On International Women’s Day

If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.

I have to admit – I never heard of International Women’s Day either. My initial reaction was slightly unpleasant, but I took to googling the “holiday”. This holiday has been around since 1909. Really? It was first celebrated on 2/28 in New York City; the date moved to March 8th in 1917 when Russia declared it a national holiday. It’s 100 years old this year and has never caught on. Maybe it’s about time.

When I thought about it past first blush I started to get outraged. To everyone out there who made fun of the day & just had to post something a little snarky on a social media page– have you considered the following? In our country – the United States:

  1. Is Dead Last in developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave,
  2. Ranks last in every measure when it comes to family policy, in 10 charts.
  3. Of 41 developed nations, the U.S. is the only country that does not have a paid paternal leave policy.
  4. Women still make only $0.80 to every dollar a man makes for the same job.
  5. The U.S. ranks an unimpressive 33rd when it comes to women in the national legislature, among 49 “high-income” countries (defined as those with per-capita incomes above $12,615). Among a larger group of 137 countries with data available, the U.S. ranks 83rd.
  6. The U.S. media still provides a disproportionate number of images of women as young, white, heterosexual, and underweight.
  7. Women respond to advertisers’ messages of never being good enough: American women spend more money on the pursuit of beauty than on their own education
  8. Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories. “When a group is not featured in the media… it is called symbolic annhilation.

Internationally:

  1. Women make up 51% of the population and only 22% of national parliamentarians are female. That’s double the number in 1995, but still a marker of slow change.
  2. Women currently hold 24, or 4.8 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
  3. 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
  4. In most countries, women only earn between 60 and 75% of men’s wages – for the same work.
  5. 2/3 of the adult world population who are illiterate are female.
  6. The list goes on people – human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, denied the right to drive, wear clothes you can breath in, literally show your face…

How is this equality? So one might say that women get paid less because they stayed home with the kids or aren’t willing to move and take risks. Why is that OK? How is it better to put a new human who will one day be a contributing member of society in a heartless daycare center or in a care of strangers a better option? Of the families who place their children in day care, they like myself mostly needed to in order to pay bills – to live and eat. If one opts to stay home you don’t earn anything, don’t put money toward retirement and don’t contribute to taxes. This isn’t good for the society in general and will only cause more problems down the road. The U.S. is the only developed country that hasn’t caught on.

For those women who do return to the workforce in the six weeks that we are allowed off (before losing their job and not getting paid during this time); they end up with so many stressors, extra bills – and both parents who need to take unexpected time off constantly for a child who is sick or their daycare/school is closed due to the weather.

The federal government should be setting a standard. Laws should be on the table for discussion, but they are not. Perhaps it’s because there are so few women in political positions. That is why points 5 and 9 are so critical above. And nearly every other point blocks women, or doesn’t provide proper role models for women to be interested in political positions.

Imagine if the federal government actually set the stage for their employees? They do. On paper. I have been working for the federal government since 1994. When I got pregnant in 2006 while in the military, I applied for the “generous” 2 year unpaid maternity leave program where you can come back into your previous level after two years after delivery. My ex-husband was also in the military at the time, and we didn’t have childcare with anyone locally. I had to be at work at 5am as a cook, and my husband had to leave at 5am each day to get to start his 1 hour commute. Daycare centers don’t open until 7am at the very earliest – even in 2017.

My station signed off on the paperwork, this should have been a shoe in case. But it was denied. With no good real reason other than I was needed. As a E-4 cook? Those jobs are a dime a dozen. But I sucked it up and went back to work after just six weeks. No where to pump – such a thing was unheard of at the time so I didn’t breast feed. One of my male co-workers wife’s, volunteered to watch my son. She lived on the base just right up the road from where I cooked. Everyone was completely appalled at my denied request. It worked out, but it easily could have not.

Fast forward to 1998 when it was time for me to re-enlist. I was now an E-5. I had advanced pretty quickly and had nothing but outstanding reviews for 4 straight years. I wanted to stay in the military. My then husband was working as an aircraft mechanic and had to be stationed at an Airbase. We tried to work with our two detailers in D.C. to let them know that we were a married couple with a child and only one of us could really be deployed or have an overnight regular rotation at a time. As a cook on land I never had to stay overnight, but the Coast Guard had an unofficial policy that enlisted personnel who have non-airbase jobs rotate between ship duty and a land station. When my ex and I filled out our “dream sheet”, I wrote any land position at or near an air station anywhere in the world. We were totally flexible about where we go, even to a remote location that no one wanted as long as I could be stationed on land so we knew we had someone home with our 1-year old child every evening. His job could never get him out of an overnight rotation. I remember sitting in my kitchen at our shared little apartment one weekday afternoon when the detailer called me on the phone. He was kind of a jerk and the conversation ended with it was my turn to go back to ship duty. There was nothing he could do. End of story.

What??? At the station I was working at there were guys who were on their 3rd or 4th tour at a land station. I had an unusual case, but they were not willing to allow me at least two back-to-back shore duties. I felt completely frustrated. Why did the military have these “generous” family policies but I have never met a single person able to use them? I stayed home with my son, went into the active reserves and back to school. Another motivated female left the job force.

Fast forward 18 years to last year. I am still in the federal government. In 2002 when I took my first civilian federal job I was so excited to read about all the “benefits” of working for the federal government – specifically a flexible schedule, flex jobs, job-sharing, compressed tours, work-at-home, part-time work etc. In the now 15 years I’ve been employed in the federal civilian workforce, I’ve only known 1 position that job shares. To be fair there are more telework jobs and some people have been able to beg, borrow, and plea for compressed tours in the last few years. But they are RARE. To be fair I do work in a hospital and staff need to be around to see patients. But there are hundreds of administrative jobs (like every role I’ve served) where there is no patient contact and no reason on earth to be at work everyday or at a desk taking up precious real estate where patients can actually be seen.

After 22 years in the federal government and a most outstanding record, I asked to exercise my right to request an alternative work schedule for a better work life balance as the latest of many presidential policy states. I was burning out after working non-stop for 22 years; and just needed to do my job in a different way. Surprise, surprise – the answer was no. I never did get an answer about “why” as the policy states that I should, only I just needed to be there full time 5 days a week. I knew I was able to do my job in an alternative way. I had an outstanding record, but I was denied from even trialing it. When I insisted on learning why it was denied, I pointed out that I have a right to grieve if I don’t have a real answer. Instead of an answer (which I still haven’t gotten until this day), I received passive aggressive can’t ever really prove it quiet retaliation. Again – policies that are nothing more than words on paper. I’m not in the job any more. Another motivated employee gone.

Where is the justice? Why aren’t we marching the streets fighting for rights that most other developed nations already have as standard practice. Why aren’t we fighting for our sisters in non-developed countries? And aside from the lower pay, discrimination, not being taken seriously, being looked at as a sex object, not being represented in board rooms or lawmaking policy…. It’s women who suffer the most from not being able to use the policies that likely another woman put in place.

So we’ve never heard of International Womans Day. We should. Instead of laughing about it, why not consider actually Being Bold for a Change? Our world leaders declared a national holiday 100 Years ago and in doing so asked the citizens of the world to consider inequality once every merely 365 days. And we are poking fun at it as if it’s some ridiculous silly womans bra burning movement. That is how normal we think inequality is. And that is no ok.

 

2 thoughts on “On International Women’s Day

  1. Thought that HR departments in govt agencies esp, were supposed to ease staffing restrictions .. to minimize FMLA. An act in place since 1994

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    1. Yes – it’s true that the act has been in place for over 20 years. But even in the government (which I have worked in since 1994) doesn’t use it with any kind of frequency and the great majority of requests are denied. At my organization we use FMLA like CRAZY. Obviously not a good alternative because we end up short-staffed and can’t fill the positions because there is no actual vacancy. It only puts more stress and burden on the people going to work each day… which affects their families, etc.

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