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Women have made their mark on Mississippi

A need for the economy

While women have been a major part of the workforce for hundreds of years, it was while mobilizing for World War I that the U.S. government recognized the need for a cohesive group to coordinate identification of women’s available skills and experience. The Women’s War Council, financed through a federal grant, was established by the War Department to organize the resources of professional women. From that council, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was formed in1919. Throughout the years, three major issues shaped business and professional women’s legislative agenda: elimination of sex discrimination in employment; the principle of equal pay; and, the need for a comprehensive equal rights amendment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion. It also covers sexual harassment and pregnancy-based discrimination. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations as well as to the federal government. The act states that it is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of his/her sex in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training or any other term, condition or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits or the performance of individuals on the basis of sex. Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination and neutral job policies that disproportionately exclude individuals on the basis of sex and that are not job related.

For decades, women have fought for equality in the workplace. While wage discrimination has existed in the U.S. since women and minorities first entered the paid workforce, its prevalence was magnified during the massive influx of women seeking work during World War II. Immediately following the war, the Women’s Pay Act of 1945 was introduced in Congress. It was the first-ever legislation to require equal pay for women, but it took another 18 years before an equal pay bill made it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

When the University of Mississippi opened its doors to women in 1882, 11 women registered for classes. Today, women constitute half the student body. The Sarah Isom Center for Women was established at Ole Miss in 1981 to address the changing roles and expectations of women students, faculty and staff. The center performs both academic and service functions. A multi-disciplinary program of study has been designed to help students appreciate the special concerns, contributions and perspectives of women. These studies include an analysis of how gender intersects with other social categories, such as race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, age, nationality and ability.

And, the Small Business Administration works to assist women in business. In Mississippi, there are two Women’s Business Centers, which provide individual business counseling assistance, workshops, seminars, training services, and access to SBA’s programs and services to help entrepreneurs operate a new or existing business. Each of the centers has tailored programs to fit the needs of its constituency.

The Mississippi Action for Community Education Inc. (MACE) Women’s Business Center offers women in the Delta region of the state entrepreneurial training and technical assistance. The program provides hands-on training and counseling services to emerging entrepreneurs in rural Mississippi. Through workshops and seminars, the center provides entrepreneurs the opportunity to build a network of potential customers, identify potential suppliers, as well as develop support groups for emerging business owners.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Susan Marquez at larssue@aol.com .

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