Okay, flashback to the 80s (or maybe it was the 90s) but there was a song by The Eurythmics ‘ Annie Lennox and the incomparable Aretha Franklin. Now, watching the video, I can see how dated it seems and how earnest and oversimplified the message may appear to be.

While gender issues may seem “so last century” to some women in the U.S., for many others here and in low-income countries, liberation and equity remain elusive goals. I was thinking of the song because I participated in the $2 a Day Challenge that AID held last Friday. After I ended my challenge, I went with friends to see a play which talked about gender issues and “how to be a woman” or “be a man” in today’s society. What are the roles, the expectations, the pressures, the incentives within our culture? What are the norms within other cultures?

Today, women in the U.S. still earn approximately 76 cents to every dollar earned by a man. This is true even when they are working in the same field and have the same educational attainment as their male peers. Recent studies from Cornell (2005) and Carnegie Mellon (2007) indicated worsening trends: the Cornell study found that women with children were less likely to be hired and if hired would be paid a lower salary then male applicants, while male applicants with children were likely to be offered higher pay than women with children or people without children. The Carnegie Mellon study t found that women who applied for jobs were not as likely to be hired by male managers if they tried to ask for more money, while men who asked for a higher salary were not negatively affected.

In other parts of the world, these disparities among others persist. Women’s wages lag behind men’s in many occupations and women are often sought out by employers because they lack other income-generating opportunities, so they are more likely to accept a lower wage for their labor.

While women’s situations are often heterogeneous and race, ethnicity, class, religion, age, and geography may all affect a woman’s access to opportunities and skills development; in many ways, women regardless of their situations have much in common: violence. Women experience sexual assault and domestic violence throughout the world. The confluence of rape as a tool of war, child-marriage, wives inability to negotiate safe sex with their unfaithful husbands, and the economic need for women to pursue sex work have contributed to the increased feminization of the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Women also share other traits—as mothers, they are fiercely committed to improving their children’s lives. Getting more money into the hands of a woman is a sound investment—it goes straight into improving her children’s diet, access to health care, and to education Conversely , men spend a portion of their extra income on alcohol, gambling, and other pleasurable pursuits. Once women learn their rights and are given a chance to use their voices, these voices ring out on their own behalf as well as for others.

When I finished my $2 a Day Challenge, I had a great time going to the Global Giving site and deciding where to place my donation. Not surprisingly, I chose a group trains Rwandan women in leadership and non-profit management training, start-up funding and twelve months of support to establish their own organizations to advance women’s rights.

These women are doing it for themselves with some support of women and men abroad. As the mother of a small boy, I hope to raise him in a world where gender issues really will be passe’.

Marceline White