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on the radar: Equality day? Not yet.


Equality - or Erosion of Progress?

Photo courtesy of The National Council of Women's Organizations

Quick - what do we celebrate on August 26? If your answer is "uh-h-h," you're not alone. Most Americans don't know it was the date in 1920 when women won the vote. Christened Women's Equality Day by Congress, it's usually marked by floor speeches on Capitol Hill, with women's history buffs and feminists, but few others, joining in the commemoration. And indeed we have come a long way since women couldn't vote, attend universities, hold professional jobs, or even have ownership of their own earnings or inheritances.

But are we really there yet when it comes to equality? Worldwide, the answer is a resounding "no." In the Middle East women are still in the veil or head-to-toe burquas, and girls' schools are burned to the ground. The Japanese are praying for a male heir to the throne so the country won't face the "crisis" of an imperial granddaughter as the only one next in line. AIDS is ravaging the women of Africa, most often because husbands are contracting the disease through other liaisons and then forcing their wives to engage in unprotected sex.

Here at home, it's still big news when a woman is appointed CEO of a large corporation, as Indra Nooyi was at Pepsico last Monday. And in Wednesday's New York Times we learned that a new kind of school in Queens is drilling children ages 7 to 14 for nine hours per day, even in summer, so they can memorize the Koran. The director of the Jamaica Muslim Center says the children will not only become religious leaders, but doctors, and engineers (even though they do not study math and science), and they will bridge the gap between the Muslim world and American society. A good goal - except for one tiny flaw. The students are all male. Male supremacy is part of the culture, and these kids are getting the message. It's no surprise that one student says his favorite video game in off-hours is Grand Theft Auto. Players get points for having sex with a prostitute, then rack up even higher scores when they kill her to avoid paying for her services.

Of course we can't blame our national misogyny on this school or these boys and their parents alone. Wal-Mart, that bastion of family values, also peddles Grand Theft Auto, which millions of non-Muslim kids buy. And the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is praising single sex schools as a way for boys to get ahead academically. "The Education Innovator," a DOE official publication, gushed last week about Albany's Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and the companion school for girls, which have "the unique distinction as the first elementary charter schools in the nation to educate boys and girls in separate classrooms." Isn't this what we fought against for years when girls were consigned to home economics while boys got star treatment in accelerated science classes? The "new" idea is that without the distraction of the opposite sex, kids learn better. I suppose the reasoning is that since girls have now surpassed boys in college enrollments and graduation rates, they must be some kind of tainting influence, so better get them out of sight. Though the separate educational spheres are claimed to be equal in Albany, only the boys are getting a new school next year.

Somehow we've all been taught in this country that race discrimination is wrong, but a little sex discrimination here and there is ok. Can you imagine Albany separating students by race, and then giving the white kids a new school?