By Contributor on March 08, 2013

March 8 marks International Women's Day, and activists have celebrated it for 100 years now. Through the decades, women have campaigned not only for equal access to the political realm but also better pay and shorter work hours.

This year's theme, set by the United Nations, is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum." Here at home, to gain momentum, women need to gain economic power.

Today, the United States has the highest poverty rates among high-income countries.

According to census figures, 46.2 million people were living in poverty in the United States in 2010, with adult women almost 30 percent more likely to be poor than adult men. Families in poverty are even more dependent on women's work both inside and outside the home, resulting in longer days and more intense work for women.

While poverty has largely been absent from political discourse, most often when it is discussed the focus is on preventing the middle class from falling on harder times or on urban poverty. Though both are important and neglected issues, what is even less discussed is the reality of the disproportionate effect of poverty on women and, in particular, rural women.

The highest concentrated areas of poverty in the country lie in the South, which is largely rural. Rural poverty in the United States is more pervasive than urban property, with almost all of the persistent poverty counties being rural. Not surprisingly, women in rural areas fare worse than their urban counterparts, with higher unemployment rates and lower educational opportunities.

Disproportionately low pay scales contribute heavily to poverty rates experienced by women. Even after employment is secured, white women on average earn 77 cents for every $1 that a white man in the same position earns, and women of color earn even less: 62 cents for African-American women and 54 cents for Hispanic women.

In addition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (signed into law January 2009), the Paycheck Fairness Act recently introduced in Congress would require disclosure about how much employees are paid. The passage of this act would be a crucial victory for female workers fighting for equal compensation.

We need comprehensive wage reform that addresses gender and racial inequalities across all industries.

One contributing factor to increased poverty among women is the lack of availability and high cost of decent child care. Women continue to carry the burden of providing or finding alternatives for child care, options which are increasingly scarce and exhibit rising costs.

Child care costs are the single most important factor that pushes single mothers into poverty. Single mothers in the United States work more hours and have higher poverty rates than single mothers in other high-income countries.

We need comprehensive social reform that guarantees more affordable options for women who operate in dual roles as caregivers and income providers.

Lack of transportation also disproportionately affects rural communities. Job opportunities may be available in nearby urban or semi-urban areas, but transportation to these opportunities may not exist for rural workers. We need comprehensive transportation reform that extends public options into more communities and increases access to employment.

Too often in our culture, poverty is presented as the result of personal failure rather than a series of systemic flaws. These statistics highlight the various contributing factors to our leading poverty rates in the United States. By addressing these issues, women can gain momentum by growing economic power.

On this International Women's Day, let's pressure our government to attack poverty that disproportionately affects rural women and to promote policies that bring justice for all.

Candace C. Coffman works to build a people-centered human rights movement with the U.S. Human Rights Network and is a graduate of the Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.

Section: 

Topics: 

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

By Victor Menotti

At a time when most Americans agree that the country has too...

By David Bacon

"The products coming in from the U.S. had government support and subsidies. Mexicans couldn’t...

From a puny real-estate deal to campaign finance scandals, Walker's stench is in the air.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter