In 1973, legendary female tennis player Billie Jean King faced taunts and disbelief when she played Bobby Riggs in the famously televised “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.
This week, Serena Williams won her 19th grand slam title.
Today we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day. We are reminded this week how far girls and women have come in sports since 1972 when Title IX was passed: women’s participation in collegiate athletics climbed from less than 16 percent in 1972 to 44 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. Though women’s sports participation is far from equal, last year girls’ participation in high school sports hit a record-high: girls make up almost 42 percent of high school athletes.
What many people don’t know is that women’s participation in sports is not the only education issue covered by Title IX, which declares that no one may be denied the benefits of educational programs on the basis of sex. Recent coverage of high rates of sexual assault and rape on college campuses prove that we still have far to go before achieving the dream of Title IX. But the good news this week is that policymakers are paying attention.
The President’s budget proposal, released this week, included a 31 percent increase to the budget for the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), bringing it up to $131 million [PDF]. Among many other duties, OCR is charged with the rigorous federal enforcement of Title IX. The new funding will create 200 new full-time positions to ensure that reports of discrimination are thoroughly investigated and that colleges and universities receiving federal funds comply with our nation’s civil rights laws.
This increased funding is critical. From FY 2010 to FY 2014, the discrimination claims of all types to OCR increased from roughly 7,000 reports to nearly 10,000 [PDF]. The cases range from complaints concerning unequal access to educational resources based on race, sex, or disability, to discrimination against pregnant students. Just last year, OCR announced that it would investigate 94 colleges and universities over concerns that they had violated Title IX and mishandled sexual assault cases.
The OCR funding proposal in the President’s budget is great news for Title IX and shows that equality and civil rights are still at the forefront of our nation’s values. While we may still have a long way to go, this support is a great step towards the realization of Title IX. We hope Congress will act to make this proposal a reality.