Mission Accomplished? Not Yet, NOW President Says

Host Liane Hansen sits down with Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, to discuss the possibility of another woman on the Supreme Court, Gandy's recent meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama and what lies ahead for the women's rights movement.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

There's been a lot of speculation that the next nominee to the Supreme Court will be a woman. And that's the kind of issue that gets Kim Gandy fired up. The president of the National Organization for Women has rallied for women's rights for more than three decades. After spending the last eight years as the organization's president, Gandy is preparing to hand over the reins. But before she does, we invited her to the studio to reflect on her tenure and the future of the organization. Welcome to the program.

Ms. KIM GANDY (President, National Organization for Women): Thank you. My pleasure.

HANSEN: You became active in NOW in the 1970s, which was a very different time for women's rights. Why did you first get involved?

Ms. GANDY: Well, you know, I have to say I grew up in a small town in north Louisiana and the women's movement had really passed me by. I had not even heard of NOW by the time I graduated from college. But right after college I moved to New Orleans to take a job at the phone company and my husband did, as well.

And we were filling out our employee paperwork for basically an old-fashioned 401k, where they take three percent of your paycheck and they put it into AT&T stock for your retirement. And I got to the bottom and it said, if a married woman, husband must sign here. And I was fairly brash then, and so I went right to my new boss and said, what does this mean, A.J.? What is that?

And he said, oh, that's just the lord and master law. You know, your husband owns your paycheck, so we have to have his permission to put three percent of it into the company plan. And then within a few weeks I started hearing about this group NOW that was working to eliminate this law in Louisiana. And I thought I'll get involved and surely if people knew that there was discrimination against women they would fix it. It was the first and probably the hardest lesson.

HANSEN: Many young women today believe that gender is no longer an issue and that equality has been achieved. Do you agree?

Ms. GANDY: There's no question that equality has not been achieved, but I do agree that a lot of young people think it has. What they see in their junior high school, and their high school and their college, they do see women being treated equally, but it starts to change. We know now that just one year after college, a man and a woman with a similar degree already start to diverge in terms of their pay just one year out of college. So, as women are in the workplace longer, they start to see the inequalities around them.

HANSEN: We mentioned in the introduction to you that it's possible that the next Supreme Court nominee will be a woman. How involved is NOW in the process and does the organization have anyone that it wants to endorse?

Ms. GANDY: Well, we've certainly been involved in the process and have our opinions about who we think should be appointed, which we've conveyed and expect will be given consideration along with everybody else's opinions - none that I'm willing to say publicly. I don't want to hurt any of the candidates by giving the right wing an additional target.

But we don't want just a woman. We want a woman who is like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a brilliant lawyer and who brings a commitment to equality and opportunity with her to the bench.

HANSEN: I understand you met this past week with First Lady Michelle Obama. Without making your tell tales out of school, what'd you talk about?

Ms. GANDY: There were a group of us who met with her. There were eight women leaders from different kinds of organizations and we talked about the issues that we were working on that might dovetail with the first lady's interests. And I really focused especially on health care because that is in front of the country right now. We expect to have a plan this year - we hope to have one passed.

And that public plan cannot have gendered pricing. We cannot have a public plan that mimics the worst of the private plans, that if you think you're going to have a baby or might get pregnant, they charge you extra for that. If you don't want to have a baby and you want birth control, they charge you extra for that. It doesn't matter what you do, you're charged extra because you're a female. And we cannot have a public plan that treats women so differently.

HANSEN: Do you think there's still a need for NOW?

Ms. GANDY: There's a need for NOW and there's a need for all of the organizations that work on equality issues. Because frankly, it's harder now than it was 30 years ago. Back in New Orleans restaurants would say we don't hire female waiters. It's not like that now. Businesses that don't want to hire women or don't want to hire many women will come up with some other excuse. The discrimination is a lot more subtle, but when you add up all of those little bits of subtle discrimination, it still adds up to discrimination.

HANSEN: What challenges do you think lie ahead for your successor?

Ms. GANDY: The biggest challenge is to get and keep young women and young men engaged in equality issues. Whether it's educational equality, employment equality, equal pay, equal opportunity, equal marriage - all of the equality issues, as subtle as they are, have such an impact on people's everyday lives.

HANSEN: Kim Gandy is the president of the National Organization for Women. She will leave office at the end of July. Thank you for coming in today.

Ms. GANDY: My pleasure.

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