Women Need Economic Power
When I retired from my job as a manager in a national mid-cap company, I started my own business to develop web sites and blogs, write for them and create products to sell on them. It is my company. I set it up with the state as a single member limited liability corporation. My name is the only name associated with it in all legal documents. I pay the taxes, I keep the books, I am that company.
Yet today, in the mail, Sprint sent a letter to my husband, calling HIM the primary on MY company. Chase and several other companies have also done so. It pisses me off. Big time. Because I used my home address, corporate America programs scrape the address and company name, and ‘personalize’ it with the MALE name in our household. It offends my sense of equality. It offends him because his wish is to NOT be associated with it due to some financial peculiarities in our situation. Because I am offended, I keep a list of companies that send mail to my home addressed that way and refuse to do business with them!
It so happened that I watched the PBS show called “Makers – Women Who Make America” last Monday. The section I saw was three hours long and detailed the feminist movement of the 1970’s. If you get a chance check it out. Www.pbs.org/makers.
The combination of the two events started me thinking about the role of economic power in women’s lives.
The role of economic power in a woman’s life.
I graduated from college and married early in the 1970’s so I lived this feminist movement. I participated quietly in my home and in my mind. Women have long been second class citizens of the world, nay even chattels of their men at times, and in places even are effectively so today.
We had children right away, and I was the one that ended up staying home with them – letting my new job as a retail department store manager fall by the wayside. Throughout the decade that I raised my children, I felt the dampening effect of my lack of income. It seemed to directly affect how much power I had in my relationship with my spouse. He felt free to spend on things that would really only be of interest and benefit to himself. I only felt free to spend on things for the kids or necessaries such as food. He felt free to donate to his favorite charities, yet didn’t want me to donate to the church the kids and I attended.
When I retrained in a hot career field, landed a job, worked my way up the management and salary scale and began to earn much more than my spouse, I found that my increased economic power enhanced my personal power at home. I started making more of the financial decisions, I started initiating investments, being primary on major purchases and more.
When our children grew up and married, I initiated family meetings with them and their wives. In those meetings, I let the girls know that, unfair as it might be, they might experience that same lack of power if they weren’t hauling in a salary. I said it in front of my boys and my spouse… not one of them protested the statement! Both girls are now registered nurses working full time and studying for a Masters.
Economic power is a necessary component for women to become truly equal citizens with men.
Lack of economic power has forced women into lives of sexual slavery.
Lack of economic power has caused women to stay in abusive relationships.
Lack of economic power has caused women to lack access to educational opportunities.
Lack of economic power has made many women decide that they need to pull up stakes to follow a husband’s job; cook and clean the home and do the laundry (because hey – hubby is earning all that money); stay home to raise the kids – because he is earning more; and become the dependable supporting role in the partnership, instead of being an equal or key player in it.
With economic power, women can equalize the biological advantages that a man has over a woman.
Men usually have the advantage of bigger and more muscular physiques – allowing them to physically dominate women.
Men have the advantage of not getting pregnant – allowing them to walk away from the results of sexual encounters with little or no consequences in some cases.
With economic power women gain choices. They can chose to move out of an abusive relationship. They can chose to hire someone to care for children, or get an abortion. They can chose to make the financial decisions they want to make, instead of following the lead of the man with whom they are connected.
The Gale Group article Women’s Property Rights noted that:
“The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) finds that ownership of assets promotes equity in the home and increases women’s social status within her community. Women in countries with full property rights were more likely to receive an education.”
Most women don’t yet have any economic power.
In Tools for Change: Women’s Rights to Transform Economic Power written in April 2012, the author reports that:
“According to UNICEF, women perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of its food, but earn only 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of property. Moreover, as explained by the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Even when women do have legal property rights, their actual control of land may be tenuous, since men often mediate access.” Women’s inability to own, dispose of, and inherit property creates and perpetuates economic dependence on men.”
Even where the law supports women owning property and having economic power legally, often it doesn’t reflect the reality of the country’s culture.
In another Gale Group report Women’s Rights Global Issues in Context Online Collection, 2013.
“In many instances, however, legal rights do not translate into actual rights if enforcement of law is not upheld. For example, honor killings—the murder of a female in a family by male relatives after the woman takes action that the family believes is dishonorable—are outlawed by secular law in many countries, including Iraq, and yet cultural and religious practice allows for such killings. In Iraq, the penalty for honor killing is three years imprisonment, but the vast majority of honor killings go unreported and unpunished. “
“In sub-Saharan Africa, women in many cultures are treated as minors culturally if not legally, with little or no right to manage or inherit property. In Bhutan, voting rights for women are legally possible, but under the law one vote per household is permitted, and the vote goes to the man under cultural practice, effectively denying women the right to vote. In China, single mothers are permitted by law to maintain custody of their children, but in order to obtain a residency permit and enroll children in school, the woman will need a man’s assistance.”
“In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, widows have very few property rights. In Saskatchewan, Canada, widows in the Sakimay First Nation have also experienced a loss of property rights with the death of a husband. A 2004 report related one Sakimay widow’s experience: she was evicted from her home on orders of the band’s chief on the grounds that, as a widow, she was no longer a member of her husband’s band and therefore had no property rights.”
These are experiences noted in 2013 – not way back in history.
A brief history of women’s property rights.
A few weeks ago, my spouse and I were watching an old John Wayne movie which depicted a woman running her own ranch. I made a comment to him that I was surprised she was even allowed to own the ranch, as women in that timeframe didn’t have property rights. He didn’t believe me!
In the United States, it wasn’t until the mid Nineteenth century that women began to chip away at laws that prohibited them from owning property and managing their own financial affairs; state by state, law by law. It wasn’t until 1848 when New York passed their married woman’s property rights bill that more states passed similar laws and not until the 1860’s (my great grandmother’s time) when more rights were added. Prior to the 1848 law, in New York, when a woman married, any property she owned at the time was taken from her by law and put in her husbands name.
According to the Women’s History article on About
“A married woman could not make contracts, keep or control her own wages or any rents, transfer property, sell property or bring any lawsuit.” before that law was passed.
England didn’t legalize women’s rights to own property until 1898.
The rest of the world is even further behind. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights wasn’t passed until the year I was born! 1948.
It asserts that property rights are fundamental aspects of human rights. Article 17 of the Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others… No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
Of course, this didn’t make changes to any laws in any countries, but really, why should it even have been necessary to point out that all humans are equal and since it obviously was necessary, why did it take 200,000 years?
The Indian Express reported that Hindu women finally won the right to inherit property in 2005.
As recently as 2010, women in Bali couldn’t inherit their parents property. It all went to the son’s in the family.
Ladies what does this mean for you?
It means that there are still very powerful forces throughout the world attempting to limit women’s access to property and economic power. Money is power. Power is addictive.
It means that you should think twice about giving up your access to a higher salary, a job, property or investments – and the right to chose in all of those categories.
It means that s”he who has the gold makes the rules” is still very true.
It means that you should take steps to guarantee your own economic survival.
It means that you should educate yourself about personal finance.
It means that you should plan for your own retirement, open your own business, advance your own career, protect your own individual credit rating and have your own funding.
It means that you should train and encourage your daughters to understand and use economic empowerment in their lives.
It means that you should not let the lives and stories of economically limited females go unheralded.
I’d love to hear your comments on my rant, which is really a lifelong rail against the inequality issues women face.