What is lobbying? It is an effort to influence or persuade. Lobbying in Washington, D.C., means to influence or persuade the actions, policies or decisions of our federal legislators. This is what more than 500 American Association of University Women (AAUW) members did at its 2017 national convention in Washington, D.C.

Close to 50 states were represented. One of the larger constituencies was from Oregon with 15 members in attendance. Both of our senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, were on the Senate floor, so constituents met with each of their staffs. Six of us went on to meet with the staff of our District 2 Representative, Greg Walden. Four Ashland AAUW members were part of that group: Regina Ayars, Bessie Azari, Kathy Brandon and Mimi Pippel.

What were the issues we were lobbying for?

• Student debt and women: According to new research from AAUW ("Deep in Debt: Women and Student Loans"), women hold almost two-thirds, around $833 billion, of the county's $1.3 trillion student debt while men hold $477 billion. Women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees from U.S. colleges and universities, and women take an average of two years longer to pay off their student debt when compared to their male counterparts.

Following graduation, women repay their loans more slowly than do men, in part because of the gender wage gap. Women with college degrees working full-time make 26 cents per dollar less than their male peers, which leaves women with less income on average to devote to debt repayment. Women are more likely than men to experience financial difficulties — 34 percent of all women, 42 percent of Hispanic women and 57 percent of black women who were repaying student loans said that they were unable to meet essential expenses within the last year.

What are we asking our legislators to do?

Congress must safeguard and expand Pell grants for low-income students, as well as ensure non-traditional students have the resources they need, such as on-campus child care, to successfully complete degrees. Our legislators can also support income-driven repayment approaches that reflect borrower’s realities. They can bolster women’s economic security by working to close the gender wage gap.

• Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and women: Title IX prohibits all sexual discrimination in education — not just athletics — including: recruitment; admissions; housing; career and technical education; pregnant, parenting and/or married students; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); financial assistance; health services and insurance benefits; access to course offerings; and sexual harassment and assault.

AAUW research found 56 percent of girls in grades 7-12 face sexual harassment. In addition, 20 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault as college students. Title IX requires recipients of federal education funding to evaluate their current policies and practices, adopt and publish a policy against sex discrimination and implement grievance procedures providing prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee discrimination complaints.

Girls have 1.2 million fewer chances to play sports in high school than boys. Less than two-thirds of black and Hispanic girls play sports while more than three-quarters of Caucasian girls do play sports

Just 12 percent of engineers are women and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today.

The rate of female enrollment in certain career clusters nontraditional to their gender remains at low levels, with some well beneath the 25 percent threshold.

Pregnant and parenting students are often steered toward separate, less rigorous schools.

What are we asking legislators to do?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education are charged with enforcement of Title IX civil rights laws. AAUW believes OCR must receive adequate funding to maintain its support services and technical assistance to schools. Congress must protect Title IX, its regulations and guidelines and provide resources to the Office of Civil Rights.

If you agree with the need to support reducing student debt and support of Title IX civil rights laws contact your legislators: Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden.

AAUW Update, a report prepared by members of the American Association of University Women, Ashland Branch, appears quarterly. For more information, go to ashland-or.aauw.net.