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The United State Of Women Looks To Break Down Barriers

Reported by Anica Colbert

The concept of gender equity has garnered more attention recently as major athletes like Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe use their platforms to advocate. The United State of Women is a national organization with a mission to break down barriers holding women back.

Judith Howell is the San Diego Ambassador for the United State of Women. She joined KPBS anchor Ebone Monet to talk about the organization and their mission.

Q: So what exactly is The United State of Women?

A: The United State of Women was actually formed during the Obama administration, on the White House Council for Women and Girls. This movement and nonprofit started because women's issues aren't just for women. It affects everybody. They started this movement to get people on the ground talking about what gender equity means and how each person plays a role in fighting for gender equity.

Q: And part of the mission statement is to break down barriers that hold women back. What are some of those barriers?

A: From the moment you're in grade school, you can see how boys are treated versus how girls are treated. As you get older, you start hearing about the gender pay gap, but what does that actually mean? I found out at one of my jobs that I previously held that a man who had my same job, and who was there for less time than I was, was getting paid significantly more than I was. Some of the barriers began with race and gender, but they translate definitely depending on how you fall on the spectrum. One of the reasons why women have a hard time gaining economic mobility is because women have children. We're finding out now that the gender pay gap has to do with wanting to become a mother, and having that time with your children. But at the same time, you're punished because you're away from work. You come back and you need time to transition, and it just stifles the opportunity to grow.

Q: So some people might argue that women just need to become better negotiators when it comes to negotiating their salaries. Instead, why is an organization such as The United State of Women needed?

A: It's needed because there's still so much to do. I think we've been making a lot of progress, but this is the free world. This is the United States of America. There are American citizens right now who do not have access to water, don't have access to health care, don't have access to food. Military service members are fighting for our country and their spouses in many cases don't have access to a job or to a livable wage. So it's affecting different communities and it's just time. It's time.

Q: You're a recent graduate of San Diego State University. How did you get involved with this cause?

A: I've actually always been involved in the community in different sections and it's because of my family. We are a family of immigrants. Both sides came from Jamaica, and my parent's mission was to not only achieve the American Dream but make sure that their children had the same opportunities, and so, education was a big, big value for me growing up and service as well. And I learned, from when I was 12 years old, when I was first registering voters at the DMV and doing campaign calls and mailing out postcards, I learned the value of service and how much of a difference it can make, even when you're just 12.

Q: It's great to have this conversation, and a lot of organizations are out there helping to facilitate this type of conversation, meaningful conversation. But what does the United State of women plan to do to enact real change?

A: It's very simple. It's connecting, convening, and amplifying. We connect through social media, and through an online presence and having a base of supporters actively communicating throughout the week, throughout the month. We eventually all meet in person. There are events that we call "galvanize," and that's where we try to bring in all stakeholders, different supporters, volunteers in one room to talk about gender equity and what are the next steps. And then amplify, so amplifying all voices, all movements that need attention right now.

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