This year marked 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments, which were established to protect people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities. The passage of this law allowed us to formally acknowledge and address through legislation the disparities that exist in our education system for women and girls. The nation’s progress since 1972 is evident in the participation of women in sports and related professions formally viewed as male-only, the creation of programs for pregnant and parenting mothers and pay equity for female teachers. However, as evidenced by the continued complaints and subsequent investigations of school districts by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, barriers to educational success for young women still remain.
Title IX states that:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
This means that in addition to its most common known protections, the law exists to ensure that young women have equitable access to a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. In order for this to happen, young women must be in the classroom and not the victims of harsh discipline practices that remove them from the educational setting. In recent years we have seen growing disparities in the area of school discipline and according to a report from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, girls now make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges every year. Young women are often being suspended and arrested from school for infractions no more serious than skipping class, talking back or “insubordinate” behavior and fighting. Gender stereotyping combined with these zero-tolerance discipline policies have made young women the fastest-growing population on the school-to-prison pipeline and forced many others down the school-to-low-wage-work pipeline. Both outcomes rob young women of the ability to thrive and live successful lives.
So as we celebrate the gains made over the last 40 years, let us take note of the work still to be done. We must resolved to put girls back on our agenda. The next decade promises to be an exciting and active time for women but in order to create pipelines for change and pathways to success we must invest in girls and continue to advocate for their Title IX rights. We can start by demanding equitable access to a fair and substantive opportunity to learn for all young women regardless of race, class, sexual identity or citizenship status.
The National Opportunity to Learn Campaign needs you to help raise awareness about gender-based inequities in education. You can join the conversation on our Facebook page and by following us on Twitter and using the hashtag #Listen2Girls.
Share your stories and educate others! It is only through building the public will that we will create the political will to enforce legislation like Title IX on all levels.