Today, August 26, 2009, is Women’s Equality Day as proclaimed by President Obama. It is a day that recognizes the huge accomplishments by women in this country, from voting rights to equal pay – hard won achievements that cross racial barriers and socio-economic boundaries. It also reminds us that our work in securing equality is not yet finished.
As a Baby Boomer, I’ve seen and been part of immense change in this country. We were the generation after Eisenhower’s post-WWII society, no longer content to aspire to the tidy image of pretty housewives vacuuming while wearing high heels and pearls, waiting for our husbands to come home. We broke the molds of education and employment, busting down barriers by demanding access to “male only” jobs and schools and clubs. We took our cases to the Supreme Court to get justice on issues like compensation, sexual harassment, and child-care leave. We changed how people think about generals and soldiers, corporate presidents and presidential candidates. We helped open doors to boardrooms and washrooms in every community, giving choices to young women of today who will never truly understand these ancient tribal rituals but now enjoy social norms that breathe fairness and openness so that women can excel in ways we might only have imagined.
However, for all the achievements, there remains inequity in the heart and soul of every woman: healthcare. Too many women remain in bad jobs or bad marriages because they cannot afford healthcare alone or because they will lose their rights to the same benefits if they break away to be on their own. For them, equality means they and their children should have access to the standard of care available in this country. It means that they are respected when talking to medical professionals about their concerns even though they may not understand the medical lingo. Equality in health means equal access to resources that help a mother feed her family healthily so that they reduce the need for medical treatment. Equality in healthcare means a woman’s voice carries the same impact as a man’s in the debate about costs, concerns and care.