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abstraction. Working out the specfiic terms by which accepted, and sometimes conflicting principles can be applied to everyday life is a different task which we lawmakers must face. It is clear to me that writing an abstraction about the so-called equal rights for women into the Constitution would accomplish nothing but confusion.
Since with men and women, we are dealing with differing factors, both physiologically and psychologically, it is difficult for lawmakers to make fair lawsto make laws which allow to both men and women the equivalent opportunities for self-development. I repeat that because of the differences of which I have spoken, laws which are identical for men and women do not necessarily give them equal opportunity.
Discriminations against women were so obvious at the time of the Seneca Falls convention in 1848 that it was possible to block out great reforms which all men and women with any sense of justice and fair play could agree upon. Those major reforms have been largely accomplished partly by law, partly by changing custom. The discriminations which remain, as I see them, divide themselves into two classes. I should like to describe those two classes and how I think the statusof-women bill (which I have introduced) is the proper method of approaching them.
First, there are the remnants of legal discrimination which are inexcusable in terms of the great and major reforms accomplished by the woman's movement. Most of these legal discriminations are in State law, a few in Federal law and administration. A few States deny to women the right of domicile if that State is not the legal residence of her husband. Some States deny to women the guardianship of their children. In a few States husbands exercise certain controls over their wives' earnings. Women are not permitted to serve on juries in 16 States.
Second, there are those areas of law where it is not clear whether different treatment of women (and I might add different treatment of men) results in a discrimination. Maybe the difference provisions in those laws are reasonable because of the differences between men and women. Law is properly concerned about the basic unit of society, the family. The question of rights must be linked with the question of responsibilities. Laws favoring women because of their unique contribution to the family have always seemed justified by society as a whole. Laws make the husband responsible for family support, for example. Such a law is logical as long as the role of wife and mother interrupts or impedes the woman's opportunity to develop or maintain her earning power.
The questions which arise under this second area are practical questions, demanding practical answers :
Should women serve exactly as men do in time of war?
In event of divorce, should children be awarded to the custody of the mother or the father?
Should the wives' pension under old-age insurance begin at a somewhat earlier age than that of her husband?
Should legal age of marriage and majority be different for young men and young women?
Should Federal employees' pensions for men and women have exactly the same benefits for dependents?
Are labor laws covering women workers justified ? The answers to such questions have too often been emotional and factional. I believe the only way to get fair answers is to consider the questions against a background of sober and objective facts. The status-of-women bill find out those facts. It would declare a United States policy that "in law and its administration no distinctions on the basis of sex shall be made except such as are reasonably justified by differences in physical structure, biological, or social function."
The proposed bill creates a Presidentially appointed Commission of nine members to study and review the economic, civil, political, and social status of women. The Commission would determine the extent of discriminations based on sex and recommend legislation necessary to bring laws and administration into conformity with the declared policy.
As a Congressman, I should be greatly aided by the work of such a Commission. The precedents for such a Commission are numerous. It was the President's Committee on Economic Security, for example, which did the spade work upon which the social-security laws were based. The official and expert judgments of the Committee enabled Congress to see the problems it faced in clearer focus and gave it factual foundation for its work of legislating.
The work of the Status of Women Commission and its recommendation would go much further than the Federal field in its influence. Indeed the bill specifically urges the States to declare a similar policy to review their laws and practices and bring them into conformity with the policy. That is the final point I should like to stress. This proposal of a Commission to present some real facts on the problems raised by differences between the sexes leaves responsi. bility in the important fields of property and family where it belongs—in the field of State law. Yet the Commission will furnish invaluable guidance through its findings, to the State legislatures, through which remedial laws must come.
In conclusion, gentlemen, I urge your favorable consideration of the status of women bill. I urge it because I am convinced that inasmuch as men and women are different, laws which treat them exactly alike are not fair laws. Absolute facts and recommendations based on those facts are needed before lawmakers can draft laws which are fair. This bill would declare a policy of nondiscrimination based on sex. The Commission set up under it would find out the facts, would make recommendations. Armed with these, legislators will be more able to implement the nondiscrimination policy with statutes that are just and fair to both men and women.
STATEMENT OF HON. HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS ON H. R. 2007, A BILL TO ESTABLISH
A COMMISSION ON THE LEGAL STATUS OF WOMEN AND TO DECLARE A POLICY AS TO DISTINCTIONS BASED ON SEX
I wish to make this statement in support of H. R. 2007, a bill to establish a Commission on the Legal Status of Women, which I introduced along with Mr. Wadsworth, Mr. Celler, Mr. Kefauver, Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Norton, and Mrs. Rogers, because I believe there is no logical reason why there should be any law on a statute book which discriminates against a woman-or against a man, for that matter-purely on the basis of sex. Because of this, I am in favor of an immediate revision of our legal codes to eliminate such restrictions and secure a workable, statutory recognition of women as people who have an important function in society and a contribution to make to our economy and to our country.
In this I agree thoroughly with my friends who support the equal-rights amendment.
We disagree, however, on how to bring about this change.
Time is too short for us to wait to remedy the status of the woman whose husband is an alien and who cannot bring him into this country; while men bring in their alien spouses with the consent of the law. Life runs on, children grow and the home is broken because the wife, not the husband, is the American citizen. To wait until all discriminatory laws are abolished and new laws effectuated, means that that family's life is ruined. I am against that.
Time is too short for us to wait to remedy the status of the woman who has to support her family because her husband is dead or incapacitated, or because he has left her. The pay she has to accept is 10 to 20 percent less than that of the man who sits at the bench beside her, doing the same work.
Time is too short because that woman, of necessity, is undercutting the man's wage. He will soon find he has to accept her lower pay or lose his job to another woman. Then the woman's wage is cut to undercut his. The vicious spiral begins. Unemployment rises. This reduces purchasing power and curtails production; which in turn increases unemployment until finally all of us are again deep in a depression.
Time is too short for the woman Government worker who cannot hope to protect her husband or her children by leaving an annuity to them, earned in the same office and in the same capacity as the man who sits at the desk next to her. His widow will receive a grant until she dies or marries again. His children are protected by an income provided them by our retirement law until they are 18 years old or longer if they are incapable of earning a living.
But the woman Government worker cannot protect her widower nor her children though there is no reason to presume they are more able or less likely to be in need.
The equal-rights amendment, which is aimed at eliminating just such discriminations, may inadvertently hit the widow and children of the man. To equalize the treatment between the man and woman civil servant, it may take away the insurance the man wants to provide his wife and children and to which he is
entitled by his years of work; as well as that which the women would like to provide her husband and children.
Whether the amendment will or won't help the one or the other or both, we cannot find out until it becomes a law and is interpreted right-if it is interpreted right.
So we cannot wait to pass an equal-rights amendment. We cannot wait until three-fourths of the States have ratified it. Look how long the child-labor amendment has been knocking about in the States. And then we would have to wait 3 years before the amendment went into effect.
We can't wait until the laws of all the States are revised to conform to the new legislation and until each is tested in the courts to determine what is equal and what is a right and if there is any such thing.
We can't wait because the Charter of the United Nations in its preamble says: "We the peoples of the United Nations determined
to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights
in the equal rights of men and women." And all over the world they are looking to us to see what progress we have made and what progress we are making, thereby bringing to women in all parts of the world who have suffered discrimination an example and a road map to freedom and equality.
Women's struggle for equality outside and within the law is being won every day. We can continue to make strides step by step through specific legislation.
Laws can be written to give the American woman the same right in relation to her alien spouse as now is accorded to the man.
The equal pay for equal work bill is now being considered in the Congress.
We can work to amend the retirement law for Government workers to give the woman the same right as the man,
We can urge the 13 States which do not qualify women for jury duty to give the other half of their voters an opportunity to discharge their obligations as citizens.
The reason we can do these and other things is because the first victory women won was a specific law-the right to vote and to hold office.
Armed with this specific law, women have pressed forward toward equality "in education, in the professions, in political office, in marriage, in personal freedom, in control of property, in guardianship of children, in making contracts, in the church, and in the leadership of moral and public movements." I am quoting from the resolutions and declaration of sentiments drawn up at the first convention on equal rights in Seneca Falls, N. Y., a hundred years ago this July.
There are other discriminations against women under the common law, particularly in the States, which are anachronisms in this day and age. In some States women do not have equal guardianship rights with men over their children. In some States women are not free to conduct their own business without the consent of their husbands. The absurdity of such laws in the face of the fact that 17,000,000 women are now gainfully employed and that a great number of them contribute to the support of others will be denied by no one.
How to win these rights without undoing the gains women have won with their right to vote and to hold oflice, is the purpose of this bill H. R. 2007.
The women's status bill will do four things:
1. It will declare the policy of the United States to be that no distinctions on the basis of sex shall be held except such as are reasonably justified by differences in physical structure, biological, or social function.
2. It provides a Commission to be appointed by the President to study and review the economic, civil, political, and social status of women and the extent of discriminations based on sex. Then it provides that the Commission recommend legislation necessary to bring laws and Government practices into conformity with the declared policy-without blindly throwing laws out the window-good and bad alike.
3. It requires all Federal agencies, so far as existing laws permit, to review their regulations and practices and to revise them in conformity with the declared policy.
4. It will urge the States to declare a similar policy and to bring their laws into conformity with national policy.
Such a Commission can study discriminatory laws with a view to extending such benefits as have already been won. It may find that safety provisions provided women in hazardous employment may well be of value to all our citizens; that night work is good for no one and should be kept to the necessary minimum; that minimum wages extended to men in intrastate employment will be good for the total economy. Such a Commission might conceivably decide that a constitutional amendment is necessary.
Most important, such a Commission can deal with the highly complex problem involving so many laws already on the statute books in a systematic, realistic manner.
The equal-rights amendment is a "broadly framed panacea for an exceedingly complex problem, and it represents a certain threat of confused and limitless litigation which would result in a net loss for women
augmented to the extent of whatever progress could have been made in the meantime under the policy of meeting specific ills with specific bills," to quote William S. Roach in the Connecticut Bar Journal, September 1947.
H. R. 2007 seeks to protect the gains that have been made through the hard-won right to vote, while preparing to go forward to new goals for which we have only now, after a hundred years, just begun to fight.
The women's status bill, whether it does or does not pass in this Congress, will be a major issue in the 1948 campaign for millions of American women, individually and through their organizations. They are determined, while holding to what is good and already within their grasp, to press on until they have achieved full and genuine equality in law and in fact.
STATEMENT BY HON. MARY T. NORTON IN REGARD TO EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN
BEFORE SUBCOMMITTEE OF HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, EIGHTIETH CONGRESS
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I introduced the women's status bill because it is an answer to the long confusion which has existed in the field of women's rights. We are all conscious that some discriminations against women exist in the United States, and I am sure we all agree that means should be found to eliminate them. The only proposal which has had serious support up to last year had been the equal-rights amendment. For many years I was opposed to this amendment because I feared, and I still fear, that its language is so vague that it will create confusion and misunderstanding.
Reasonable distinctions in law are needed to equalize the burdens and responsibilities women carry as mothers and as workers. The status bill is a practical instrument to evaluate such needs, establish reasonable standards, and make recommendations. It sets a policy and provides for a commission study of our laws and practices. No such authoritative survey has ever been made in the United States. It is high time we did it. I am told that, incidentally, the results of such a study may also have international value. Women in the United States already have many rights not yet attained by their sisters in some other countries, and such an evaluation here will be useful in comparing experience.
I am particularly impressed by the fact that the status bill can get results and can get them promptly. Within our own Federal establishment its effect would be immediate, for it calls on agencies to review their administration and adjust to the policy at once unless prevented by law. The report from the commission might well be expected within a year, and it can be a basis for wise legislation by Congress. Careful provision is made to furnish this report to the responsible officials in each State, and State legislatures are urged also to remove unjust discriminations on their laws. This is a practical plan which permits the States full freedom as to their decisions but assures them access to the information obtained through the Federal effort. The status bill therefore encourages follow-up more rapidly than would be possible under the equal-rights amendment. It avoids the long process of State ratification, which in itself would require much local agitation and exhaust the energy of leaders whose time and energy could be better spent on the specific changes needed in their localities.
However, if the Commission set up under the status bill finds reason to do so, it may itself recommend a constitutional amendment. The bill contains nothing to deny it this opportunity. I have been asked by several persons whether this possibility in the status bill satisfies the planks in the Democratic and Republican platforms on equal rights for women. Both these planks refer to equal rights in terms of an amendment. Just what the language of that amendment should be is not specified and the situation is confused by references in the same planks to other matters, such as equal pay, which the wording of the present amendment proposal does not cover. There is no doubt in my mind that what the people of the United States want in this field is some prompt action to get rid of discrimination, and that the objective is an intelligent program, an amendment, if necessary, but in any case a plan that can be effective promptly. I believe therefore that we
need expert study before we can arrive at a clear proposal. The Commission set up in the status bill can furnish us with this. From that point of view these two proposals are not alternatives but are rather different approaches to the same end. I therefore believe that, for the present at least, we should concentrate attention on the status bill, which has not before had hearings before Congress, and support it as a means of uniting efforts to clear up this discrimination problem and achieve a real success.
It is sometimes assumed that equal rights is a subject of interest primarily to women. Since the committee conducting this hearing is composed entirely of men, I think I should give you a little history that shows how false this premise is. In reality, progress in this field has been due as much to men as to women. You know it was just about a hundred years ago that the votes-for-women movement got started in this country. It began up at Seneca Falls in New York, in a little conference called by four women. One of these was Lucretia Mott, and another was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They assumed that their meeting would be attended only by ladies, but when the crowd gathered, it discovered that a goodly number of gentlemen had also arrived. The ladies held a hurried discus. sion and decided that it would be embarrassing to ask the men to leave, and they might be better off to have the men present after all. In the end the meeting was called to order by a man, who presided over the gathering, and the resolutions adopted were signed by a good proportion of both sexes. One of these resolutions advocated woman's suffrage. It is recorded that the ladies felt this demand would make them ridiculous, but the men persisted and persuaded them to include the vote among the objectives. It is quite possible, therefore, that the women of today owe their political rights as much to the men of that period as to the women. I therefore feel no apology in claiming your attention for the women's status bill, and regard it rather as a good augury that this hearing is being conducted by a group of my male colleagues.
Mr. Chairman, before introducing this measure I raised a number of questions in regard to it. The answers were so helpful that I would like to have them incorporated as part of my statement. I understand that a later speaker will insert a list of the 35 national organizations which support the status bill. They include women's, labor, and civil groups which are representative of the most serious thinking elements in our country. I am proud to be associated with them in sponsoring the women's status biji.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON H. R. 2035 1. Are there discriminations against women in the United States ?
Yes. There are still some discriminations against women. Some are in law; for instance, 16 States deny women the right to trial before juries on which women may serve; many States place limitations on a married woman's right to choose her own domicile and some restrict control of property. More are matters of custom and practice. Examples: The conventional family choice is generally for men as doctors and lawyers; some employers discharge women employees when they marry.
2. Are all distinctions on the basis of sex bad? No. Many distinctions are to the advantage of society and to both men and
Examples: Maternity benefits; widow's pensions; minimum age for legal marriage lower for women (girls mature earlier than boys) ; laws making family support the responsibility first of the husband.
3. If women had "equal rights," would their status problems be solved ?
No. The terms "equal" and "rights" are both so vague that they are no longer of much value. Before women could vote, "equal rights" was commonly understood as applying to suffrage. Many of the distinctions that remain today do not have simple answers and the old phrase is confusing.
4. What is the purpose of the proposed bill on the status of women? To end unfair discriminations against women in law and practice. 5. What are its principal provisions?
(1) A declaration of legislative policy for the United States-no distinctions on the basis of sex except such as are reasonably justified by differences in phyical structure, biological, or social function.
(2) A commission, to be appointed by the President, to review the present status of women in the United States-civil, economic, social, political-and including discriminations based on sex, and to make legislative recommendations.
(3) All Federal agencies to conform to policy at once (so far as existing laws permit).