By State Senator Dwight Bullard
On Aug. 26, 1920, the amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for wo-men officially became part of the US Constitution. To commemorate, we celebrate Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day.
The anniversary of this historic achievement demands recognition and celebration.
In moments like these however, I’m reminded of the countless children who ask their parents on summer trips the age-old question of, “Are we there yet?” Regrettably, on the topic of women’s equality, there’s no doubt that there is still much work left to be done.
Just consider the following facts:
Full-time female workers still earn only about 78 percent of what their male counterparts earn. For women of color, the gender pay gap is even bigger. African-American women, earn only about 64 cents, and Latinas, earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Add to that outdated workplace policies that deny women paid leave, affordable child care, fair promotions, pregnancy discrimination and access to health care and a pretty grim economic picture isn’t hard to see.
On the issue of reproductive rights, there have been more anti-woman state laws passed last year than in the previous three alone. Across the board, attacks on access to reproductive health care erode women’s ability determine the size of their families but these laws do the greatest damage to poor women and women of color who often have the greatest economic barriers to getting birth control and abortion. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently noted, women of means will always have options, but “choice” is moot for low-income women who live in states like Texas and Mississippi that pass laws to shut down clinics, restrict access and outlaw certain procedures.
Fortunately there are several things the state legislature can pass that benefit all of us by improving opportunities for women and their families.
We must update workplace standards to accommodate working parents. Women make up half the workforce and over 80 percent of those wo-men are working to support at least one child. Women are not only child-bearers, they are the primary navigator of health care and primary caretakers of the whole family.
We must invest more money into our elder care system to ensure that caregivers aren’t punished for taking care of their family members. About 20 percent of all women in the United States have or will provide at least part time care to an elderly or disabled relative, family member or friend and many will do so by sacrificing their own earning potential or retiring early. In fact, the average female caregiver loses $40,000 more in lost wages and Social Security benefits than the average male caregiver.
Additionally, we must increase the minimum wage and stop attacking public services and the workers that provide public services. Almost 60 percent of public service workers are women.
Lastly, we must invest resources and reduce the cost of childcare for working families. In 22 states, the cost of childcare exceeds the cost of paying rent. In fact, childcare has become so expensive that many low-income women that would like to work are being denied the opportunity to enter the workforce because they would lose money by doing so.
When I talk to the women in my district about the issues they care most about the issues vary, but the message is loud and clear – they want to see an end to the negative bickering and political doublespeak. They want to see policies that reflect our values, an economy that works for all families, and real progress for families in our state.
So, are we there yet? Sadly the answer is not quite, but with continued action and support we’ll be there soon enough. Ultimately, it’ll take more voices, from women and men, asking every elected official to stop focusing on wedge issues that divide us and demanding that they start focusing on policies that will help ensure “equality for all.”