People still ask me why women’s colleges persist after all these years. Aren’t we equal yet? Isn’t the “revolution” over? Shouldn’t we just get on with life in our coeducational world?
I’ve just read the new White House Report on Women which more than supports the continuing mission and necessity of education focused on women’s leadership and advancement.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the White House Council on Women issued a new report on “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.” (click on that link to get the report, or visit the website for the White House Council on Women and Girls to get the report and more data) It’s been a while since the federal government considered this topic — Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the last Commission on Women at President John F. Kennedy’s request. So, it’s safe to say that we’ve come a long way… and yet, some data sets reveal the utterly stubborn persistence of gender discrimination and the disadvantages that still afflict too many women on the margins of our society.
First, the good news: women are better educated than ever, now the majority of enrollments and degree earners at all levels of higher education. Women are the majority in the population, and that proportion grows larger with age. Women are participating in the labor force at higher levels than ever. All told, women have more opportunities for education and advancement economically, socially, politically and professionally than ever before.
But substantial challenges remain. Women still earn only 75 cents for every dollar that men earn. Women are still more likely to live in poverty, and this becomes an even more acute problem for Black and Hispanic females, where the poverty rates are 28% and 27% respectively, compared to 11% for White non-Hispanic females. Women are more likely to have serious health problems, particularly as they age.
While women are increasingly well-educated, their participation in and academic success with math and science continues to lag men’s attainment levels, which has a substantial impact on women’s employment opportunities and influence on important issues ranging from participation in banking and finance to shaping the future of computers and technology. Only 7 percent of female professionals work in the computer and engineering fields, compared with 38 percent of men.
20% of women’s work is concentrated in a few specific occupation: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers and nursing aides. Regardless of educational level, women are more likely than men to do the household work, and to volunteer.
Many more data sets are available in this study, recommended reading for all Trinity faculty and students.
I came away from this report with a strong sense that advocacy for women’s education, leadership and advancement must continue, stronger than ever, or we will risk backsliding on the gains we have made in the last half century. The report certainly points to success on many fronts for women — but that success came only as a result of a long and persistent emphasis on women’s rights and the need to focus on ways to ensure women’s educational and economic success. Women’s vulnerabilities remain, magnified in this report in the places that reveal women’s continuing economic lag, and even more serious challenges for women of color and women in poverty.
The revolution is a continuous call to action for all of us who believe that women’s education and advancement is the best hope for improvement in the conditions of life for all people in our society. Women’s colleges continue to be a vital force within the women’s movement — voices for women’s education, models for women’s leadership, and advocates for women’s equality and right to succeed at the highest levels possible. Our work at Trinity, like the work of woman-centered institutions everywhere, will help to ensure that the report on women that the White House issues 50 years from now (or, hopefully, sooner!), in 2061, will show even greater progress.
See: Gail Collins, “Girls and Boys Together,” New York Times, March 2, 2011