The American Association of University Women would like to pause this Thanksgiving to give thanks for the many opportunities and advancements for women and girls during 2012. Although there is no way for us to list all of the advances we have seen this year, here are just a few to reflect upon and give thanks:
We are thankful that as of November 2012, women have gained back 51 percent of their total jobs lost in the recession, and men have regained 52 percent of jobs lost.
We are thankful to the AAUW states, branches, and coalition partners that made voter education and mobilization a priority as part of the AAUW Action Fund It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign. With your work and commitment, we challenged millennial women to make their voices heard—and they were.
We are thankful for the first responders who placed themselves in harm’s way to respond to emergencies throughout superstorm Sandy. Our hearts continue to go out to those affected by the storm, especially those still suffering weeks later and the communities looking at years of rebuilding and recovery.
We are thankful for the record number of women elected to Congress: 20 in the Senate and 78 representatives and three delegates in the House. We are particularly grateful for the states that elected their first female Senators—Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin—and the other “firsts” in the 2012 elections, which broke representation barriers for religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
We are thankful that women’s issues were a key part of the 2012 elections nationwide, due in large part to the AAUW Action Fund It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign and AAUW social media efforts such as #Women1016.
We are thankful for the implementation of the requirement that all new health insurance plans must include coverage without cost sharing of an additional eight women’s preventive care services, including contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and breastfeeding support.
We are thankful for Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel, and Elena Tsemberis—the three New Jersey teens whose petition helped us get the first female presidential debate moderator in 20 years. And we are thankful for CNN Anchor Candy Crowley for skillfully moderating the October 16 presidential debate and serving as a role model for women across the country.
We are thankful for the U.S. Olympic Team sending more female athletes than male athletes for the first time in history, and we are thankful that women won 29 of the U.S. teams’ 46 gold medals. We are also thankful that 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first black woman to win a gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics competition at the Olympics.
We are thankful for the health and bravery of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot last month in Pakistan because of her work documenting Taliban atrocities and promoting women’s education. We are also thankful for the tremendous outpouring of support from around the globe as Malala recovers.
We are thankful that the Susan G. Komen Foundation restored grants to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings following a national uproar that included AAUW’s decision to sever a tie with the foundation’s Race for the Cure.
We are thankful that on March 17, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) became the longest-serving woman in congressional history. Mikulski was also the first Democratic woman to serve in both chambers of Congress, the first to be elected to the Senate without succeeding her husband or her father, and the first woman to chair an appropriations subcommittee.
We are thankful for Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who asked, “Where are the women?” before walking out, along with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), in protest from a House committee hearing on birth control that featured all male witnesses.
We are thankful for Sandra Fluke, the smart Georgetown Law student who parlayed House GOP blockage of her testimony and attacks by Rush Limbaugh into becoming the new voice of the year for women’s rights.
We are thankful for AAUW’s new research report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which uses the latest nationally representative data to explore the earnings difference between female and male college graduates who are working full time one year after graduation. It also examines one immediate effect that the pay gap has on many women: the heavy burden of student loan debt. The report has been featured by Reuters, U.S. News and World Report, and The Washington Post.
We are thankful for the release of pay equity advocate Lilly Ledbetter’s book, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond. AAUW received on-air recognition from our wonderful friend Lilly Ledbetter on the Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC) in June for our work on equal pay, and we were so excited to see Lilly speak about her book on The Colbert Report in October!
We are thankful that the teen pregnancy rate dropped to its lowest level since at least 1972, partly due to increased contraceptive use among teens of both genders. Teen birth rates have also declined, reaching the lowest rate since the 1940s. Researchers also attribute this decline to increased use of contraception.
We are thankful for the Senate-passed, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which builds on the success of previous reauthorizations, addresses the needs of all victims nationwide, and includes important campus safety provisions. AAUW will continue to pressure the House to agree to this vital reauthorization.
We are thankful for the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark legislation ensuring equal opportunity in education for all students. We are also thankful for the release of a coalition report, chaired by AAUW, recognizing this milestone.
Speaking of 40th anniversaries, we are thankful for the 40th anniversary of the Pell grant program, an indispensable part of millions of students’ dreams of higher education in the United States.
We are thankful for the anti-bullying work done by Cynthia Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s mother, and Katie O’Malley, Maryland’s first lady, who received copies of AAUW’s Crossing the Line research report at the Third Annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit hosted by the Department of Education.
We are thankful that Air Force Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star Air Force general and the second female military officer to receive four stars. We are also thankful for the Pentagon’s recommendation that women be allowed to serve in more jobs closer to the front lines, a move that would open around 14,000 additional jobs to women, and for the Marine Corps’ decision to open its infantry course to women for the first time.
We are thankful for our stalwart allies on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who introduced legislation to fix the Supreme Court’s problematic decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes.
We are thankful for Betty Dukes joining AAUW members, coalition partners, and staff at a rally we organized supporting Wal-Mart plaintiffs on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes.
We are thankful for President Barack Obama’s endorsement of AAUW priority anti-bullying legislation, the Student Nondiscrimination Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act.
We are thankful that the U.S. Department of Education finalized regulations for a new Pay-As-You-Earn plan for student loan repayment, as well as changes to the current Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) and Income Based Repayment (IBR) plans.
We are thankful that Congress prevented student loan interest rates from doubling over the summer.
We are thankful for the Obama administration’s creation of the Master Teacher Corps program to boost science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to produce 100,000 additional math and science teachers in the next 10 years.
We are thankful for the expansion of certain spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.
We are thankful for the marriage equality victories in Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine; the defeat of an anti-choice amendment, an anti-separation of church and state amendment, and an amendment that would have limited the state’s ability to collect tax revenues in Florida; the defeat of three Idaho ballot initiatives that would have harmed Idaho’s education system; the passage of in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented students in Maryland; and the defeat of a ballot measure in North Dakota that could have allowed individuals to claim religious justification for discrimination or violence against women and children under the law.
We are thankful that Connecticut’s paid sick days law went into effect on January 1 and that a similar Seattle law went into effect on September 1.
We are thankful that courts have blocked state attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana, Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
We are thankful that Pennsylvania has passed a pro-Title IX law requiring school districts to report data regarding male and female athletics to the state department of education.
We are thankful for the confirmation of Jacqueline H. Nguyen of Los Angeles to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which made her the first Asian-American woman to sit on a federal appellate court.
We are thankful that Shannon Eastin became the first female to referee a National Football League (NFL) game in August when she officiated a preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.
We are thankful for 19 years of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible women and men who work for employers with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for certain family and medical purposes.
We are thankful for the first International Day of the Girl Child, October 11, 2012, declared by the United Nations. AAUW was proud to celebrate international women and girls empowerment on this day, as we do every day.
We are thankful for the 40th anniversary of the Equal Rights Amendment’s passage in Congress, marked on March 22. The legislation fell three states short of the 38 states needed to ratify it, and AAUW’s fight for the amendment’s passage continues.
We are thankful for the appeals courts in Massachusetts and New York that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
We are thankful that current and former female employees of Wal-Mart are continuing their fight for fair pay and promotion practices by filing claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 48 states.
We are thankful for the ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that discrimination against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person’s gender identity is in violation of the prohibition on sex discrimination established in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
We are thankful that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in a complex 5-4 decision in June 2012. AAUW believes that, although not perfect by any stretch, many of the reforms included in the Affordable Care Act will improve the collective health of the American people.
We are thankful for Equal Futures, a partnership between the United States and 12 countries to help empower and advance women and girls. As part of its participation in the partnership, the United States has pledged to expand opportunities for women in business, leadership, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and to promote economic security for domestic violence survivors.
We are thankful for the 19th International AIDS Conference, held in Washington, D.C., in July. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the impact of AIDS on women at the conference, which was held in the U.S. for the first time since 1990.
We are thankful that the White House enacted a new National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security, under which all U.S. government personnel who serve in conflict-affected areas will be responsible for making sure that women are a part of the peace-making process.
We are thankful that leaders of G20 nations mentioned women for the first time in a declaration following a two-day summit in Mexico in June 2012. The declaration included a “firm commitment to advance gender equality in all areas, including skills training, wages and salaries, treatment in the workplace, and responsibilities in care-giving.”
We are thankful for the dozens of AAUW members who joined women from around the world for the 56th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. This year’s priority theme was “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges,” and AAUW members greatly contributed to the successful gathering by participating as speakers, workshop facilitators, and advocates.
We are thankful for AAUW’s 2012 Legal Advocacy Fund victories, including Parker v. Indiana High School Athletic Association, Mansourian v. Regents of the University of California, and Bull v. Board of Trustees of Ball State University.
We are thankful that AAUW was ranked as a top-rated women’s empowerment organization of 2012 by GreatNonprofits.
We are thankful that AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman was honored in the inaugural publication 100 Women Leaders in STEM.
We are thankful for the AAUW members in Florida and North Carolina who hosted AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this year.
We are thankful for AAUW members and supporters who generously give of their time, talents, and treasures to empower all women and girls to advance their educations, increase their economic security, and develop their leadership skills.
And of course, we are thankful for you, the AAUW Action Network, for your enthusiastic advocacy to break through educational and economic barriers to ensure that all women have a fair chance. Your hundreds of thousands of letters and phone calls to members of Congress and the White House provide a clarion call to all policymakers about the importance of the rights of women and girls everywhere.
From all of us at AAUW to our more than 150,000 members, donors, and supporters nationwide: Best wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and a safe and joyful beginning to your holiday season!