Enforcing gender equity

More than any other federal law, Title IX has been responsible for opening doors for girls and young women during the past quarter century.

That's why whenever a question about the federal antidiscrimination law comes before the Supreme Court, it generates both anticipation and concern among women's rights activists.

The NCAA case is no different. Action by a majority of the justices could mark a major advance or a significant setback for the cause of achieving gender equality in the US.

Considering the obstacles, Title IX has been an effective force for change. For example, today 55 percent of undergraduates at American colleges and universities are women.

"Without Title IX, we would have made no progress," says Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center. "With it, we have made very real and impressive progress."

The law is simple in its application. It says essentially if an organization accepts federal money for an education program, it must agree not to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Title IX applies across the board from the classroom to the gymnasium, but its effects are most noticeable with the growth of women's sports.

School districts, colleges, and universities strapped for cash have had to struggle toward a better balance between athletic opportunities for men and women. Progress has been made, but women have yet to achieve full equality in the area of high school and college sports.

One study conducted by the NCAA found that only 23 percent of college athletic operating budgets went for women's sports. The same study found that women received only 38 percent of available athletic scholarships.

Women's rights activists say they can't understand the NCAA's position in avoiding Title IX coverage for itself. Each of its member colleges and universities are covered by and are striving to comply with Title IX. They question why the NCAA can't be as committed as its members to the idea of nondiscrimination and equality.

"The NCAA has been slow to come around to Title IX, but to its credit six years ago it added as an ethical obligation of its members, to uphold gender equality," says Donna Lopiano of the Women's Sports Foundation in New York. "So if it holds that up as an ethical obligation for its members, you would think it would hold it for itself."

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