Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, April 9, 1999

An advocate to
empower isle women

IF there is any one person with the single-minded, almost maniacal mission of helping all the women of Hawaii, that champion could well be Allicyn Hikida Tasaka. The 43-year-old Makiki resident has always been a real scrapper.

She was toughened by a tough life. Her mother died after giving birth to her. Allicyn lost everything in a bitter divorce. And, early in her career, she was told to act more like a kokeshi -- the cutesy, wooden Japanese doll whose head, attached by a spring, bobs up and down, with a frozen smile.

A kokeshi? Allicyn refused. In fact, in a real pendulum swing, she has become the feisty executive director of the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women. The agency is the only statewide government/community resource dedicated solely to improving the lives of females in the islands.

Allicyn is perfect for the job. She has a background in the media (at KHVH Newsradio and the Hawaii Herald newspaper), in public relations (at Hawaii Dental Service), and she knows the inner machinations of local government (with experience in both the House and Senate).

Info Box But mostly, she's an impassioned enemy of social injustice and inequity. That drive won her accolades when she was president of the local Japanese American Citizens League, and the Hawaii chapter was named the best out of 115 JACL affiliates nationwide.

She was instrumental in helping Bruce Yamashita in his successful racial discrimination case against the Marines, and worked like a madwoman to get redress efforts for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

Now she has turned her high-energy devotion from ethnicity to gender. From her two-person office near the Capitol (she has a male assistant!), Allicyn has been testifying at the Legislature, coordinating with other women's groups, and organizing events like this past Wednesday's press conference on Equal Pay Day.

Actually, it should be called Un-Equal Pay Day. In this country, a woman still earns only 74 cents to a dollar earned by a man. Thus, it was only yesterday, April 8, that an American wahine's annual wage finally caught up to a kane's yearly paycheck.

Hawaii's women fare a little better than the U.S. average, with an isle gal getting 82 cents per dollar compared to a guy's earnings. Whoop-de-doo. So why aren't we jumping for joy?

Allicyn's boss can answer that one. "The pervasive societal problem is that we continue to undervalue and underpay work done by women," explains Leslie Wilkins, chairwoman of the commission. "(And) the problem of wage disparity only compounds in retirement years. A lifetime of less earnings translates into less pension and retirement benefits -- leaving women the largest group to enter retirement in poverty."

So, let's get this straight. Female babies are sometimes not as desired as male babies. When they grow into their teens, girl athletes are not offered the same opportunities as boy jocks, contrary to Title IX laws. Then, when they hit the work place, women are still being underpaid, at least when compared to their Y-chromosomed peers. And ultimately, when they reach retirement, senior females are more likely to be poor than elderly males.

That does it. We need all the Allicyn Hikida Tasakas we can get.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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