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A Look at Summer 2005’s Impact on Your Economic Power
Alex Timbas

Summer 2005 was not only a summer of hurricanes, runaway brides, and the legendary Deep Throat--it was also a summer that saw many important changes in the United States and abroad that affect women’s economic power: Norway legislation impacting women’s participation on boards of directors; the resignation of Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor; and the new bankruptcy laws. What do these mean for women’s economic power?

Norway Legislation

On July 1, 2005, a new law went into effect in Norway stipulating that 40% of all boards in private as well as government-owned companies must be comprised of women. In a country that previously recorded only 15.5% women board members in private companies, this is an enormous leap for gender equality in business.

In the U.S. in 2003, women held only 13.6% of the corporate board seats in Fortune 500 companies. In a study conducted in the same year, women cited specific barriers they encounter in the workplace, among them ‘lack of role models’.

Though Norway’s legislation is certainly a form of affirmative action, one must wonder if anything but an affirmative act would ever get women to the top in such large numbers. If one of women’s main obstacles in achieving success in the workplace is ‘lack of role models’, maybe something as drastic as this legislation was necessary to facilitate women’s pursuit of economic power. If the United States were to follow Norway’s progressive, forward-thinking lead, women would certainly hold more positions of importance in the business world, arguably giving women everywhere a plethora of role models.

Sandra Day O’Connor Announces Retirement

In September of 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the 102nd Supreme Court justice as well as the first woman justice the United States Supreme Court had ever seen. Twenty-four years later, on July 1, 2005, the 75-year-old O’Connor announced her retirement, much to the surprise and alarm of many she had helped protect over the years.

Her appointment a self-proclaimed “affirmative act”, Justice O’Connor is a Republican, though often described as a “swing” justice because she never fully associated herself with the conservative or the liberal justices. As a result, O’Connor’s vote was frequently the deciding vote in a very nearly split Supreme Court. In 1992, she cast the deciding vote in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, a decision that upheld a woman’s right to choose, but allowed states to impart restrictions. O’Connor served as a champion for women’s rights, striving to uphold Roe vs. Wade, the monumental 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion not a crime. Her appointment paved the way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and doubtless many more to follow. Similar to Norway’s legislation, an affirmative act was necessary to break former stereotypes, and the results were ground-breaking.

Now, with the announcement of her retirement and the sudden death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, the fate of women’s reproductive rights is at stake. Women everywhere wait with bated breath for the appointment and confirmation of two new justices. What lies ahead for the delicately balanced Supreme Court without the impact from its first woman justice remains to be seen, as does a woman’s right to choose, and ultimately her ability to choose the direction of her own life – the foundation of her economic power.

New Bankruptcy Laws

This summer, Congress passed a bill that changes the laws for declaring bankruptcy, which will go into effect on October 17, 2005. This new law makes it more difficult as well as more expensive to declare bankruptcy in order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. In order to declare bankruptcy one must now pass a means test, whereby the total income of a household cannot be greater than the state’s median total income, otherwise an applicant will not be ineligible for protection. In addition, attorneys will now be liable for any inaccuracies in a debtor’s bankruptcy papers, requiring them to spend much more time investigating each client’s case. Legal fees could increase by 25 or even 50 percent.

Along with making bankruptcy protection more difficult and more expensive to access, under the new legislation all claims to back child support and alimony will be equal footing with claims from credit-card companies and car lenders, at one-time dischargeable debts. Now these debts must all be repaid, putting divorced women in direct competition with other payment liabilities (credit card debts) of an ex-husband. This new legislation will hit single parents the hardest – the ones who often need the protection of the bankruptcy laws the most. Their ability to collect necessary child support or seek bankruptcy protection will soon be in jeopardy.

So what does this mean for the approximately 1 million women who seek bankruptcy protection each year and the approximately 200,000 women attempting to collect alimony and child support from bankrupt men? Women in financial difficulty will soon have an even tougher ride ahead of them for getting back on their feet.

What Does This Mean To You?

These issues, along with many others that are happening every day, affect women’s economic power in countless ways. Norway is creating new role models for women in business. A woman’s right to choose clings with trepidations as confirmation hearings begin. Bankruptcy laws will soon hinder the many women that need the protection the most. Pay attention to the many ways that these issues impact the amount of economic power they are able to hold and create in the world – this ultimately impacts their ability to choose the direction of their own lives.

Arnot, Alison “Alison Arnot wonders why there aren’t more women on boards” ACCA. 4 March 2005.
Catalyst’s 2003 Report. Cooper, Cynthia “Lines Drawn as Leaders React to O’Connor Resignation” Women’s E-News 3 July 2005
Gardner, Marilyn. “Bankruptcy reform hits women hard”. Christian Science Monitor. 4 April 2005. Morkhagen, Pernille Lonne. “The position of women in Norway”. Odin. May 2002.
Pitcher, Helen. “Empowered but not in Power”. Cedar International 2005
Warren, Elizabeth. “A Quiet Attack on Women”. Common Dreams NewsCenter. 26 August 2005
Reprinted with permission from