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Gender and Public Policy

How would we change public policy if women really mattered?

This is the question that informs Longview’s projects on gender and public policy.

This is a profound but seldom asked question by those who analyze or propose public policy. Why? Because women’s lives are still large invisible in the professional schools, institutes and think tanks that address public policy issues.

In “The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America” (Penguin 2001), Longview Fellow Ruth Rosen described how tens of thousands of women activists, engaged in a movement, named and reframed many experiences for which there had been no language.

During the first fifteen years of the modern women’s movement, for example, activists excavated crimes that had long been accepted by both men and women as “customs.” As a result, sexual harassment and employment discrimination at the work place became illegal. Peering into more private parts of women’s lives, activists also reframed wife beating as domestic violence and identified date rape, marital rape and rape as violent assaults and made them illegal.

By naming and reframing women’s experiences, activists allowed the public to debate new issues, to create new public policies and ultimately to change laws.

Under the Longview Institute’s Program on Gender and Public Policy, encapsulated by the words, “If women really mattered,” we explore new problems for which there is still no language and ask what principles should shape public policy if women really did, in fact, matter in our society.

We need, for example, to reconsider how health care, child care, the minimum wage, low-wage retail employment, affordable housing, public health, unpaid housework, affordable housing, public transit the care deficit—even foreign policy—can be reframed as issues that have a major impact on the lives of women.

If we seriously examine public policy through the eyes of women, we ask fundamentally different questions and discover quite different solutions. That is what is necessary to improve the lives of all women in the 21st century.

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