|American Women: On a Road to Success
By Congressman Steny H. Hoyer
As father and grandfather to three daughters and a granddaughter, I have an up-close and personal view of the challenges women face today.
As the Representative of Maryland's 5th Congressional District, I have the opportunity to help break down these challenges and make the lives of my daughters, granddaughter and all women better.
This month is Women's Month, which makes a good time to stop and take stock of which of these challenges women have successfully overcome and what awaits in the future.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, a right they have exercised with such vigor that the percentage of women who vote has surpassed the percentage of men every year since 1986.
World War II introduced large numbers of women into the workforce. Today, 61 percent of women work outside the home.
Title IX provided equal opportunity for young women in sports. In 1999, 2.7 million girls took part in high school athletic programs, which is triple the number in 1972, the year Title IX was enacted.
Women now surpass men in the percentage who have completed college (30 percent compared to 28 percent)and who receive masters' degrees (57 percent of the total). The gap between men and women who use a computer at home has shrunk from a 20 percent difference to two percent.
As women know best, all of these achievements do not diminish the challenges that they face every day.
Women continue to face inequality of opportunity and pay in the workforce and to bear a disproportionate share of the demands of family life. On top of this, the numbers of single mothers (9.8 million) and the numbers of households maintained with no husband present (30.2 million) have skyrocketed.
In the workforce, the number of mothers of young children has almost doubled since 1976 (31 percent to 59 percent). And for the first time, the majority (51 percent) of all married-couple families with children have both spouses working.
This means that we all must look for ways to help our mothers, sisters, wives and friends cope with these changes.
I have worked hard throughout my career in public service to not only be aware of these difficulties but to be a part of the solution.
Pay equity is a very important principle in which I believe strongly. For too long, women have been paid significantly less than their male counterparts and have been discriminated against for promotions. I have co-sponsored several pieces of legislation in Congress to ensure that women receive the same protection, pay, benefits and promotional opportunities as male workers. One very important example is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide more effective remedies to victims of sex discrimination in wages.
I also strongly supported the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was landmark legislation to allow workers in companies with more than 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborns, newly adopted children or ill family members.
Recently new mothers were finding themselves pushed out of hospitals less than two days after giving birth. I co-sponsored legislation to end such "drive-through" deliveries and provide mothers and newborns a 48-hour minimum hospital stay. I also co-sponsored legislation requiring health plans to provide minimum health stays for mastectomies.
Women are living longer. Life expectancy has increased to 80 years. But as women live longer, the number of women afflicted with cancer and other diseases will increase. As a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee, which determines funding for health research, I have fought for and obtained increases in research funding for ovarian cancer, breast cancer, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Children's issues are also women's issues. I sponsored the Deadbeat Parents Law, which makes the failure to pay court-ordered child support a felony, and legislation to make it a crime to cross state lines to avoid paying child support.
During my time in Congress, domestic violence has come out into the open as a brutal reality for many women. To help women in their time of need, I co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, which authorizes federal funds for programs for battered women, permits interstate enforcement of state protective orders and encourages states to arrest abusive spouses.
However much we do in Congress, the road to success is always under construction, and American women are their own best engineers. I pledge to continue to cheer them on, remove obstacles and help pave the way.