Inequality plagues the world on a daily basis, and while many are aware of the on-goings of others, there are others who are naive, or even worse, just do not care. Millersville University has been thriving with diversity and providing programs and conferences to ensure that we remain knowledgeable about the world around us.
November 6 and 7, Millersville held their 2014 International Policy Conference: Inequality – Defining Our Time? in Gordinier Hall. The event featured many speakers and an array of sessions to attend, including topics such as “Myth of Meritocracy,” “Disability In-Equality,” “Inequality in the Criminal Justice System” and “Women’s Inequality,” just to name a few.
The Women’s Inequality session was held Nov. 7 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The presentation started off with Faculty Host Dr. Nivedita Bagchi introducing the subject and the speakers, who were Dr. Carrie Smith, Associate Professor of Sociology at Millersville; Dr. Frederika Schmitt, Associate Professor in the Sociology/Anthropology Department at Millersville and Ms. Angela Trout, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for YWCA Lancaster.
Dr. Schmitt was the first to speak, and she talked about the gender wage gap, which is the difference in earnings between men and women. On average, women make about 77 cents to every man’s dollar, but in Pennsylvania, rated the 37th worst state for gender wage gap, women only make about 76 cents to every man’s dollar. “It’s a complex thing; there’s a lot of things going on right now,” Schmitt said.
“[We have the idea that] certain people are suited for different jobs,” Schmitt said. “You know an occupation is gendered when the term ‘male nurse’ is used.”
Perhaps one of the biggest arguments being used to support the gender wage gap is that women will at some time leave their job to go have kids. Schmitt argued that studies have shown that the pay gap is still the same for women that decide not to have kids. “When it’s women’s work, it’s devalued,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt also mentioned that we are one of the three countries in the world without paid maternity leave. “It’s discrimination, period… Women are seen as a walking uterus,” Schmitt said. She ended on that note, and introduced Dr. Carrie Smith, who talked about “Women’s Health and the Workplace – Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods Decisions.”
“In the beginning, there was sex. We are our biological destinies. For a very long time, that’s what we presumed,” Smith said. “For a long time, women were not able to become doctors.”
Afterwards, she mentioned the idea of gender compared to sex, saying, “Gender is a social construct; you can be whoever you want to be,” Smith said. She said that most of the discrimination women face is purely sex-based differences.
“We need to bring sex back into the discussion… It’s never just about gender, it’s intersectional; it’s about race, it’s about where you live, but in this case… It’s also about religion,” Smith said.
After that, she went on to talk about the subject of her presentation, focusing on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, which was put into place in 1993 by Bill Clinton.
RFRA states that the government must be held accountable to uphold and accept religious practices, as stated under the First Amendment. The law was originally passed to protect individual people, and it stemmed from a supreme court case where a Native American man was held liable for smoking Peyote. Afterwards, the Affordable Care Act suggested that all FDA approved methods of contraception be covered by an employers. Smith explained that this is a big deal to women, because at the end of 2012, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods decided that they would provide healthcare, but refuse to pay for contraception, because it violated their religious beliefs.
The rest of her speech consisted of remarking on the validity of Hobby Lobby’s claims, emphasizing that they’re a for-profit organization, and that now everyone can claim religious freedoms when it comes to something they do not want enacted. Smith also mentioned the downward spiral of things that this could lead to, and that anyone could claim religious freedom for practically any aspect relating to healthcare.
From there, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for YWCA Lancaster, Angela Trout, spoke. She reflected on what Schmitt and Smith said, and then took a general poll of the audience, seeing who felt mad, frustrated and powerless. While almost everyone raised their hand for mad and frustrated, few raised their hand for powerless. “You do have power; you have power in your voice. You can make change happen, you just have to be actively involved,” Trout said.
This conference is one of the many pushes Millersville makes to ensure that the community is educated and knowledgeable about inequality and diversity. Being only two months after Millersville received a reward for their overall excellence in diversity, the university continues to educate and promote diversity.