents on the white male dollar. We need to reduce the wage gap to zero for all women with comparable worth legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, paid family leave and other woman-friendly policies. That means we have a lot of work still to do!

I’ll also remember the abuse the suffragists endured when I’m in Wichita this weekend with Kansas NOW and Nebraska NOW members as we rally in Omaha to support Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a compassionate and courageous abortion provider. The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has announced its intention to protest at his clinic, and because their action comes in the wake of the depraved murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, I am frankly concerned for Dr. Carhart’s safety and that of his staff. NOW members will be there to stand in solidarity with him, to affirm that his clinic will stay open and to demand prosecution, to the fullest extent of the law, of anyone who commits acts of terrorism against an abortion clinic or who funds or conspires with the perpetrators.

If you’re in the area, please join our peaceful counter protest in Wichita Friday and Saturday, August 28-29. Details can be found at the Kansas NOW Web site. And if you’re not able to make it, I ask you to contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to push for greater protections for these courageous physicians who put their lives on the line for women’s health daily.

I tip my hat to all those who came before me in the fight for women’s equality. With their unflagging commitment and determination as inspiration, we will press on.

*Terry O'Neill is the newly elected President of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She took office July 21.

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