San Francisco Chronicle

Common Agenda of Women Will Shape the Future
Nancy Ramsey

Change describes every part of our lives today. In the passage of millennia, this period is often called "the time in between." Native American storytellers have allegories for it. Some languages have a word for it; some cultures a concept for it.

An anthropologist friend says we are hospice workers to a dying system (the top down, command-and-control hierarchy that has worked for centuries in the manufacturing age) and midwives to a new system (the open, horizontal, networked system of the information and knowledge age).

What does change have to do with Intentional Women's Day? Everything, because the biggest change in the social order of the 20th century is the change in the status of women. Every foxily, workplace, man and woman feels it.

In women's 150-year struggle for the vote and equality in America, they have gained confidence in themselves and each other. They have listened to and learned from each other. They've gained respect for their ability to accomplish things together, to disagree, and then move on. The most important outcome of this struggle is the emergence of common priorities that shape women's vision for the future.

Women's priorities are universal, even if not ranked identically in importance by individual woman or by groups of women of similar age, race or ethnicity. Research shows that women share policy priorities that cut across party lines and past disagreements. These priorities are the outline of what women want for themselves and their families in the 21st century.

The foundation of this social agenda is a call for equality with men – not because women want to be like men, but because men have been the defined norm in our society. Equality is about equality, not sameness. Women like who they are.

Changes in how advertisers, marketers and political candidates approach women today tell us that they understand women's quest for equality. There are no more commercials with smiling, aproned women peering down the toilet bowl in search of shine. The ironing board in the closet of you hotel room says that the hospitality industry has noticed that during the past 20 years the number of women traveling on business has grown to 50 percent of all business travelers. Most political candidates now need women's money, as well as their votes, to win elections.

But for all the change, some things remain the same. The "gender gap," which first appeared nearly 30 years ago in political polling on federal spending priorities, represents the difference between policy priorities of women and of men. Women consistently focus on the social agenda: education, health care, Social security, gender equity in the workplace, physical safety for their children and themselves, and the right to choose an abortion. Men favor an economic agenda: reducing taxes and budget deficits while increasing military spending. Those differences remain today.

The top three policy priorities for women are:

• Health care for themselves, senior citizens and children. With more life time health-care needs (on average) than men, and less likelihood of work-related health-care insurance, women look to the government to provide vital health services.

• Education, especially among younger women. For women, education is the single greatest employment-opportunity equalizer. Women recognize an education earns them the credentials they need for economic independence I this transforming global economy – and they are aggressively going after schooling: Women now make up the majority of graduates of both high school and college.

• Gender equity in workplace hiring, promotions, pay, benefits and lending. Women work: they work at home; they work outside the home. The reality is that most women support themselves and their families for part or all of their adult lives.

Whether women work because they want to or have to, irrefutable federal statistical data demonstrate that 35 years after passage of equal employment laws, women continue to be paid less than men for comparable work: on average, about 74 cents to every dollar paid to men.

Will these common priorities grow into focused political or economic activism? We don't know. We do know that few people have the time or proclivity for traditional political organizing. But early indicators are that women are using the tools of change to build a different future, and perhaps a different way of organizing for the 21st century.

The Internet has replaced leafleting for sharing news, opinion, job opportunities and ideas. Grasping the power of the medium, women now generate up to 48 percent of Internet traffic. They are on line building connections and wielding their economic clout by shopping.

Class-action lawsuits have replaced demonstrations, with women seeking compensation for workplace discrimination and product-safety abuse. Increasingly, women leave the companies and firms where discrimination persists, taking their education, experience and clients with them.

With a common agenda, increasing economic clout and new, creative forms of effecting change, women are likely to continue building the future and legacy they want.

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