US women's rights `still not there' after 50 years

Washington, Feb 7 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Roughly half a century after American women began burning their bras and demanding their rights on a wide range of social fronts, the women's liberation movement that helped position the US as a world leader of women's equality still has a long way to go, say those leading the charge in the 21st century.

"When it comes to women's issues, I don't think we're a leader in the world at all," said Angela Hattery, associate director of Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"Western Europe is way ahead of where we are," she said, adding, "We are still not there yet."

But there was a day when the US was there. Women fought for and won the right to vote in the US in 1920.

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, designed to end wage discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed in 1972, around the time journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem became recognized as a national leader of the women's movement.

And several recent events have highlighted the strength of women and the advances of women's rights in America:

. The Jan 21 inauguration of US President Barack Obama, who won overwhelming support from women voters and is seen as a champion of women's causes.

. The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that gave women in America the legal right to abortions.

. The Jan 24 announcement that the US military would allow women to serve in combat roles.

Despite those recent events, there are still key areas of discrimination and inequality, say women's rights supporters, including workplace barriers, unequal wages, high levels of poverty and violence, and challenges to reproductive rights.

More women graduate from high school and college and get advanced degrees than men, but women still earn substantially less on the job, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

The most recent figures show women in 2011 earned an average of $37,100 while men earned an average of $48,200, and data from the US Department of Labor shows women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Even when the data compares women and men of the same age, with the same educational backgrounds, in the same kinds of jobs, "Women still start their careers with salaries that are five percent under where the men are," said Sarah Jane Glynn, a policy analyst at American Progress, a Washington-based educational institute and an expert on women's employment and labor issues, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Ten years after starting their careers, factoring out the women who took time off to have a child, the gap grows to 12 percent, she said.

"We can't prove it's based on discrimination but anecdotally that certainly is something that we take a look at," Glynn added.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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