Monday, September 26, 2005


Women’s rights are
really human rights


Despite gains, women in Hawaii still face significant challenges and inequities.

Linda Lingle declines to wield her "first female governor" notability as a mark of distinction, preferring that she be judged on her actions without consideration of her gender.

Neither does she categorize policy matters as gender specific and though she might not be intentionally embracing it, her choice follows an oft-stated mantra of feminism -- that there are no women's issues, just human ones.

While broadly accurate, the series of articles in the Star-Bulletin over the past nine days brought into sharp focus the elusiveness of societal parity for women even as they continue to make gains.

There are the unsubtle discrepancies. In employment, Hawaii women still earn less money than their male counterparts -- 83 cents to the dollar -- experience sexual harassment and are often derailed to the "mommy track" should they become pregnant.

The visible few who manage to crack the glass ceiling are held up as good examples of equality, but most hover in the shadows far below, and though there also are men who toil at the low-paying jobs, women by and large are the ones stuck at the bottom. About 21,000 single women in Hawaii live below the poverty line, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

At the same time, women are making inroads in undesirable areas. In 1972, there was only one woman in Hawaii prisons. Today, more than 750 females are behind bars, mostly for drug and related property-crime offenses, but programs to help get them back on the straight and narrow are sorely lacking. This is a grave omission, since about 60 percent of these women have children, who are at risk for repeating their mothers' mistakes.

Less obvious gender equality issues gather around expectations. In a preview of an upcoming television series about a woman who becomes president of the United States, a man questions whether she is ruthless enough to take the helm. The woman repudiates the need to adopt a typically male attitude. It is fiction reflecting a prevailing bromide that femininity is analogous to gentleness.

Women do behave in predictable ways and might hold generally parallel views, but equality also means freedom to march to a different beat. The debate about abortion that focuses on the right to choose holds the essence of equality for women. As Governor Lingle exercises her right to choose how she will lead, so do all women merit that authority. It is a human issue.

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and military newspapers


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