US: Gap in poverty rates between men & women wider than anywhere else in the Western world Print E-mail
 March 7 2009 International Women’s Day In These Hard Times

by Sue Katz (Independent)

Waking up morning after morning to the worsening news is debilitating for those of us who lack inherited wealth or a strong line in running Ponzi schemes. So as I think about discussing the impoverishment of women during this crisis for my annual piece on International Women’s Day (IWD), I stop to remember that today’s activists come from a long line of kick-ass women. Let’s start with my boiled-down version of the history of IWD.

“In February, 1909, following a march for labor rights by many thousands of women workers the year before, the Socialist Party of America declared International Women’s Day (IWD) in the United States. The next year, at the Second International, in Copenhagen, women from 11 countries adopted the Day in the hopes of furthering women’s suffrage.

In 1911, over a million women and men marked the Day around the world, but only a week later the crime known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire took the lives of over 140 women in the rag trade – mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants – and the struggle against sweatshop conditions became forever associated with IWD.

Russian women imprinted their own radicalism on IWD in 1917 when their strike for “bread and peace” over the death of two million Russian soldiers led to the abdication of the Czar and governmental embrace of women’s voting rights.

Soon the UN adopted International Women’s Day and in 1975, in recognition of the second wave of feminism, held a global International Women’s Year. This meant that, just like the men, we could gather from around the world, compromise bitterly after difficult debate over the inclusion of lesbians and gays, make resolutions that no one is entirely happy with and be unable to get our governments to put any resources into meeting the goals, anyway. Wow, finally we won a seat at the table of world-level frustration.”

So International Women’s Day started with labor rights and now, again, we’re facing economic pressures and unemployment levels equal to any in living memory. When the economy takes a slap in the face, women feel it like a kick to the solar plexus. Women of color, women with disabilities and women over the age of 50 were facing challenges getting good jobs before capitalism ran amuck.

It’s a funny country, this US of A. Unparalleled wealth and power has nefariously been used to bring down the world. If you think we are suffering – and we are – imagine what’s happening globally. If banks are crashing in Britain and Iceland, what are women going through in the poor countries where women own very little property, are involved in only marginal or self-employment and are operating without a social or healthcare safety net.

American women have started out this financial plunge at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our men. We are paid less than men for the same work. We are often providing unpaid care for family dependents. If we have children, looking after them may well have severely impacted our work life. And now the worry about our threatened future.

I personally know too many women who are stressing out big-time during this unprecedented collapse of the country’s systems. I have one friend who sits and watches day after day as colleagues are individually called into the manager’s office to be laid off, while security people disable their computers and pack up and remove their belongings while they are in his office.

I have several friends a year or two away from retirement after 30 or 40 years of devotion to their work. They’ve avoided debt, while saving and planning for the last third of their lives. Their savings are being flushed down the sinkholes of these corporate burglars. ” The future is daunting too. According to the Center for American Progress, “Elderly women are far more likely to be poor than elderly men. Thirteen percent of women over 75 years old are poor compared to 6 percent of men.” People of all ages are slipping from the middle and working classes into poverty.

Sure, this situation is unquestionably walloping both men and women – but as the Center for American Progress points out, “the gap in poverty rates between men and women is wider in America than anywhere else in the Western world.”

We’re all hoping things will get turned around, but in his International Women’s Day statement, “International Labour Office Director-General Juan Somavia said that in times of economic upheaval, women often experience the negative consequences more rapidly and are slower to enjoy the benefits of recovery.”

Our President knows that work is at the heart of peoples’ lives and has promoted investment in “shovel-ready” jobs (women make up just a sliver of construction workers, engineers and contractors.) I hope he will listen to the women reminding Obama that women need employment too. Women everywhere are hoping Obama will disprove Emma Goldman’s claim that “If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”

I’m scared for myself and those around me and I’m depressed by a sense of impotence. But I’m not so down that I’m going to stop fighting for justice. In honor of IWD, here’s a quote from the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop: “If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”

Journalist, blogger and author (Thanks But No Thanks: A Voter's Guide to Sarah Palin), Sue Katz used to be most proud of her martial arts career and her world travel, but now it is all about her blog Consenting Adult ( .)