Today, Wednesday, February 6th, is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, which has people singing the praises of Title IX from soccer fields, softball diamonds, tracks, pools and countless other sporting venues — and for good reason! Title IX is an enormously important law for female athletes. No other law has done more to expand opportunities for women and girls in athletics. While there is still work to be done, the progress we have made thanks to Title IX is tremendous.
But what many people don’t know is that the benefits and protections of Title IX aren’t limited to athletics. Here are four other ways Title IX is there for young women (and men, too):
1. Equal opportunities in career and technical programs in traditionally male-dominated fields
Title IX requires that girls and boys be given equal opportunities in career and technical education programs, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields. Getting more women in these fields may be the key to closing the gender wage gap, since predominantly female occupations pay lower wages than predominantly male ones. Women still face barriers and a lack of encouragement in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to as STEM), but Title IX has broadened opportunities for a number of women and girls.
Shree Bose, a student at Harvard University, took science and math courses from a young age, finding her calling and her passion in science. As a result of winning the 2011 Google Science Fair for her important breakthrough for chemotherapy resistance treatment, she was invited to speak at conferences, attend an Ivy League university, and even meet the president!
We need more women like Shree, and Title IX is working to ensure that all girls who have an interest in STEM fields or classes are able to pursue them.
2. Protection for pregnant & parenting students
Title IX requires that pregnant and parenting students have equal access to schools and activities, that all separate programs are completely voluntary, and that schools excuse absences due to pregnancy or childbirth for as long as it is deemed medically necessary. In short: Pregnancy should be treated no differently than a temporary medical condition.
Yet many pregnant and parenting students still face discrimination in their schools. Take the story of Lisette Orellana, a straight-A student who had taken all the usual precautions and still got pregnant. Instead of support from her favorite teachers, she faced discrimination and bullying from not only her fellow students, but also her favorite teachers. Despite the fact that it was a battle to go to school every morning and face those who were actively rooting against her, Orellana graduated with honors.
Orellana is a rare success story, however. Only about one-half of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 89% of women who do not have a child during their teen years. One-third of teenage mothers never get a G.E.D. or diploma, and less than 2% of young teenage mothers attain a college degree by age 30.
Or look at the discrimination faced by Stephanie Stewart, a 27-year-old student at a public university in New York City who was told by a professor (in a class entitled “Roles of Women”) that she would not be allowed to make up tests or assignments resulting from any pregnancy-related absences. When Stewart went to the dean and other administrators to reverse the decision, they told her that professors have the right to set their own rules about absences and make-up work. They declined to intervene on Stewart’s behalf and recommended that she drop the class. The National Women’s Law Center recently filed a case on her behalf against the City University of New York.
3. Protections against sexual harassment and bullying
Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex discrimination in schools under Title IX, and much of what we call “bullying” is actually prohibited harassment.
48% of all elementary school teachers nationwide reported that they have heard students make sexist remarks at their school, and one-third of students have heard kids at school say that girls or boys should not do or wear certain things because of their gender. 56%of students who don’t conform to traditional gender norms say that they are bullied at school and 85%of LGBT students report being verbally harassed, with 64% being verbally harassed because of their gender expression. Title IX protects all students — male and female — from harassment and bullying.
Many girls face harassment, bullying, and unresponsive or ineffectual administrators in their schools every day and don’t know that Title IX’s protections apply to them. That’s exactly what happened to Leia Brugger. It wasn’t until her mother Googled “harassment in schools” that she found the tools she needed to wake the school up to their legal responsibilities and force them to take action to make the school a more open and welcoming learning environment. Today, Leia pitches for the school’s baseball team and is excited about her first year of high school.
4. Protections for survivors of sexual assault or rape
Title IX grants protections for survivors of sexual assault and rape by requiring schools to provide a prompt and equitable resolution of sexual violence complaints, investigate those complaints regardless of whether or not law enforcement is involved, provide alternate housing a comfortable distance from attackers, and provide counseling, medical, and academic support.
In the words of former NWLC intern Dana Bolger, who learned about the full protections of Title IX after being raped her sophomore year of college, “Title IX is not just about sports. It says your college can’t make you leave school because you were raped and feel unsafe. They’re supposed to make sure the campus is not a sexually hostile environment.”
Sadly, many schools aren’t living up to their commitments. Students found responsible often face little to no consequences. If more young women are aware of and demand their rights in these situations, perhaps schools will take their legal obligations a little more seriously.
Title IX was — and still is — a landmark piece of legislation not only for female athletes, but for female and male students of all ages. As a result of Title IX, students can go to school knowing that the law is on their side so that they can have a well-rounded education, get out on the field, pursue the career they wish, continue attending school if they get pregnant, and experience a healthy and safe learning environment.
An earlier version of this article appeared on RH Reality Check. Follow Becka Wall on Twitter, @beckawall. Becka is the Communications Assistant at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, DC and also blogs for her own blog, Becka Tells All.