(WOMENSENEWS)--While it is true that 2008 ushered in a "regime change" in Washington, it would be a monumental mistake to assume our problems, particularly as women, have gone away or been solved magically. Our work is far from done and no single election can guarantee the changes we want and need. In fact, 2010 once again changed the face of government, and not for the better insofar as women are concerned.
That's why 2012 is so important. That's why we have to know the issues better than they do. That's why we have to know the right questions. Most crucially, we have to know the right answers.
The pay gap remains, there are unprecedented and growing assaults on reproductive freedom and medical privacy and we are the only industrialized country on earth without some form of pregnancy leave or paid family leave.
The child care system in the United States is a patchwork of "make–do" arrangements that leaves families struggling and the few federal child care programs that exist have been cut to the bone. Social Security, women's primary retirement program, is under constant pressure and long-term care is an increasing problem that families must solve on their own.
There are many other pressing national issues we don't normally think about as "women's issues," but that is indeed what they are. The faltering economy, the health care crisis, ongoing and potential wars, tax policies – these all affect women in different ways from the way they affect men, and all are growing concerns.
If this sounds like a doomsday scenario, it's not, though it is a challenge.Women are the majority and we have the opportunity to take control and make the changes we need in every election -- but having the opportunity is not enough. We must have the will, firmly grounded in essential knowledge of the issues and a path ahead.
But please don't think of this as just another "good citizens act – good citizens vote" sermon. Voting and taking action doesn't help, and indeed can hurt, if women end up doing something against their own interests because they don't know the facts. It is still true that knowledge is power, but knowledge won't bring change without action, and that means holding candidates and elected officials accountable for long-term solutions.
The first action we must take is confronting candidates – incumbents and challengers of both parties – with questions not only about their voting records, but also their future intentions on our most vital issues. After all, there's an election every four years and every one is "the election of the century" for women.
Those who would roll back the progress we've made toward reaching economic, social, legal and political equality have vast financial resources, are very well organized and are too often driven by a misogyny that borders on outright hatred of women. They are not prone to participate in rational and reasonable discourse.
No Idle Threat
They will usurp control of social policy at every opportunity and block any positive steps they don't agree with. And by now we know that is no idle threat – women are suffering both attacks and setbacks. It's up to women to stop it and we must start right now in public discourse, election campaigns and in the voting booth.
"We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf."
These words are contained in the final paragraph of the Declaration of Sentiments from the First Women's Rights Convention held in 1848. The ladies of 1848 were determined, and after 72 more years of struggle they got what they wanted most – the vote. If they were alive to exercise that right today, they might put it this way:
"Read their records. Go to town hall meetings and confront them. Call in when you hear them on the radio. If they don't mention women, ask why not. Spread the word when they say something about our issues, good or bad. Email. Blog. Facebook. Twitter. Raise hell. Don't be captivated by fancy speeches or red-hot rhetoric. Arm yourself with knowledge and vote your own interests."
Martha Burk is former chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations. She is currently money editor for Ms. Magazine and host of the public radio show Equal Time With Martha Burk.
For more information:
Buy the book, "Your Voice Your Vote":
Martha Burk's website:
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