Progress of Rural Women Since 1995
United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
Presented by: Shirley McClain
Good morning colleagues and friends. It is indeed a great feeling to be here before you today as we all celebrate the Fifthteenth Anniversary of The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It was an awesome experience to be on the world stage with women from everywhere -- women speaking different languages, women in different skin hues and colors, and women from different cultures and incomes. And, at the same time, all the women understanding domestic violence, discrimination in the workplace, lack of land rights, hunger, barriers to education, lack of access to healthcare, lack of clean water and lack of affordable and safe housing. All of us to some degree were and are impacted by these issues.
I am a proud rural woman from rural Holly Springs, North Carolina in the United States of America. Since the Fourth World Conference, I have become more of an observer of the changes that happen to women and their families. My curiosity about us has increased. According to Women’s World Summit, there are at least 1.6 billion rural women in the world. The Carsey Institute places the number of rural women over 18 years old in the U.S. at 18.5 million, of whom 2.6 million live in poverty. And in my state of North Carolina, there are 1.2 million rural women 18 and older of whom15% live in poverty.
There is power in numbers. I, for one, have been working alongside many women to improve the status of women. Since 1995 rural women and their allies have been on the forefront of many changes big and small in America and in my state of North Carolina.
Just briefly, I want to mention a few of these changes:
There have been some improvements in women’s economic well being, civic participation, and social funding (see below), but women still earn seventy-eight cents to a man’s dollar, and women of color earn even less. This disparity has great implications, as women have a harder time struggling to pay for food, healthcare, housing, transportation, and insurance. Because of the worldwide financial crisis, the well being of women and their families worldwide has seen a downward turn.
In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. The purpose of this act is to end pay discrimination so that women and men doing the same jobs will receive the same wage.
Women have been at the forefront of a hard fought, successful battle over many years to increase the Minimum Wage. In 1995, the Federal Minimum Wage was $4.25 an hour. Today, as of July 24, 2009, the Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25 per hour.
In the U.S., women now hold more elected and appointed offices at the local, state and national levels than ever before. We have a female Secretary of State and a female Ambassador to the United Nations. The President has appointed several female Cabinet Members. North Carolina has its first female governor ever. In all, there are six female governors in the U.S., more than ever before. But, we still have a long way to go to reach the number of women holding seats in Rwanda’s parliament, which is 50 percent.
Domestic Violence funding has increased in all states, and this funding includes significant increases for safe houses, and counseling for victims of domestic violence, and counseling for male perpetuators.
We must build on these successes. I encourage rural women everywhere to stand up and speak out for our needs and rights. Our best days are ahead of us if we all work together.
Shirley Williams McClain
Rural Development Leadership Network
5324 Spence Farm Road
Holly Springs, NC 27540