Reports on women's progress specify needs, stimulate action

Women have made substantial gains in the last decade. But, compared with men , they still are underpaid and suffer high unemployment, are denied equality of education and training, and face cultural obstacles that limit their full participation in society.

Such is the conclusion of the Ford Foundation's report entitled "Women in the World" which was released here on Dec. 22. The foundation is, in the light of its own findings, more than doubling its grantmaking for women's activities, increasing funds from $4 million to $9 million a year. Announcing the increase, Franklin A. Thomas, president of The Ford Foundation, remarked, "We are resolved that our concern for persons who suffer discrimination, whether it is based on race or age, or both, permeate all our program activities."

Areas of new or expanded foundation program activity outlined in the report include increasing women's participation in the arts, improving the status of women in occupations and professions where they are still under represented (such as theology, the sciences, and the traditionally made blue-collar crafts), and bringing new resolution techniques to family conflicts.

The report declares that, on a worldwide basis, girls' and women's basic rights, opportunities, and development are still circumscribed, and that sex discrimination is a major factor in poverty and a costly constraint on productivity. "Discrimination pervades all institutions with strong reinforcement from culture and custom, but wherever and however it exists, it is unjust."

In a discussion of women's multiple roles and responsibilities, the report states that "although valued as mothers and homemakers, women have not received adequate recognition as workers and producers, and because they are held primarily responsible for household management and child rearing, women face special constraints in pursuing economic roles." Few countries, it was found, provide support for working women, such as child care services.

In all countries, the report states, women are grossly under represented in elective and appointive office in government. And in education, they are discriminated against in their access to schools and training programs, as well as in the staffing of many educational institutions.

Cultural forces, it was discovered, pose many obstacles to women's greater participation in the economy. There is, for instance, an astonishing pervasive belief that women should not engage at all in income-generating activities but should devote themselves primarily to raising children and maintaining a home.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 16 Lynda Johnson Robb, head of the President's Advisory Committee for Women, called on President Jimmy Carter at the White House and presented him with her committee's hefty 190- page summary report entitled "Voices For Women." It contained 165 detailed recommendations for executive, legislative, and private-sector action on issues of concern to women.

Mrs. Robb states, "Never have the women of this nation had so much to contribute to their country nor have the chances ever been better for them to do so. Yet fundamental injustices continue to exist, and the laws of the land remain in conflict with the realities of women's lives. Inequities in wages, in social security, in access to education and health programs, and to economic and political power all keep women in the position of second-class citizens."

Mrs. Robb points out that, on the average, women still earn only 59 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that when women lose their personal relationships with men, through death, divorce, or personal choice, they often lose their financial security and their legal rights. These are contradictions which she says must be reconciled.

During the past 18 months Mrs. Robb and her committee have traveled across the US, holding hearings in many areas and listening to women tell their own stories of frustration and struggle -- and limited success. The 165 recommendations made to the President have evolved from the data and research compiled by this advisory committee of 30 women and men, representing every racial and ethnic group, every region of the country, and every economic background, including students, homemakers, labor activists and elected officials.

The recommendations made by the committee are in the areas of education, health, human services, work and income security, and the Equal Rights Amendment. They include giving immediate federal tax incentives to encourage employer-based child care and establishing a preference system within the Office of Personnel Management whereby women can obtain employment credit for volunteer and homemaker activities.

They propose a national study on the scope and problem of elder abuse, recognition by the government that there is a national housing crisis that impacts heavily on women and warrants an investment in housing construction, and a feasibility study by the government on the inclusion of homemakers in unemployment compensation, disability insurance, and social security and the formulation of policies that recognize marriage as an economic partnership.

Mrs. Robb calls the report 'a blueprint for action' and is hopeful that the new administration, as well, will recognize it and act upon its recommendation

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