Linda Basch

(WOMENSENEWS)–In today’s turbulent political and economic climate, what are the opportunities for building alliances to bring about transformative change and a new social contract?

This is the question that we at the National Council for Research on Women will be posing as female leaders gather in New York for our annual conference at the Graduate Center, CUNY, June 10-12.

Together, we’ll be delving into areas such as economic security, health, the environment, violence and education, and proposing action steps for pursuing a social justice agenda both nationally and globally.

The challenges we face today are daunting.

The financial crisis, unleashed by Wall Street but now felt throughout the global economy, continues to cast a shadow over reform efforts as it pushes millions of unemployed into the ranks of the poor.

The World Bank estimates that globally, in 2009, more than 100 million more people will fall into extreme poverty, earning less than $2 per day.

Women continue to earn less, own less and have less decision-making power than men.

Catching the Obama Wave

The installation of the Obama administration has generated a wave of optimism about the possibility for real change.

It also reveals an open-mindedness among citizens that offers new directions for policy-making.

But for many in the women’s research and advocacy community, there is an underlying concern that pragmatism will get in the way of long-overdue reform.

We need bold action and new partnerships to ensure that the economic stimulus plan benefits women as well as men and that investments are made, not only in roads and bridges ("shovel-ready" projects that tend to favor men), but in human infrastructure as well: health, education and child care-elder care.

Just as women’s organizations have been successfully engaged by the Obama transition team to help with choices for Cabinet positions, and establishing legislative priorities such as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, we must continue to apply pressure and make our voices heard to ensure that social justice programs are given the priority they deserve.

Reaching Out

Only through combining our efforts across sectors: research, policy, advocacy, philanthropy and business, will we be able to usher in a new social contract.

With sufficient political will and creative collaboration, we can reduce poverty, raise educational and skill levels and set our nation, and our global economy, on a more equitable and sustainable path to ensure that women and girls, families and communities are enabled, not only to survive, but to thrive.

But to get there, we need to take an unblinking look at the current situation.

In the United States, women make up 68 percent of minimum-wage earners. Households headed by single women earn half the income of average households.

The disparities become even more acute for women of color, immigrants and women from historically under-represented groups. As a group, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar but for African American women it is 69 cents and for Latinas, 59 cents.

A major consequence of the economic crisis is the rising unemployment rate, which shows no signs of abating. The jobless rate in the United States has now reached 9.4 percent, up from 8.9 percent in April.

For white women, the rate is 6.9 percent, Latinas 10.5 percent and black women 11.5 percent.

Women are especially hurt by the lack of basic services that are taken for granted in many other advanced economies: paid sick leave, maternal and paternal leave, affordable child care, universal health care, etc.

The lack of these fundamental safety nets–viewed elsewhere as basic human rights–must become a central focus of new policy initiatives.

Linda Basch, Ph. D, is president of the National Council for Research on Women, a network of 120 research, policy, and advocacy centers dedicated to raising awareness about the barriers to equality and the advancement of women and girls and to ensuring more equitable and inclusive public debates, policies and programs, nationally and globally. Contact by e-mail: