Honor suffrage anniversary
On Aug. 26, 1920, the amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women officially became part of the US Constitution. The anniversary of this historic achievement is both an opportunity to celebrate the progress women have made so far and to focus on what we still have to do to achieve equity, particularly among low-income women, women of color, and transgender women who face the greatest barriers.
For example, more women than ever are working outside the home, heading households and leading in the workplace. Yet, outdated workplace policies allow discrimination to continue against women and their families. Corporations are padding profits at the expense of workers by refusing to provide paid leave, forcing women to choose between work and family. Women are not only child-bearers, they are the primary navigator of health care and primary caretakers of the whole family. About 20 percent of all women in the U.S. 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.
It’s time to update work standards and stop discrimination that punishes women for pregnancy, parenting and fulfilling family responsibilities. Policies like earned sick time, paid family leave and more flexible work schedules will enable women to work and take care of their families at the same time.
Women, particularly women of color, face unfair pay at almost every level of the new economy, whether in low-wage industries and "tipped" jobs, or in higher-paying white collar jobs where they are paid less for the same work. Full-time female workers still earn only about 78 percent of what their male counterparts earn, and the gender pay gap is even bigger for African-American women, who earn only about 64 cents, and Latinas, who earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
New Hampshire should be proud of strengthening its laws around equal pay for equal work in the last legislative session to provide workers with greater ability to uncover and address unequal pay – a bipartisan effort that Congress and the current field of presidential candidates would do well to follow. Now we also need to increase the minimum wage and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers so that all workers earn one fair wage to support their families. As one of the 10 states where women make up more than 70 percent of the low-wage workforce, increasing the minimum wage will significantly increase economic security for New Hampshire women and their families.
Any discussion over women’s equality would be incomplete without acknowledging that more than 84 percent of women have a child by the time they are in their 40s. Having children has huge personal, health, and economic impacts on women and families, so women’s equality must include ensuring access to affordable health care, including no cost birth control, pregnancy and maternity care, and abortion, without interference from politicians or employers.
In New Hampshire, as well as elsewhere, we are sadly accustomed to attacks on women’s health. We need to continue to challenge these extreme policies and the politicians who promote them, while at the same time implementing proactive policies to expand access to women’s health care.
We also need to invest in more opportunities for women to enter, stay and flourish in the workforce. There are more women graduating from college today than men; the fastest growing industries employ mainly women; and women are increasingly leading households as single parents. Investments in affordable childcare, education, job training, and retirement security will enable women to participate fully in the economy.
Next week, the legislative bill filing begins for the New Hampshire House, followed by the Senate in October. Instead of limiting reproductive rights and protecting outdated workplace policies that discriminate against women, let’s really honor Women’s Equality Day by coming together across party lines to guarantee full and fair opportunities for women to succeed and take care of their families in New Hampshire.
Kary Jencks is executive director of the New Hampshire Citizens Alliance; Zandra Rice- Hawkins is executive director of the Granite State Progress & Education Fund.