Despite recent gains by women, gender equality remains the “unfinished business of our nation,” Bennett College for Women President Julianne Malveaux told a Qcity crowd Wednesday.

She noted the $787 billion stimulus package signed by President Obama. Much of that money will go toward infrastructure, she said — or, in other words, construction jobs.

“We know that most of these jobs will go to men, and a disproportionate number of them will go to white men, and that’s not fair,” said Malveaux. “Everyone is hurting from this recession. Everyone aught to be able to benefit from the stimulus.”

Malveaux said women, in some cases, are their own worst enemy, holding each other to unfair standards and swimming in the “patriarchal waters” that have lasted far too long.

“Frequently when we look at politics, we are harder on women candidates than men are,” she said. “We are the ones who look at the women and say, ‘What’s she gonna do about the children?’ Who ever asked a male candidate what he’s going to do about his children?”

Malveaux said she was angered by instances of “sexism” and “gender stereotyping” in the 2008 presidential campaign. In one instance, she said, a male television commentator said Hillary Clinton reminded him of his “nagging ex-wife.”

And women of all political persuasions should have been outraged, she said, at the way Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was vilified when news broke of her $150,000 Neiman Marcus wardrobe. Malveaux noted that Palin had personal assistants charged with doing her shopping.

“No one has a picture of her in Neiman,” Malveaux said. “But it so easily complied with our gender stereotype and with our need to diminish her around her gender.”

Malveaux, a syndicated columnist and frequent television commentator who holds a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was keynote speaker at the Charlotte Woman of the Year Award presentation at ImaginOn.

The 2008 award was given to Carol Hardison, executive director of Crisis Assistance Ministry. In 2007 – 2008, the nonprofit gave more than $7.5 million in emergency aid to prevent homelessness and loss of utilities for 14,800 families. It raised a record $3.3 million and generated more than 53,254 volunteer hours.

As for gender equality, Malveaux said, women must demand their “fair share” or “half.”

“Why not half?” she asked her mixed-race and overwhelmingly female audience. “We’re 51 percent of the population. Shouldn’t we get half? We get more than half of the burden. Why not half of the goodies?”

By “goodies,” Malveaux said, she meant equal pay for equal work, equal access to high-paying job, employers who institute family friendly workplaces and equal representation in government.

Despite having prominent women representing both parties last fall, she said, neither Republicans nor Democrats seriously addressed the issues that matter most to women.

“Oh, the lip service was there… and the issues we care about, such as work and family and equal pay, were basically skirted around — and i do mean skirted around — by both parties,” she said.

Malveaux noted that only 3 percent of U.S. employers provide on-site day care.

“Until we are able to do that,” she said, “we can’t talk about gender equality.”

Meanwhile, she added, smaller nations that Americans once looked down on are racing head. “Can we afford to have a woman engineer sit home because we haven’t figured out how to do child care?”

Because of unequal pay, Malveaux said, women lose an average of about $34,000 in income over their lifetimes.

For too long, she said, the United States has let financial markets decide too many key issues. But markets are imperfect, she said, and they often yield imperfect results.

Malveaux said she worries that the current economic crisis will give employers and politicians an easy excuse to ignore gender and economic inequities. But on the same day that a major financial institution got a $130 billion bailout, she said, newspapers reported that food stamp applications had spiked.

“If we can give a bank $130 billion but the Department of Agriculture didn’t have money for the food stamps, is there a problem here?” she said. “ In the ‘hood, we have a saying, ‘Just break me off a piece of that.’ ”

On issues from health care to education to poverty, she said, women and children still suffer disproportionately.

“Why has poverty become a dirty word?” she said. “There was a time when we thought that if we had poverty there was something wrong with our society. Now we think if we have poverty there is something wrong with the poor folks.”

Largely because of Obama, Malveaux said, the United States is talking more about race. “When will we have those same conversations about gender?”

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