State of the Union Address: No real progress without equality for women & girls

Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address – and the women of this country should be pleased. Actually, strike that – ALL the people in this country, women and men, should be pleased. A notable portion of the President’s address was directly focused on women’s issues, and most of it focused on issues relating to equality. Obama addressed topics such as paid maternity leave, universal child care, equal pay for men and women (which apparently isn’t that high on the Republican priority list), and even touched on the issue of women’s right to abortion and access to reproductive health care. While there is always room for improvement, Obama’s State of the Union brought considerable attention to women’s issues – possibly also paving the way for democrats to win the women’s vote in next year’s elections.

In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.

– President Obama, State of the Union Address 2015

There’s no doubt that the issues Obama raised are important – but the fact that such issues as equal pay for women and paid maternity leave still need to be debated, and still need to be justified, is simply depressing and appalling. How can a country, any country, claim any state of development when its citizens continue to be valued differently based on their gender? How can a government claim to work for the people, when half of the people still count for less than the other half – because of our chromosomes? In year 2015, women – not to mention other groups, such as sexual minorities, people of color and people with disabilities – still have to fight for their right to be seen as full, equal citizens. In America, the only people who really get to enjoy all of the country’s progress and benefits are white men. We, as the international community, have given milestones for developing countries to reach through the Millennium Development Goals, which are coming to an end this year – but while we expect progress from developing countries, shouldn’t we also hold our own societies to the same, if not higher, standards?

No country can move forward without women. No country has the right to call itself “developed”, when half of its people are continuously left behind. American women have a lot to demand – not only does the US remain as the only developed country with no legally mandated paid maternity leave, but its maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are some of the highest in the western world, and in 2013 women were still paid only 78% of what men are paid (and women of color even less than that). In some states, women have to drive hundreds of miles to access a reproductive health clinic, and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services has taken a huge setback in the past couple of years, pushing American women back to the dark ages when it comes to their sexual and reproductive rights.

No president or party can run on a gender-agenda alone – but it’s time to understand, really understand, that these aren’t “women’s issues” or “gender issues” – protecting and realizing women’s basic fundamental human rights isn’t only morally and ethically right, but also common sense. Women aren’t charity cases – we are contributing, productive, intelligent, creative, resilient, smart, and necessary members or any society, and true sustainable progress will not happen without us.

I have always been passionate about these issues, but now I am looking at them from a whole new angle. First, I recently became a mother in America, which made the lack of paid maternity leave and other family benefits much bigger issues for me, in my personal life. Second, I am about to become an American citizen, making me a full, voting member of this society. I don’t vote with my vagina any more than I think with it – I vote with my brain, and I will give my vote to those who recognize me as a full, valuable member of this society. I truly hope that this State of the Union paves way for actual change, not just empty words. Things like maternity benefits, child care, equal pay and sexual and reproductive health should not be radical issues anymore, they should simply be basic building blocks of any decent society. Time to start using them to build a stronger, better America – for all of us.

Watch the full State of the Union Address:

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Category: Feminism    Politics
Tagged with: America    Barack Obama    Childcare    Development    economic development    Gender Equality    Maternal Health    politics    President Obama    SRHR    State of the Union    United States    USA    Women

Emma Saloranta

Emma is an advocate and a feminist who is passionate about using creative and innovative approaches to expanding women's and girls' opportunity to live the kind of lives the choose. A native of Finland, Emma has worked in the U.S., Kenya, India and Brazil, and currently lives in Tanzania with her husband and toddler son. Follow @Emmasalor on Twitter and Emma.saloranta on Instagram.

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