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Why Ohio Women Need to be Engaged in Politics

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Why Ohio Women Need to be Engaged in PoliticsPhoto via The Women's Fund of Central Ohio.
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The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, acting as a parental guide to the region’s fired up feminists, convened hundreds in Ohio’s capitol building on Thursday for a day of education. Traveling from near and far, women and a handful of men spent a workday looking at public policy through a gender lens and learning how to hold legislators accountable. At the end of the day, 140 event-goers went on to have meetings with elected officials.

“The really special thing about being in these buildings is they belong to us,” said Wendy Davis, guest speaker at The Women’s Fund’s Ignite Change event. “Every single corner of it belongs to you, and you have every right to expect that you will be heard when you are in it.”

Davis, a former Texas senator serving from 2009 to 2015, gained national recognition in 2013 for performing a filibuster to block a bill that would end up cutting the number of abortion clinics in half, closing over 80 health clinics not providing abortions, and hobbling the ones that survive. Davis’ filibuster went on for 11 hours. From there, thousands of Texans who’d shown up in support helped carry the special session past the vote’s midnight deadline, but a second special session passed the bill anyway. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that it was unconstitutional, it’s unlikely that family planning and abortion access in Texas will ever be as easy and affordable as it was.

Since then, an estimated 180,000 women have lost the only healthcare they had, and teenage pregnancy increased along with the number of self-induced abortions. The state’s maternal mortality rate, doubling between 2010 and 2014, has exceeded that of most industrialized nations.

“We know that we’re up against that right now,” Davis said. “Those very same policies are being pushed in other states and, of course, at the national level.”

Kasich signed Ohio’s own 20 week abortion ban into law in December, prohibiting an extremely rare procedure that expecting mothers seek when a severe birth defect is discovered.

Davis took a look at history. In 1972, birth control was legalized, followed by abortion in 1973. These back-to-back wins for the women’s rights movement would allow women to “finally control our reproductive destiny, which meant controlling our economic opportunity.” Women flooded the workforce.

Between 1973 and 2000, the percentage of working women finally passed 50 percent, peaking in 1999 at 60 percent and settling at 56 percent in 2015. They now constitute 47 percent of the entire labor force and hold 52 percent of all professional-level jobs. Still, when it comes to leadership positions and elected offices, women remain underrepresented.

To determine what’s holding women back takes a layered approach that considers intersectionality, which describes how economic status, gender identity, race, and other identifiers come together to create a web of obstacles to success. A large part of it is ingrained sexism, implicit biases that label leadership qualities like decisiveness and confidence as positive for men and negative for women, that label all women as compassionate caretakers and men as breadwinners.

Where these biases appear in policy is in the lack of paid family leave, forcing women to choose between having a career and having children. The absence of affordable childcare plays its own part in keeping potential working women from leaving the house. After shelling out enough dollars to cover in-state tuition in many states, women end up earning less by working full-time minimum wage jobs than they would from government aid.

“Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights,” said Davis, quoting Hillary Clinton.

“And her statement, of course, sought to get at this point — the idea that women’s rights shouldn’t be considered as rights accorded to us as a special interest group, but rather as rights that, when provided, benefit us all,” she continued. “Essentially, she was addressing the intersectionality of our mutual interests.”

When women enter the workforce, more dollars enter the economy, and everyone benefits. This blends the struggle of the entire working class with that of women. And while it’s important to look at how certain issues may uniquely affect each woman, every individual story should be recognized as part of the collective struggle against the few billionaires at the top.

This unified fight, only won through unrelenting political engagement, is a long game.

“It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon, as the saying goes,” said Davis, who started the non-profit Deeds Not Words to provide resources fueling grassroots political enthusiasm.

Beyond marching, calling, emailing, postcard-writing and donating, it means voting and holding lawmakers accountable for the votes they cast, rewarding those who do serve the people’s interests, and encouraging women to run for office.

“It’s right, moral, and imperative for women, families, and our country that women are equal at every corner,” Davis said. “In classrooms, in executive suites, in board rooms, in legislative bodies and governor’s mansions, and yes, hopefully, one day, even in the highest elected office in the land.”

For more information, visit www.womensfundcentralohio.org.

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