“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”
So said prominent women’s suffrage advocate Alice Paul. The first step toward “ordinary equality” for women was the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
Almost 50 years later, in 1971, Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate its passage.
We have made progress in advancing women’s equality in Minnesota the past few years. For example, the Legislature in 2014 passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, which included raising the minimum wage (two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women), requiring businesses that contract with the state to certify that they abide by equal pay for equal work, and extending unpaid family leave to 12 weeks.
Another example is last year’s Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) resolution to Congress, calling for renewed efforts to extend constitutional protections to women. This resolution passed the Minnesota Senate with a bipartisan vote.
We’ve undoubtedly made progress in this state, but there is still much work to be done to ensure equality for all women.
• Are women fully equal when full-time female workers in Minnesota still earn only about 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn? The gender pay gap is even greater for African-American women, who only earn about 64 cents, and Latinas, who earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
• Are we all truly equal when women, particularly women of color, are most negatively impacted by almost every existing economic policy? Women today still deal with low wages, outdated workplace policies that deny women paid leave, scheduling rules, lack of affordable child care, unfair promotions, cuts to public services, pregnancy discrimination and more limited access to health care, including reproductive health care?
During the 2015 legislative session, we were not able to continue our momentum to advance women’s equality. As a champion of fairness and opportunity for everyone, especially women, I plan to press forward in the 2016 session with efforts not just for unpaid leave, but for paid family leave, and for earned sick days so a sick employee doesn’t have to choose between her health and her paycheck. And I plan to urge my House colleagues to show their support for women’s equality by passing the ERA resolution to Congress.
It’s time for us all to stand with women and demand action in St. Paul to advance positive change for all women and their families.
And we must hold accountable those who will stand in the way of women making progress in our state, leaving families worse off than they are now. Let’s make extraordinary equality ordinary.
Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.