BEVERLY — The American Association of University Women has been on the forefront of national issues that affect women in the workplace, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a recent major class-action suit brought by women workers against Wal-Mart.
Now, a Beverly resident, Patricia Fae Ho, will be leading those efforts as the newly elected president of the AAUW.
For the next two years, Ho, a former teacher active in a variety of local volunteer efforts, will help guide an organization of 165,000 members, both women and men, that focuses on equity issues of women and girls through advocacy and research. Members must have at least a two-year associate’s degree to join.
The organization aims to empower women “through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.” Its compilation research is what sets the group apart, Ho said.
“We use our research to create greater community awareness,” Ho said, adding: “It’s the research that keeps you relevant.”
Among the issues the group has tackled are fair pay for women, harassment, domestic violence and higher insurance costs for women than for men. The AAUW advocated heavily, for example, for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Obama in 2009, which allows workers to better fight sex discrimination on the job.
In 2011, the organization’s Legal Advocacy Fund accepted a class-action lawsuit of 1.5 million present and former Walmart employees protesting sex discrimination on the job. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the class involved in the case was too big to move ahead, however. This was the first time the fund had accepted a case outside of academia.
Ho has deep ties on the North Shore. A resident of Beverly for 13 years, she is a trustee of Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, where she volunteers as a docent. She is a past chairwoman of the Essex County Commission on the Status of Women; she serves on the board of Salem-based Healing Abuse, Working for Change, which focuses on the issue of domestic violence, and of Health Quarters, a reproductive health provider based in Beverly.
Born in Hawaii, Ho graduated from the University of California in Berkeley with a major in history. She had a long teaching career, including as a gifted-education specialist in New York and director of the Teacher Resource Center, also in New York. For eight years, she and her husband lived and worked in England, where she served on the education faculty at Highbury College. She was able to travel extensively in Europe and take in its museums and theaters, she said.
But she missed the United States and her volunteer work, she said, and when she returned home, she joined the AAUW, which shares her philosophy that education is a stepping-stone to self-sufficiency.
The group’s latest focus is on women who may be marginalized in society, those who are running single-parent households, those who want to work and better themselves.
“Our agenda for these next two years is to strengthen our legislative advocacy,” Ho said, including looking at student interest rates, support for community colleges, increases in the minimum wage, affordable child care and affordable housing.
The group plans to emphasize the important role community colleges play in education in the Bay State, given that a quarter of all undergraduates attend community college in Massachusetts, and 60 percent of these students are young women, Ho said. Many women attend community college because of its lower cost and flexible hours. The majority of women who attend community college go into the health care and education fields.
What is needed, Ho said, is encouragement for women who attend community colleges to study in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, which offer higher salaries and also fill a need for more workers in these fields in the United States.
Ho said a forum on women and community colleges is being hosted at North Shore Community College’s Lynn campus in October.