Contraception, choice, access to reproductive health care - these are terms synonymous with the all-encompassing phrase "women's issues." And yet, as President Barack Obama eloquently demonstrated in Tuesday's presidential debate, "[t]hese are not just women's issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues." Access to affordable contraception is key if we wish for women to one day achieve equality in the workplace.
This week, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have provided protections for women suing employers over gender-based pay discrimination. Before the vote, Senate Democratic leaders expected Republicans to vote down the bill, so the results from the Senate floor left few surprised. However, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused — and continues to refuse — to state whether he supported or opposed the bill.
After the vote, Democratic members of Congress sharply criticized their Republican colleagues for their vote against equal pay. But Lilly Ledbetter — whose story inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — targeted Romney specifically for his silence. According to TPM:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the bill's sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) invited Lilly Ledbetter, the face of the 2009 law, to the Capitol to make the case for the new legislation.
'I'm telling you folks, this is a national epidemic in this country,' Ledbetter said of unequal pay. Flanked by Reid and Mikulski, she criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for refraining from taking a stance on the bill. 'He's scaring me to death,' she said. 'We cannot let [Republicans] take away the few privileges we're earned.'
'Women are mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore,' said Mikulski.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front. Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Last month, the Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed employers to deny women coverage for birth control and any "objectionable" medical service, possibly even flu shots. Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio's amendment would have allowed any employer — not religious institutions, because they are already exempt — to make this call on behalf of their female employees. That means a woman's boss at a restaurant, retail store, law firm or anywhere would have control over what health care she could receive. After an hour during which he was on the record opposed to it, Mitt Romney said, in typical flip flop fashion, "Of course I support that amendment." Of course he does. And we can thank him for paving the way — he also said he would have supported a "personhood" amendment in Massachusetts, which could have banned abortion in any circumstance, some contraception, and even fertility treatments like IVF.
In the video on the right, Dr. Mildred Hanson explains how she and other U.S. doctors worked around the law to provide abortions before the procedure was legalized in 1973 through Roe v. Wade. We don't want to have to go back to this.
From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has worked to ensure that women are paid fairly for their work. The President is committed to securing equal pay for equal work because it's a matter of fair play, and because American families and the health of our nation's economy depends on it. April 17 was Equal Pay Day, which marks the fact that, nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the average woman still has to work well into the calendar year to earn what the average man earned last year.
In conjunction with Equal Pay Day:
The White House released the Equal Pay Task Force Accomplishments Report: Fighting for Fair Pay in the Workplace. The Equal Pay Task Force brings together the best expertise of professionals at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management, who work daily to combat pay discrimination in the workplace. The report details the significant progress that the Task Force has made to fight pay discrimination - including improving inter-agency coordination and collaboration to ensure that the full weight of the federal government is focused on closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced the winners of the Equal Pay App Challenge. In January of this year, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Equal Pay Task Force, launched this challenge, inviting software developers to use publicly available data and resources to create applications that accomplish at least one of the following goals: provide greater access to pay data organized by gender, race, and ethnicity; provide interactive tools for early career coaching or online mentoring or to help inform negotiations. A solution to the pay gap has been elusive, in part because access to basic information — e.g., typical salary ranges and skill level requirements for particular positions, advice on how to negotiate appropriate pay — is limited. Because of the enthusiastic response to the Equal Pay App Challenge and the creative apps that were developed, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can access answers to these basic, but important, questions. This challenge represents just one more way that women can empower themselves with the tools they need to make sure they get equal pay for equal work.
Finally, in an ongoing effort to educate employees and employers about their rights and responsibilities under our nation's equal pay laws, the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau today published two brochures that will help educate employees regarding their rights under the existing equal pay laws and enable employers to understand their obligations.
From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to creating the National Equal Pay Task Force, to proposing minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers - 90% of whom are women - President Obama has made clear his belief that there should be no second class citizens in our workplaces and that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.
If only women had a coupon like this, they wouldn't suffer from the wage gap!
On April 26, the United States Senate passed S. 1925, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), by a vote of 68 to 31. S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), ensures a continued federal government response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking while making significant improvements to the law. To celebrate the passage of this critical legislation, Jewish Women International (JWI) Executive Director Lori Weinstein released the following statement:
The Violence Against Women Act is a historic law that has benefited millions of women across the country. Today, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan reauthorization bill and sent a strong message to victims of violence throughout the country: You are not forgotten. This bill not only continues VAWA's successful programs and services for another five years but also improves access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and immigrant victims, and gives American Indian women equal access to justice.
For the last two years, JWI has worked closely with our colleagues on the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and our allies on Capitol Hill to pass a reauthorization bill that strengthens and improves VAWA. After today's victory, we turn our attention to the House of Representatives and call on them to renew and strengthen this lifesaving legislation in a bipartisan manner.
Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been an invaluable tool for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting violent crimes targeting women. Studies have shown that incidents of domestic violence have decreased as more women report attacks and law enforcement has improved its investigation and prosecution of the crimes.
The bipartisan Senate vote reauthorizing VAWA will help continue this trend, providing better tools to train law enforcement and victim service providers, focus attention on addressing the high rate of violence in the tribal and LGBT communities, and redirect funds to the most effective programs.
Even as Maimonides reminded men of the imperative to treat women with honor and respect (Sefer Nashim 15:19), our Jewish sages recognized that violence comes in forms that are both physical and emotional. The Violence Against Women Act helps prevent and respond to such tragedies when they occur and is worthy of reauthorization. We call on the House to follow the Senate's lead and swiftly pass the Violence Against Women Act.
Viral Music Video That Every Women (and Man) Should Watch
The video Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage is Soomo Publishing's moving music video parody of Lady Gaga. The video pays homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920. (See Lyrics)
This Sunday is Mother's Day when we honor the women in our lives.
However, in politics, the place of women can not be taken for granted. Just as our matriarchs fought for Women's suffrage a hundred years ago, we must continue to fight to ensure the women in our lives the same rights that men enjoy.
Today, the gender war is being fought at a fevered pitch. As I see it there is action on at least three fronts:
Women made gains on the front for pay equality.
Women held off an assault on the Violence Against Women Act.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front.
Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Over the days leading up to Mother's Day, we will publish a series of report showing the progress women are achieving and the setbacks women are contending with on each front.
As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it's inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as "Equal Pay Day," recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women's rights.
Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:
President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.
The President's commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP's attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a 'hero,' recently repealed that state's fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn't even articulate a response when asked his position on the law....
On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It's a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can't say the same thing.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:
I'm proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.
On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation's women, who through their labor - at home and in the workplace - have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.
Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.
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