The Nation: What Next for US. Women

Houston produces new alliances and a drive for grass-roots power

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Over and over, the convention was described as "a rainbow of women." No previous women's gathering could begin to match its diversity of age, income, race, occupation or opinion. There were 1,442 delegates who had been elected at 56 state and territorial meetings that were open to the public; 400 more had been appointed at large by an overseeing national commission. They were white, black, yellow, Hispanic and Indian—and four were Eskimo. They were rich, poor, radical, conservative, Democratic, Republican and politically noninvolved. Three Presidents' wives were guests: Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson. (Jackie Onassis turned down an invitation; Pat Nixon was ill.) One step removed from Houston, but hardly less actively involved, were the roughly 130,000 women who had participated in the long delegate-selection process leading up to the conference—part of America's real majority: the 110 million women who make up 51.3% of the nation's population.

By the end of the Houston conference, the women's movement had armed itself with a 25-point, revised National Plan of Action, mainly based on proposals drafted by the commission. By convincing majorities the delegates called for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; free choice on abortion, along with federal and state funds for those who cannot afford it; a national health insurance plan with special provisions for women; extension of Social Security benefits to housewives; elimination of job, housing and credit discrimination against lesbians, and their right to have custody of their children; an expansion of bilingual education for minority women; a federal campaign to educate women on their right to credit; federally and state-funded programs for victims of child abuse and for education in rape prevention; state-supported shelters for wives who are physically abused by their husbands; and a federal rural program designed to overcome "isolation, poverty and underemployment."

The cost of the programs in the National Plan of Action might well run into billions of dollars. On other grounds as well, women can expect great difficulty in getting some of them past legislators.

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