(WOMENSENEWS)– President Barack Obama recently announced the formation of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
President Obama proclaimed the purpose of the Council is to:
". . . ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy."
What a great opportunity to push for a broader application and implementation of Title IX, which has been called the most important piece of legislation for women since the right to vote.
As a former student-athlete and an avid sports enthusiast since childhood, I’m very appreciative that I grew up in the era of Title IX. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those who worked hard to pass this landmark 1972 law that mandated that any institution receiving federal funding could not discriminate on the basis of sex and sought to mandate equitable resource allocation in educational venues.
The impact on girls and women and their athletic aspirations has been significant and inspiring.
Rarely does legislation have such a tangible and far-reaching effect.
Those of us who grew up in the post-Title IX era can literally feel the benefits of athletic participation to our bodies including improved agility and flexibility, our sense of greater physical freedom and an overall sense of physical fitness.
This is complemented by the self-confidence and self-esteem we were able to develop on the playing field and the pride we feel watching our athletic "she-roes" participate in college sports, the Olympic Games, the World Cup and professional leagues such as the Women’s National Basketball Association.
New Push in a New Era
The work is far from done, however. We need to push for an updated image and understanding of Title IX. Too often it is perceived as "the sports law." It is much more. Access to financial aid for women, scholarships and admissions to professional schools; all have been supported and enhanced by the Title IX legislation.
And today, Title IX can and will be pushed into play in some of the most contentious of contemporary issues: educational budget cuts, sexual harassment on campuses, availability of financial aid and single-gender classrooms.
In a hard-pressed economy, the access of students and families to financial aid is more important than ever to preserving educational opportunity.
At the same time, laid-off workers who are returning to school to sharpen up their skills or change fields will also need financial aid. Prior to Title IX, financial aid was withheld from women who were married, pregnant or had children.
The White House Council will have the power to ensure that these types of harmful limitations do not creep back into practice and that Title IX is used to promote the needs of girls and women so they have full access to and receive an equitable allocation of every type of financial aid.
Scholarships and Professional Schools
Access to scholarships is another key element for the pursuit of educational goals.
Until the passage of Title IX, many prestigious scholarships, including being invited to be a Rhodes Scholar, were limited to male recipients. The inclusion of women in the elite Opening the Rhodes selection process paved the way for such prominent women as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, MCNBC host Rachel Maddow and Annette Salmeen, Olympic Gold medalist. All are Rhodes Scholars.
The White House Council can use Title IX to monitor the scholarship process to guarantee, both in policy and in practice, that women will keep the access to such scholarships and be engaged participants in the development and execution of scholarship programs.
Prior to Title IX, many professional schools, including law and medical schools, limited the number of women who were admitted. Some required higher test scores for female applicants.
Imagine a world where First Lady Michelle Obama or Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, the wildly successful social networking site, hadn’t been allowed to fulfill their career aspirations and potential because of arbitrary admissions limitations. That was the reality less than four decades ago.
Title IX also removed barriers to course selection and curriculum.
Before Title IX, girls were not allowed to take auto mechanics, shop classes and some criminal justice courses. Boys were not allowed to take home economics.
As a Title IX baby, I was able to pursue an advanced math-science concentration in high school with courses such as chemistry, calculus and physics and was also able to take woodworking in junior high school.
On the flip side, while still the minority, male nurses have also been able to pursue their vocation as the result of the legislation.
Women With Clout Rare in Fortune 500
Women may outnumber their male colleagues in law and business schools and in some lower-level positions in both fields. But women continue to be a rarity in the higher echelons of management at law firms and Fortune 500 companies.
We need to engage the corporate world in the efforts of the White House women’s council.
Corporations can be a valuable partner in the achievement of the council’s goals and the implementation of Title IX as they have the opportunity to ensure that educational opportunity and equity for women does not end on the college or graduate school campus.
Additionally, they can commit to having their recruiting efforts extend to women’s colleges and female professional networking groups so that their pipelines and promotion lines include women at all levels.
As we move forward, Title IX needs to be talked about, appreciated and applied in its fullest scope, not limited to a locker room discussion.
The more we talk about it and the more effectively we apply it, the better the world we can make for current and future generations of girls and boys.
Theresa Moore is president of T-Time Productions based in New York City. The company recently produced "License to Thrive: Title IX at 35," a multi-media project that explores the unique history and impact of the Title IX legislation. "License to Thrive" is available on DVD and includes a facilitators’ guide to help with at-home, in-classroom and after-school discussions.
LICENSE TO THRIVE | Trailer | Women Make Movies