The Older Women’s League (OWL) is a non-profit grassroots feminist organization whose mission is to “improve the status and quality of life” for the more than 58 million American women aged 40 and over. Founded in 1980, OWL is composed of 73 state and local chapters nationwide. The majority of its 15,000 members are women over the age of 60; many of them are labor union retirees.
OWL characterizes the general condition of an average American woman aged 65 or older as follows: “[S]he is typically widowed and living alone. She struggles to make ends meet on an annual income of $15,615 (compared with over $29,171 for men). During her lifetime she probably spent 17 years caring for children and 18 years caring for elderly parents. Her retirement income is also smaller because she probably did not receive a pension, and was paid less than the average man. As a result, she receives lower Social Security benefits. …”
In its major 2002 report titled “Social Security Privatization: A False Promise for Women,” OWL stated, “The Social Security system is an embodiment of the long-standing American principle of social insurance, providing nearly universal coverage for workers and their families through a pooling of resources, benefits, and risk. … Privatization plans would [ill-advisedly] … leave workers to sink or swim on their own.” In 2000, OWL supported presidential candidate Al Gore‘s $100 billion plan to credit stay-at-home mothers with annual earnings credits of $16,500 per year for up to five years; these credits would be applied toward those women’s future Social Security benefits, amounting to compensation for time spent outside the workforce while raising their children.
One of OWL’s current program initiatives is titled The Color of Money: Retirement for Women of Diverse Communities, a grassroots education, advocacy, and media campaign designed to focus attention on issues affecting retired African American, Asian American, and Hispanic women. According to this program, “[I]n 2000 African American women earned only 65 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for each dollar earned by a white man. … while the poverty rate for white older women in the U.S. is 11 percent, for older (over 65) African American women—even after taking Social Security benefits into account—the poverty rate is 30 percent, and for Latinas, 25 percent.” The program trains women to “influence public policy through grassroots organizing and community education.”
Advocating for women’s right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand, OWL’s “Quality of Life” campaign strives “to ensure that all people have the right to remain in control of decisions affecting their quality of life throughout their lives. Paramount among these rights are reproductive rights.”
OWL is an endorser of the Women’s Legislator Lobby (WiLL), a national network of female state legislators who work to influence federal policy and budget priorities. WiLL’s stated goals are to: “persuade Congress to redirect excessive military spending toward unmet human and environmental needs; address women’s health issues; eliminate violence against women; [and] curb the proliferation of weapons.” Along with OWL, other endorsing organizations of WiLL are: the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Peace Action, and the Ploughshares Fund.
OWL joined the “Fair Taxes for All” coalition that opposed President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts – on grounds that more tax dollars were needed to adequately fund government programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, universal health care, prescription drug benefits, and student loans.
A non-political element of OWL’s agenda is its campaign to draw attention to the issue of older women’s mental health, advancing the idea that mental illness and depression are treatable and need not be viewed as an inevitable part of the aging process.
To raise funds for its operating expenses, OWL markets such items as shirts, jackets, mugs, clocks, and tote bags bearing its logo. It also solicits personal donations and raises revenues from its $25 per year annual membership dues. In addition, OWL receives funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and the Turner Foundation.In 2004, OWL received grants totaling $313,909. Its net assets totaled $12,923.