Earlier this week, Maria Shriver launched The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, a detailed and well-researched narrative of the lives, realities and struggles of millions of American women who are living in, as the report puts it,
The territory in which one in three Americans live paycheck to paycheck, one incident away from financial crisis.
While there has been notable progress made in the past decades in terms of women’s and girls’ well-being, rights, empowerment and legal status, The Shriver Report makes it painfully clear that the road to a woman’s nation – a nation where all women and girls are treated and valued on equal basis with men – remains long and winding. Almost all women still struggle with inadequate workplace policies that make being a mother and a worker extremely challenging even for those who are not on the brink. For low-income women, single mothers, women of color, women with disabilities, unemployed women, and other women facing multiple barriers and overlapping forms of discrimination, making ends meet and juggling the multiple roles and demands of their everyday lives can become an impossible mission. One in three American women live in poverty, or on the brink. The average woman is still paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, women make up for nearly two-thirds of low wage workers, and America remains as one of the only countries with no legally mandated paid maternity leave – alongside with Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. No wonder “having it all” seems like a distant, unrealistic utopia for majority of women.
Yet, despite all the depressing facts that the report lays out, maybe the most important message of The Shriver Report is that of hope and perseverance. The voices of women who have lived on the brink but pulled themselves up tell a story of a nation whose women are far from giving up. These women refuse to stay down when they fall. They refuse to become victims. They refuse to break, and they refuse to stay silent – and the stories that these women tell clearly shatter the notion of poor women and single mothers as lazy, incapable moochers who simply want to live off of the government.
In fact, I would argue that these women may be the hardest working, most dedicated and most inspirational Americans out there.
The last thing they need is charity or pity – but what they do need are family-friendly policies that make it possible for them to combine work and raising a family. What they need is paid sick leave, so that falling ill or their children falling ill won’t result in loss of income – or worse yet, loss of a job. What they need is maternity leave that allows them to start families without risking their careers. What they need is equal pay with men for the work that they do, employers who respect them, partners who support them – and what they need is to be recognized and appreciated as full, rights-bearing citizens of this country who deserve better. This nation is failing its women – and it is time to change that.
Building a woman’s nation requires us all to pitch in. While much of the changes that are necessary need to happen at the level of policies and laws, large scale attitude changes are also crucial. We need to push back against conservative and oppressive ideas about “men’s” and “women’s” roles in the society – we need to shatter the myths surrounding masculinities, as pointed out by Tony Porter in his essay, “A Call to Men: Ending Men’s Violence Against Women.” We need to make room for new family models and understand when it comes to family, one size doesn’t fit all – as outlined by Danielle Moodie-Mills in the chapter “Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Broke” – and we need policies that support all families, not just the ones that have arbitrarily been deemed “traditional.” We need affordable, good quality higher education available to all – which, as noted by Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, is one of the solutions that can help women to fulfill their potential – and we absolutely have to let go of the notion of women on the brink as lazy and less-deserving, less worthy. These are the women who keep this nation afloat – and without them, there can be no real progress or development.
There is no silver bullet, but by combining different approaches and tools, a woman’s nation does not need to remain a utopia. We are on the right track, but now it is time to accelerate the pace of progress for all women and girls in this country, and especially for those who are on the brink.
A nation where women do well benefits every single one of us – and building that nation is all of our responsibility.
Follow The Shriver Report and Maria Shriver on Twitter, and participate in the discussion with hashtag #WhatWomenNeed. Stay tuned for the on-demand recording of The Shriver Report Live summit, which will become available on The Atlantic website.
Featured image: Sisters Madie and Aubrey Winans, daughters of a woman doing it all – Allie Winans. Image courtesy of The Shriver Report.