In that day and time, it was often said that a woman's chief job in lifewas to raise virtuous sons who would then go out into the world and do theright thing. And for many men, doing the right thing meant continuing tomake the decisions for women -- who were then considered incapable ofmaking decisions for themselves.
As is the case with most important things in life, change often comes inthe form of one decisive moment. For women's rights, that took placeseventy-five years later, when the suffragists faced losing ratification on women's voting rights by one vote. Then Harry Burn, a 24-year-oldlegislator from my home state of Tennessee, changed his NO vote to YES.Why? Because he had gotten a letter from his mother saying, "Be a good boy Harry, and do the right thing!"
Well, he did the right thing, and the rest is history. And yet, year after year, we continue to make history where women are concerned. Just lastweek, the State of California elected three new women to the Congress which has resulted in fifty-five women now serving in Congress -- the largestnumber in the history of our nation.
What exactly does that mean for us and the nation? Well, perhaps BellaAbzug summed it up best when she said: "In the 21st century, women willchange the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature ofwomen." Bella passed away earlier this month, and I know that I for onewill certainly miss her vibrant spirit and quick wit.
I know many people feel disillusioned with politics today -- less inclinedto get involved and even more tired than usual with partisan bickering andpolitical mudslinging.
As more women become a part of the political landscape, they will bringmany things to the process, not the least of which is a sense of civility. Politics as usual has become too much partisan bickering, too muchnegative advertising and too much finger pointing. All of which results in increased cynicism. This causes people to tune out and drop out. And itis precisely these thoughtful, sensitive and caring people that aredesperately needed in politics because they can serve as agents for change.
I really believe that as more women participate in the political process,we can help elevate the level of discourse, inject language that unitesrather than divides, and restore decency and dignity to political debate.And we all know how much that change is needed.
As we continue to encourage women to become involved in the politicalprocess, our strongest argument is to point to the concrete results already achieved by women. Everyone acknowledges the powerful and decisive rolewomen played in the `92 and `96 elections. And I'd like to point out thestark contrast that occurred in `94 when 48 million women did not vote.Results? A Republican majority in Congress dominated by extremists whowant to turn the clock back on women's rights. Some simply cannot tolerateanother election cycle where women sit on the sidelines. They must votetheir interests!
There is so much to be encouraged about today. Most of us here todayrealize that our nation and our economy is the strongest it's been in ageneration. We have the lowest unemployment in 24 years; the lowestinflation in 30 years; incomes are on the rise and more people own homestoday than at any other time in the history of our nation.
But do we realize how much of a role that women play in that success?Women have been a driving force in shaping our workforce and our economy.For example, did you know that:
But the bad news is that women earn only 74 cents for every dollar menearn. An overwhelming majority of minimum age workers are women. Womenare more likely to live in poverty and less likely to have a pension. When a woman does get a pension, it's worth half as much as a man's. Women get lower pay and fewer benefits.
And the price of this unfairness is reflected in the lives of all families. This gender-based inequity denies our children adequate health care, itkeeps thousands of young kids from going to college, and it prevents manywomen around the country from meeting their bills.
Earlier this month, my husband announced the Administration's support forlegislation to improve enforcement of wage discrimination against women and to strengthen the law that allows compensation for those who have beendiscriminated against -- in other words, a strong stand for equal pay forequal work.
The struggle of equal pay for equal work has been a fight we have foughtsince before the birth of the feminist movement. Today we must add to thereality of the struggle, that women are living in a new and rapidlychanging economy. It is an economy that is driven by information, research and technology. An economy that values knowledge and productivity aboveall else. It is an economy that holds out the promise of a better life for all women --but only if we prepare for it and give ourselves and ourchildren the tools to make the most out of it. We already know that inmany cases women must be twice as good to earn just as much as a man. Nowwe must learn, train and re-train, constantly, to support our families andsucceed in the workplace.
This Administration is committed to insuring that women and their daughters are able to learn and stand toe-to-toe with men in this new economy. That is why President Clinton's balanced budget included the greatest singleincrease in helping people pay for college since the G.I. Bill of Rightsfifty years ago --making it possible, for the first time in history, forany American to attend college, regardless of financial means. Inaddition, helping people in the workforce pursue lifelong learning throughour "lifetime learning" tax credit.
Later this year my husband, Vice President Gore, will convene a majorsummit on lifelong learning where leaders from business, labor, highereducation, government, and philanthropy will come together to makecommitments that will help Americans get access to quality lifelonglearning. I am pleased to work with him to insure that our childrenunderstand the value and importance of education and women understand theopportunities available to them today. I truly believe that lifelonglearning is essential for good living, as well as a good standard ofliving. And that's why we're fighting to make education a nationalpriority.
One of the most difficult things that women in our society face today isthe pressure of balancing the demands of work and home. Let's face thefacts. Women are our country's traditional caregivers and, as such,continue to struggle with the basic questions of family and community.They ask the questions: How will my kids earn a good living? Can myfamily afford a doctor if someone gets sick? Is the water safe to drink?The air to breathe? What about the products we use and the food we eat?What about my kid's safety at school, my own safety from domestic violence?
Many women today feel as if they are members of the sandwich generation --squeezed between caring for young children and elder parents. They arefaced with difficult health care decisions that include navigating themanaged care system, with all its complexities.
How many have seen the movie "As Good As It Gets?" [show of hands.] Howmany remember the scene when Helen Hunt shares her frustrations withmanaged care? [show of hands.]She speaks for many of us.
And that is why the Clinton/Gore Administration, with the encouragement and support of women, is demanding that Congress pass legislation to ensurethat medical decisions are made by doctors and nurses, not accountants andbean counters! The Administration has taken on many of the health issuesaffecting women that have been given far too little attention for far toomany years:
Given today's society, it is imperative that we recognize and amplify theimportance of women's roles in setting our national agenda -- an agendathat must continue to include the important issues that impact women,children and families. Issues like health care, the environment,education. I am proud that this Administration has brought these "women'sissues" to the front burner and kept them there. With your help, thisfocus can continue.
And we can all envision a world where women have an equal share and anequal role in the economics and decisions that shape our lives. When Mrs.Clinton addressed the historic conference in Beijing several years ago, she noted: "What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free fromviolence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish."
One hundred and fifty years ago, brave women stood up and informed thenation that they too were a part of the human society. Today, we can do no less. We must take our place in shaping the future. We must continue todo the right thing and urge others to do the right thing. We must remindall those in positions of leadership that women's rights are human rights. And, as Bella Abzug so rightly pointed out -- our very involvement willchange the nature of power and the future of our nation. The future isvery much in your hands.
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