National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Women's Equality Depends on Family Friendly Workplace Policies Like Paid Sick Days

Ninety-two years ago, women in the United States celebrated the greatest step in our march toward equality: the ratification of the 19th Amendment, affirming our right to vote. Today, Women's Equality Day, we commemorate that historic victory and celebrate the courageous women and men who struggled and sacrificed to make it a reality.

But no commemoration can be complete without a hard look at where we are in achieving full equality. Despite very substantial victories, it is clear that we have much more work to do to achieve full equality for women — and fair and equal treatment in our workplaces is a leading battleground in the fight.

That's because women now make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States, we serve as both breadwinners and primary caregivers for our families, and yet we continue to suffer from blatant discrimination and outdated workplace policies. For example, more than 44 million workers in the country — the majority working in women-dominated industries — cannot earn a single paid sick day is just one example of the punishing reality employed women face every day.

Paid sick days enable all workers to take the time they need to recover from common illnesses and take care of their families, without sacrificing their economic security. Half of working mothers say they miss work when their child gets sick. Those without paid sick days are forced to lose pay or even their jobs when they take time off simply because common sense, family friendly workplace policies are not yet the norm.

The good news is that we're seeing steady progress at the state and local levels — just as we have with historic victories in the past, including passage of the 19th Amendment. This year, Connecticut became the first state to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days. Next month, Seattle will become the third city to have a paid sick days law in place (following San Francisco and Washington, D.C.). And these victories are just the beginning.

There are active paid sick days campaigns or proposed legislation in more than 20 states and cities across the country. Today, in honor of Women's Equality Day, advocates in nearly 20 cities are taking action and calling on candidates in their districts to support paid sick days as part of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women's National Day of Action. The effort couldn't come at a more critical time.

As women prepare to exercise the hard-fought voting rights we commemorate on Women's Equality Day, we owe it to ourselves and our families to ask every candidate and elected official if she or he supports paid sick days, fair pay and other critical policies.

We may have a long way to go in the fight for full women's equality, but we have climbed these mountains before, and there are signs of real hope now. We will continue the march and the progress.


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