Twenty years ago, Congress declared that March would be Women's History Month. For the past 19 years, this month has been a time to draw special attention to the contributions women have made to our nation's growth and culture.
The 2007 national theme - Generations of Women Moving History Forward provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge groundbreakers of the past, thank the heroines of today, and inspire the leaders of the future.
This year also marks an historic moment for the women of America -a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. We have the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and women represent just over 16 percent of the Congress -more than ever before in our nation's history.
Today's women are in more positions of power and leadership than ever before. These are all positive signs that the glass ceiling women typically confront is being broken. However, we still have a long way to go to catch up with our male counterparts who continue to disproportionately represent leadership positions throughout our nation.
Women still only earn, on average, 77 percent of men's earnings for the same work (68 percent for African American women, 57 percent for Latina women). Women hold only 12 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 corporations. Only two women are CEO's of the 500 corporations on the Fortune list.
While the number of women in Congress is at a record 90 members, it still is just over 16 percent in what is our nation's representative body.
Having more women in Congress and in leadership positions throughout America is in the best interest of our nation, not simply women. Women have different life experiences, which allow them to have a different perspective on issues. For instance, women are the primary care givers in families, often making the decisions on health insurance, the family doctor, or long-term care for a parent. I firmly believe that if we had more women in Congress, we wouldn't have more than 47 million Americans without health insurance in America.
We all know that women's achievements today would not be possible without the struggle for women's rights by generations of strong women willing to take the lead before us. This is particularly true in America where women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rosa Parks and Florida's own Gwen Sawyer Cherry changed the course of our nation's history. They were the pioneers and heroines who broke down barriers, created new opportunities, championed justice and risked their lives for the greater good.
For this generation of women, history is yet to be written on the subject of women's advancement. The impact of the accomplishments of those women who came before resonates far and wide among girls and young women and the opportunities are endless.
Growing up, my parents raised me to believe that in America little girls could grow up to be anything they wanted to be even President of the United States. Because of this belief, I had the nerve and the will to run for public office when I was 25 years old -to stand on the shoulders of everyone who'd fought for women's right to vote and for the empowerment of women in politics, in their professions, in their lives, and to actually run - for - public - office!
At the age of 26 I was the youngest woman to be elected to the Florida State Legislature, and twelve years later, when I was elected to the House of Representatives I became the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Washington. But I would not have been able to accomplish these things without the leadership of generations of women before me, and without the support of my parents, teachers, and community leaders who instilled in me my confidence to run for public office.
It is now up to all of us, whether we are grandparents, parents, business leaders, politicians, teachers, artists or athletes, to encourage girls and young women to compete and inspire them to excel so that they will be the next generation of women leaders improving America.