In last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proclaimed this point in time to be “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” As the president reaches for the stars, the National Organization for Women will be working to ensure that the women of this nation are lifted up as well.
President Obama spoke about creating jobs through building our country’s physical infrastructure, investing in research and development, and reinventing our energy industry. Worthy objectives — but currently these fields are dominated by men. Much work remains to be done to bring women into parity in these vocations, known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). For example, when we talk about “green jobs,” Wider Opportunities for Women found that two-thirds of all women are clustered in only 21 of the 500 green job categories. If these jobs our are future, women must be included.
Next month, I will take part in the 55th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which will focus on the access and participation of women and girls in STEM. However, until we make significant progress in this area, if we want to talk about creating jobs for women, we have to talk about rebuilding our human infrastructure — including teaching, nursing and social work. These positions not only employ women but they serve some of the most vulnerable people in our country, those the president promised to safeguard.
Most people may not even be aware that women are actually losing ground in the current economic recovery. From July 2009 to December 2010, according to the National Women’s Law Center, women lost jobs while men gained, with women losing 99.6 percent of the 257,000 jobs cut from the public sector. And long-term unemployment is worsening for women.
For these reasons, we are heartened that President Obama announced he would work to strengthen Social Security without risking current retirees or slashing benefits for future generations. Women, particularly women of color, depend greatly on Social Security. Often it is their only income in retirement. NOW has been vigorously campaigning to protect and reinforce Social Security, and we are pleased to see that the steady stream of messages from women’s rights supporters has made an impact. However, the forces behind dismantling Social Security are powerful, determined and crafty. The president must remain firm as he stands up to the foes of government programs that help people instead of big business.
The president said: “We do big things.” I can’t think of anything bigger than guaranteeing jobs, opportunity, security and equality to the women of the United States and around the world.
Terry Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women