'We've voted. Now it's your turn'

Kay Mills

November 19, 1992|By Kay Mills

A FEW days before the election, I called a friend in Lo Angeles, only to have her answering machine tell me that she was out working on political campaigns because, while I had dialed, the national debt had risen $475,000 and 20 more people lost jobs.

Let's hope the people we have just elected -- especially the women of the House, the Senate and the state legislatures -- get the message: This is not just about high-profile jobs for you. With four new senators and 24 women newly elected to the House, we can now truly call this the Year of the Woman. But it will be meaningless unless they stand and at least try to deliver.

In the past year, the Center for Policy Alternatives in Washington and the Ms. Foundation for Women in New York conducted a poll and focus groups on women's priorities across race and class lines. Many women -- not just well-off white feminists -- told of their concerns.

Their first priority was economic security. Of 1,400 polled, 86 percent want guaranteed health insurance for all, 78 percent want equal pay, 74 percent want better laws against discrimination at work.

Fifty-one percent of the women said they had fallen behind economically during the last year. Economic security for these -- women means the ability to get a decent job at a decent wage. That's particularly important for single mothers. In 1990, one of every four children lived with one parent, usually the mother. The Census Bureau says that 7.8 million American households are maintained by a single parent, again, most of them women; 68 percent of those women are in the paid work force.

Thirty-nine percent of the women with children under 5 said that finding someone to care for those children was their biggest problem in combining work and family. While few women picked abortion as their top concern, 53 percent of the women polled want a constitutional amendment adopted to keep abortion legal.

We're realists -- cynics, almost -- about how little any one person can do. Too often in the past, women have not been there to ask the questions, so we have not been well served by the answers. It defies credulity, for example, that no Senate Judiciary Committee member pressed Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas on his assertion that he had never discussed Roe vs. Wade.

In Congress, says Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., women had only been at the "mascot level" -- one or at most two members -- on key committees. There has been "pressure to always be everywhere because you're the only woman." That's changing.

The few women who have been in Congress have already made a difference. Much has been made about the greater sensitivity of lawmakers to the need for more research on breast cancer, but other diseases such as osteoporosis have not gotten that attention.

You women who have just been elected are reinforcements. You must speak up for those of us who cannot be there because we are at work or getting the kids home from school safely or grocery-shopping for an elderly parent. We have voted. It's your turn.

Kay Mills is the author of "This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer," to be published in January.

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