Women’s Equality Day – What are We Still Fighting For?

2nd VP Tazra Mitchell

2nd VP Tazra Mitchell

Today, August 26, 2015, is the 95th anniversary of the certification of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, establishing the right of women in America to vote. Establishing a right and making good on that promise, of course, are two very different things. What was started in 1920 as the promise of full enfranchisement of all US citizens would take years to establish in practice (and we are not at full enfranchisement for all yet). Through changes to naturalization, citizenship and immigration laws (impacting Native Americans, Asian Americans, some European immigrants, and African-Americans, as well as white women married to men from those groups) to the Civil Rights Movement (abolishing arbitrary state barriers to voting for African-Americans) to the restrictions we are dealing with today, the path to full voting rights in the US is filled with some unflattering bits of history.

And the right to vote is just the start for achieving full equality for all women in the United States. NCWU came together with other advocates at the North Carolina General Assembly today to call on our elected leaders to Stand With Women, and to support policies that truly support women and their families, rather than pushing legislation that is soaked in traditional gender norms and antiquated notions of the role of North Carolina women in our society.

NC legislators signing pledge to stand with NC women

NC legislators signing pledge to stand with NC women

We are proud to partner with organizations like Action NC, Working America and the NC AFL-CIO, and are also joined by members MomsRising NC, the NC National Organization of Women, Women NC, Women AdvaNCe, NC Women Matter and NC4ERA in this campaign and at today’s press conference. Read NCWU 2nd Vice President Tazra Mitchell’s press statement below; and join us Friday in Durham for our march and rally. Look for our green banner, and sign up sheets for how you can get involved with the campaign. It’s going to be a great event!

Statement by NCWU 2nd VP Tazra Mitchell at the Women’s Equality Day press conference:

Good morning. My name is Tazra Mitchell and I am the 2nd Vice President of NC Women United, a coalition of organizations seeking to advance the full social, economic, and political equality of Tar Heel women.

We’ve been bringing women’s voices to state policy discussion for over 30 years because we know that public policy has a powerful role to play in improving the lives of women and families. Women have made significant progress in recent decades, but the need for further improvements remains.

We disproportionately face challenges such as unemployment, elevated poverty, the gender wage gap, and limited access to affordable child care.

This all means that lawmakers’ decisions here on Jones Street can mean the difference between a mother living in poverty or living with the economic security needed to provide for her family. Lawmakers’ policy decisions affect whether she has access to the ballot, or access to affordable health care, child care, and college tuition. Decisions here can determine whether a domestic violence victim has the option of a speedy divorce to keep herself and children safe.

After years of dismantling public structures that benefit women, families, and communities, lawmakers are unfortunately continuing down that failed and destructive path. Nowhere is this clearer than in the fiscal policies that leadership is pursuing.

Both chambers are pursuing deeper tax cuts that will impede our ability to reinvest in programs that serve families and build a stronger state economy. With SB 607, the Senate approved further income tax cuts and changes to our Constitution that would put our budget on autopilot based on arbitrary formulas. These policies are proven failures and will choke off NC’s economic growth.

This bill will not only force cuts to safety net services to women struggling to support their families, but will also increase the burdens on the many women who work and volunteer in our non-profit and charitable sectors. The House should stop this bill in its tracks and instead pursue better choices.

And that’s just it, better choices exist. There are a number of sound policy ideas pending at the General Assembly that lawmakers have failed to prioritize. 

These policies could raise the wages of women, build assets for families and communities, and ensure the health, safety and education of all in our state. But, lawmakers have killed these policies in committee—like the equal rights amendment—or have blocked them along other points in the legislative process (like Medicaid expansion or the state EITC). And as result of inaction from leadership, women in NC can still be fired or demoted from their job because they are pregnant, or because of their sexuality or gender expression.

Instead, lawmakers focused their energy on creating additional barriers to accessing abortion, which can have a detrimental impact on women’s economic security as well as increase the risks to their safety and health.

There is one bright spot for women. The House included a provision in its budget to restore eligibility for school-age kids and to restore the prorated copayment for partial-day care for the state’s child care subsidy program. We urge budget writers to restore these provisions in the final budget so that working mothers don’t have to choose between work and affordable child care.

The bottom line, however, is that there aren’t many bright spots. Rather, there are a LOT of missed opportunities.

In 2015, women fill multiple, diverse roles in our society as breadwinners, caretakers, thought leaders, workers, and students. Women’s labor, both paid and unpaid, is the core of what ties our individual lives into a community. It’s often been said “The strength of the woman can carry the world.” Our experiences, however, have told us we can’t do it all and we can’t do it alone. Public policies that are created here on Jones Street can help address structural inequalities and build a stronger future for all of us.

There is no silver bullet. We know, however, that empowering women is smart economics: we all benefit when women from Murphy to Manteo do well. It is due time for state lawmakers to recognize this.