Ruta Sevo: Make women’s history-Occupy the voting booth

Women won the right to vote nearly 100 years ago, yet only about half of millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) voted in the last presidential election. If all millennial women voted in 2012, they could make a difference.

Much is at stake. The birth-control pill came into widespread use in the 1960s and dramatically changed the lives of women for the better. Now, still, half a century later, male politicians and legislators want to restrict access to birth control, sending us back to darker ages: constant fear of pregnancy, shameful and deadly sexually transmitted disease, increased need for abortions, and, generally. second-class citizenship.

Viagra for men is freely available while women’s sexuality is to be controlled and discouraged.

Ninety-nine percent of American women have used birth control. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women have used birth control, despite of the disapproval of the Catholic Church. Will you let this right to sexuality and ability to plan families be taken away?

This is not the only issue at stake for women. There is fair pay. Even one year out of college, women with equivalent qualifications earn less than men, and the gap widens thereafter. Flexible student loans and Pell grants for college. Health coverage for young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ plan. Gay rights in the military, in child adoption and marriage. Paid sick leave for full-time employees.

As we grow up we realize we are living in a shared house with a lot of rules, big and little. There are rules about barking dogs, how clean the kitchen needs to be if you feed others, disposal of garbage. Someone decides whether guns and Viagra should be easy to get, and whether to make it hard to get birth control. They decide that alcohol is OK with minor restrictions, but marijuana is scary. They set speed limits, offer or do not offer financial aid for college, define clean water and require licenses for business.

If you have traveled to a poor country, you may have seen a crew out on the streets picking up bodies of beggars who died in the night. There are no speed limits and traffic is a jumble of animals, scooters, bikes and black-fuming trucks. Someone can rob you in the street with no consequences, because there are either no police or ineffective police. Someone can take your money by lying or kidnapping. Restaurants are not inspected. There is no safety net for the old and sick, and those who have no family may have to survive by begging or selling vegetables on the sidewalk.

We make our world by electing our rule-makers, aka legislators. Once elected, they decide whether to fund education or give tax breaks to the rich. They can choose to regulate banks so that people are not given bad loans that lead to foreclosure. They can say they are choosing “small government” and “personal liberty,” and yet find the resources to inspect every social service that provides health counseling to women, and to control women’s services out of existence. They may at the same time require only token checks on the purchase of guns. Basically, they decide what needs a rule, and what needs to be controlled.

We will not get rid of government in our shared house because most of us agree that we need to protect health, provide security and maintain order. But we can choose what kind of government we get: one that is kind to the unfortunate and tries for fairness, or one that considers the poor to be deficient and unworthy. One that gives people with disabilities a chance to develop to their best potential, or one that abandons their promise, not believing in it. One that tries to maximize the potential of all students, or one that lets the rich get richer, filling the best schools. One that gives women a fair chance for equality in the pursuit of happiness.

Your right and privilege is less than 100 years old. Occupy the voting booth, and get your family and friends to do the same. Register to vote, pay attention to the date and hours of the election, read about the candidates and the values they represent, and vote in the 2012 elections. Then you will be heard.

Ruta Sevo is an independent consultant and a member of the American Association of University Women.

UVA Basketball Fans!

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