National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Women's Equality Matters

Cross-posted from Huffington Post

August 26, Women's Equality Day, commemorates the day when women in the United States took a giant step toward equality by winning the right to vote. Sadly, it's all too clear 94 years later that it was just one step on the long road to equality — and we're not there yet. Today, women across the country still routinely face inequality at home, at work and throughout society. And too often, the issues we care most about seem not to matter.

That's why the National Partnership for Women & Families is proud to be joining with a growing and diverse group of organizations, advocates and individuals who are coming together in a new, coordinated way to remind lawmakers, the media and the public that women and workers in this country do matter. Together, we are raising our voices to say that the policies that would significantly advance our equality and economic security should be much more important to our elected officials. Put simply: #WEmatter.

Some of us have been fighting for decades to build a more fair and family friendly America. We know firsthand the great progress we've made over the years in combating discrimination and unequal treatment. But we also know just how far we still have to go to achieve true equality for women and all workers.

Women's equality matters today not only because it is just, moral and long overdue. It matters because, today, women make up nearly half of the workforce and are breadwinners in two-thirds of U.S. households. Yet we remain our families' primary caregivers. Families, our economy and our country are suffering because the nation's workplace policies have failed to keep pace with these realities.

Women's equality matters because, despite being a nation that claims to value families, the United States is one of a handful of nations in the world that does not guarantee some form of paid leave. Just 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have access to employer-provided paid medical leave through a temporary disability insurance program. This means that millions of women and families are one accident, injury, serious illness or birth away from financial devastation.

Women's equality matters because millions of workers are forced to jeopardize their wages and their jobs when they get sick or need to care for a sick child because we don't have a national paid sick days standard. Forty-three percent of women who work in the private sector and 80 percent of low-wage workers — the majority of whom are women — can't take a single paid sick day to recover from common illnesses. And more than half of working mothers don't have even a few paid days they can use to care for a sick child.

Women's equality matters because women still face blatant discrimination at work. Despite banning pregnancy discrimination more than 35 years ago, women are still forced out of their jobs or fired simply for being pregnant. And due to pay discrimination and a lack of family friendly workplace policies like paid leave and paid sick days, women are still paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, which amounts to more than $11,600 in lost income each year that could go toward basic necessities. For African American women and Latinas, these numbers are even worse, which is appalling.

Women's equality matters because women make up nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce and the majority of tipped workers. And yet the tipped minimum wage has been stuck at a measly $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. To make matters worse, workers in these occupations often also lack access to paid sick days and other supportive workplace policies while also suffering from unpredictable and erratic schedules, which threaten their ability to make ends meet from day to day and week to week.

Women's equality matters because every American deserves quality, affordable, patient-centered health care and efforts to provide that remain under attack, as does the birth control coverage and access to reproductive health services that women need.

Women's equality matters for all of these reasons and many more. And it's clear that there is much more that lawmakers can and should be doing to help. At the federal level, there are proposals like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, the Healthy Families Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, the Schedules That Work Act and the Women's Health Protection Act that would go a long way toward advancing women's equality and economic security. They matter. And they should be priorities.

So let this Women's Equality Day be a reminder that the stories, experiences and struggles of women and their families are the stories, experiences and struggles of our nation. They should be top of mind for lawmakers and anyone who claims to care about our country's future. At the National Partnership, #WEmatter represents a unified call for action and accountability that is only growing stronger. It's time that many more elected officials at all levels start listening, because #WEmatter — and because we know that winning the right to vote was just the beginning.


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