Jimmy Carter photo

Address to the National Women's Agenda Conference Meeting in Washington, DC

October 02, 1976

First of all, let me say that I am greatly pleased to be here and indebted to you for letting me come. I am very proud of what you are doing, completely in sympathy with you, and wish you well. I hope you will be as tough and militant and aggressive and as eloquent as you can humanly be, because the country is waiting for a strong voice from you as a group.

The country is waiting for an adequate response from the political leaders who are listening to you, and I think not just in this country, but in other countries of the world. There is great, devastating discrimination against women throughout the globe, and, unless in our own country—where our lives are built around the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, equality of opportunity, and individual liberty—unless we take the leadership, that leadership will be absent.

I am grateful to come here, the only presidential candidate to address this conference. I was proud to have been the first presidential candidate to endorse the Women's Agenda in its entirety, and I will be proud, beginning in January, to be the President who will implement your agenda. With your help, we will do it.

The unfulfilled elements of the Women's Agenda are a terrible indictment of the Ford and Nixon Administrations. Your demands and your legitimate aspirations have been blocked and circumvented by vetoes, indifference, and on occasions of intense pressure from you, empty rhetoric.

We lack leadership in this country today. That's what this election is all about, and there are few areas where the absence of leadership is more dramatic than this administration's failure to work for equality for women. We need to restore the faith and trust to our people in our own government, but we cannot expect America's women to have faith in a government that ignores your legitimate wants and needs and your aspirations, and excludes you from the decision making processes of your country's government.

That must be changed. If I become President, I am determined to tear down the walls that have kept you out of decision making and policy making participation in our government. You can depend on that.

I have long recognized the need for strong action to guarantee total equality of women in the areas of politics, education, employment, health care, housing, and justice. As one who comes from a family and a region where almost all the women work, at least in one job, I understand the special discrimination that has hurt women for sd long in this country.

I particularly recognize the special economic forces that face women who work outside the home. My mother began working as a teenager in the Post Office and later worked as a registered nurse. She worked as a nurse until past her seventieth birthday, both in this country and in India in the Peace Corps.

My own wife's father died when she was thirteen, and she began to work washing hair in a beauty parlor and helping her mother who was a seamstress. Rosalynn has always been a partner in our business and is a full partner in our farm operation. As you know, we are equal partners in my political life.1

I've seen the burdens on wage-earning women first hand, in an economic setting which discriminates in economic opportunity and in a part of the country that has known racial discrimination and is trying to overcome it. We are particularly conversant with a special aspect of economic deprivation and sex discrimination that is still prevalent, not just in one region, but throughout our country. That must be changed in the future and without delay.

The first Step in providing economic equality for women is to insure a stable national economy in which every person who wants to work can have a job, and in which the wages derived from that labor are not ravaged by quiet, undetected, insidious inflation. Furthermore, within that stable economy, it is necessary to eliminate all forms of sexual discrimination and to provide women, for the first time in history, with economic opportunities equal to those of men.

A spokesman for the Ford Administration made an amazing comment before a group of businessmen in Colorado in August of this year. In attempting to rationalize away the rising unemployment rates which have now reached 7.9 percent (with 500,000 more Americans, going on the unemployment rolls in the last three months alone), this man argued that unemployment was not really an issue because the rate for male heads of households was only 5.5 percent. The official rate was unimportant, he said, because it included so many women who really didn't need to be in the labor force at all.

The President's advisor obviously had his facts wrong. The majority of women who work do so for exactly the same reason the majority of men work: because they need the money to survive and. hold their families together. I understand that thirteen million of the women who work today are single, widowed, divorced or separated, and eight million of them are the sole support of their families. Another seven million of them are women whose husbands earn less than $7,000 a year and an additional one and a half million have husbands who are either not in the labor force at all or who are presently unemployed.

It is these working women who have been hardest hit by sexual discrimination and by the inflation and unemployment that the Nixon-Ford Administration has inflicted upon us all. I know who the last Americans are to be hired. I know who the first ones are to be discharged. I know who has the hardest time accommodating changes in income to meet rising inflationary pressures, and that's the women of our country.

Let's look at the facts. Almost half of all families that are below the poverty line—and there are two and a half million more today than there were 12 months ago—are headed by women. And most of them are not satisfied with unemployment compensation or welfare. They are actively looking for jobs.

Under the Republican Administration, the gap between wages paid to women who are working and wages paid to men who are working is increasing. Now women earn only 58 percent as much as men for full-time year round work.

We must understand that, bad as they are, these are not just dry statistics. These are men and women and children who are in need, who deserve national attention and leaders who will take action to help them. We do not have that leadership now and we have not had it for eight long years. The policy of our government has been one of neglect.

Economic recovery will not come overnight, but there are several steps that as President I will take immediately to assist women who work outside the home. First, I am committed to join in developing a comprehensive child care program which will help to fund state and local programs and provide subsidies or scaled fees for employed mothers from low and moderate income families. This will help restore the dignity of work to present welfare families and the right of gainful employment to all parents.

As you know', Richard Nixon vetoed comprehensive child care services and President Ford has equivocated on the issue. He vetoed one bill and signed another Very weak bill because it is an election year. These Republican Presidents failed to realize that adequate child care services are just as essential to the children of mothers who work as food, shelter, and clothing. I chose as my running mate Fritz Mondale. You know what his position has been. I'm proud of him. He's my friend, we are partners, and we will work together with you.

The second thing I want to mention is this: there are federal agencies which now have responsibility for enforcing federal anti-discrimination regulations, but there is no coordination among them. Kennedy, Johnson and the federal courts put on their books many programs and commitments to eliminate discrimination. But the enforcement of these laws has been lax at best.

On occasion Nixon and Ford and their administrations have deliberately subverted or blocked implementation of those laws. I will work to assure that the existing guidelines are strengthened and vigorously enforced to insure that women are hired, paid and promoted on the basis of fairness and equality for a change.

Cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are hopelessly backlogged, literally for years, with thousands now awaiting settlement. With this delay justice is blocked because the original complainants, of the witnesses who might have testified, slowly dissipate in a rapidly changing, mobile society. I will see that the EEOC staff is adequate to carry out its mandate and I will also appoint additional women as EEOC Commissioners. Presently, only one out of five members is female. We are going to change that very quickly when I become President.

Fourth, I will direct the Office of the Federal Contract Compliance Programs in the Department of Labor to enforce the Executive order forbidding discrimination by federal contractors or subcontractors. This will help women as employees and as business owners to have a fair share of government contracting.

Fifth, women continue to be underrepresented in the federal government, especially in the supergrades, where you hold only three percent of the jobs. I will insist on hiring policies that will bring far more women into top grades and throughout the entire government. This administration has only paid lip service to women's rights and it has been argued—always by men—that qualified women'do not exist. They do exist, and I intend to find them and put them to work.

I want to tell you how. We have a Committee of 51.3%. Many of you serve on that committee. We are now working with the members of the committee to find several hundred, perhaps thousands, of women all over the country, qualified women to serve in different positions in government, law, justice, health, education, welfare, housing, diplomatic posts, and administration of all programs.

I hope that you will participate with us in giving your recommendations, including recommending yourselves, or those who ought to be considered for appointment to major posts. There is no way that a President or Cabinet or White House staff can constantly be aware of the special problems of women unless women are part of the decision making process. I want to do this and make you a part of it.

The sixth point I want to make is this: flexible hours and part-time work are important to the parents of school age children who need additional income but just can't be gone from home eight or nine hours a day. They are also crucial to help retired people and some disabled people who are not physically able to work full time.

Therefore, I will encourage—actively and aggressively—the adoption in the federal government and in the private business sector, of flexible working hours for men and women, and I will take action to increase the availability of part-time jobs, with proper provision for fringe benefits and for job security.

The seventh area is this: I will act to curb unfair economic practices such as discrimination against women in obtaining credit and insurance. Business women in particular have been held back by these unfair practices, and they must be halted.

I went home from the Navy with my wife and three little children in the winter of 1953.1 didn't have any money. We lived in a government housing project and paid $31 a month rent. The first year of our business was 1954. We didn't have enough total net income to pay our rent.

A little later, I got a loan from the Small Business Administration and because my family was prominent in the community and because I was so eager, they gave me a loan which they guaranteed, I think 10 percent of what we needed. The local bank did the rest, but the $BA gave me advice and counsel constantly from retired businessmen and women who knew more about government and business than I did.

They would come in and lode at my accounts receivable and they would look at my inventory and they would look at my bookkeeping system and if I was making a mistake, they would say, Jimmy, you ought to do this to make your business successful.

It has become successful because of them. That's the kind of business assistance, with loan guarantees, financial advice and constant support that is now absent from the life of the woman entrepreneur that will be a part of the Small Business Administration when I become President. You can count on that.

Eighth, I want to comment on a group that quite often is not mentioned, perhaps even among women's groups. I will act to support the American homemaker in every possible way. The American homemaker is the foundation of the structure of our society. More women still work in their homes than outside the home. But the rising divorce rate and early widowhood quite often leave them highly vulnerable to economic deprivation and adversity.

I will take action to help homemakers achieve equity in Social Security and divorce proceedings, and in tax laws, and in the probate of estates, and to provide counseling to women who enter the job market for the first time without the experience they need. This is the very least we can do, a first small step, to ease a painful transition that too many women must make each year.

Ninth, I will work toward equality in education. Education itself leads to self sufficiency, as you know, and women must have equal access to it. Yet the statistics on financial aid tell us that 80 percent of the nation's most prestigious fellowships and awards go to men. Men dominate supervisory positions in our school systems and still far outnumber women in our graduate schools. Inequity in federal aid to women will be eliminated during my own administration.

As you know, the Committee of 51.3% is advising me on issues of special concern to women, and at my request the committee has established several task forces to recommend action in specific areas of need.

In closing, let me say this. It's been a pleasure and an honor to be here. This is indeed a historic occasion because since women's suffrage was finally granted we have not had a nationwide, coordinated, and concerned commitment of different women's groups toward common purposes and goals.

There have been few political developments in America in recent years that have impressed me more than the movement of women toward equal rights. In the face of opposition and misunderstandings you have gotten your message across to millions of women, and to millions of men as welL

I've often said that the Voting Rights Act was the best thing that ever happened to the South. It not only liberated the blacks, but it liberated the whites as well and permitted the South and our region to move into the. mainstream of economic, social and political life. In the same way I agree with you that the women's movement can do just as much for men as for women.

I hope that all of us can work together inpassing the Equal Rights Amendment. As President and with Fritz Mondale as Vice President, the members of our family and you, must induce those last four states to finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to give women a chance in life.

I have to add, parenthetically, that it's still not going to be easy. Because we haven't yet penetrated the consciousness of America with the patent continuing discrimination against women. But American people are fair and once they are convinced that women who work in factories and stores and businesses only get 87 percent as much pay as do men; when they are convinced that women are the last ones hired and the first ones fired; when they are convinced that women's jobs are as important to them andtheir families as are the jobs of men; when we can convince the American people that discrimination against women now is just as severe and crippling to our national strength and consciousness as was religious or racial discrimination in the past; when we convince the American people of these facts, then the legislators will not be reluctant any more, and the John Birch Society will not prevail any more, and we will get ERA passed. I believe we are going to do it in the next four years without any problems.

Change doesn't come easily and my own campaign for President has not always been easy. But it hasn't been an ordeal or sacrifice for me. I've learned how to translate the impact of statistics into their impact on human beings' lives. I never had the support of powerful special interest groups in the primaries. Nobody thought I had a chance to win, so powerful political figures quite often supported my opponents. My strength has been derived from within homes and factory shift lines, from beauty parlors and barber shops, from livestock sale bams and shopping centers. And that is where my strength still lies.

I have confidence in our country. I believe the average American is fair and just, wants to be treated fairly. I believe the average American is patriotic and still loves our country. In spite of its past mistakes, I believe our country's people are still idealistic and filled with a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, and compassion and of love. I believe, too, that this is a nation which is looking for a chance to redeem itself from past mistakes, to answer difficult questions, to bind ourselves together in a common purpose.

As I said at the end of my acceptance speech, as brothers and sisters we can move into the future with confidence. I want to be sure that your effort is successful: that your agenda is met.

I have, as you know, an eight year old daughter, Amy. I love her very much and I don't get to see her often. I hope when Amy becomes an adult that she can be just as sure of becoming a doctor as she can of becoming a nurse, that she can be just as sure of being a lawyer as a secretary, and she can be just as sure of being President as a President's daughter.

Thank you very much.

Jimmy Carter, Address to the National Women's Agenda Conference Meeting in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347558

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