IT IS TIME TO MAKE PROGRESS ON GENDER EQUITY
Earlier this week, I joined Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics for a conversation about her career.
Pelosi’s story is incredible, as is her record of working to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. She argued convincingly for the need to promote of women in politics and across society, and I was struck by the truth and simplicity of her message: “When women succeed, New Jersey succeeds.”
Ensuring that women — our mothers, sisters, and daughters — have the same opportunities as their male counterparts is not a political issue. Nor is it a “women’s” issue or a “Democratic” issue. It is a family issue, and an economic issue.
It is in everyone’s interest to keep children learning and parents earning by promoting fair pay, a proper work and life balance, and affordable childcare. Doing so can make us all more prosperous while strengthening the backbone of our country’s economy, the middle class.
Why, then, are we not making progress on these fronts?
Sadly, Republican obstructionism is to blame.
The Republican-controlled Congress is obsessed with repealing and undermining the Affordable Care Act and the protections the historic law includes. For example, they would allow health insurance companies to again consider womanhood a preexisting medical condition. That is not going to happen.
Washington Republicans are also standing in the way of progress. They prevented increases in the minimum wage, delayed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and refused to promote access to affordable, high quality childcare. They would not consider improving paid family and medical leave, and they denied a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act… the list examples goes on.
Such misguided priorities beg the question: is the Republican Party really so out of touch with America’s needs, and those of women in particular?
A recent CNN Poll says yes. A majority of Americans, “do not believe the Republican Party understands the problems and concerns of women today,” the report said.
The irony is that the Republicans know their approach is flawed. After President Barack Obama’s reelection, Republican leaders admitted that their party was alienating huge swaths of voters. Operatives argued for reaching out to communities of color, being more inclusive of gay Americans, and, notably, attracting more women to the party. They commissioned an “autopsy report,” which recommended, “a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women.” Then, they organized seminars to teach their candidates how to talk to women, how to talk about women, and how to run against women. But, mistakenly, they failed to rethink their policy priorities.
Sadly, this is not just an inside-the-beltway dilemma. New Jersey’s scandal-plagued governor, Chris Christie, is no better. His agenda has never been friendly to women or the middle class.
Governor Christie has vetoed equal pay legislation multiple times and he opposed paid family leave. He even argued that raising the minimum wage was “just an irresponsible thing to do” and “a truly ridiculous idea,” despite compelling economic evidence to the contrary.
When given the opportunity to help women access health care services and bring funds to the state, Christie did neither. Our governor eliminated nearly $7.5 million for family planning services that would have been matched 9-to-1 by federal funds.
Yes, you read that correctly. Rather than saving $45 million a year, Christie preferred to deny thousands of women access to mammograms and other basic health care services.
These are fundamental issues, not abstract concerns, that have tangible affects on working women and their families.
Consider the gender wage gap. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women in New Jersey are paid 78 cents for every dollar paid to men, creating a yearly $13,413 gap between what full time working men and working women earn. Meanwhile, African American women were paid 64 cents and Latinas just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The organization estimated that closing that gap would help working women pick up the tab for basic family expenses: 103 more weeks of food; 6 more months of mortgage and utilities payments; 12 more months of rent; or 3,848 more gallons of gas.
Democrats have always stood with women, and we will continue to fight for fair and equal treatment under the law. We understand that the impact of so-called women’s issues is not gender specific — everyone sitting around our kitchen tables is affected by such societal inequities.
As the next election approaches, I am hopeful that the Republican Party will see the error in their ways. It’s time to make progress on gender equity.
John Currie is the Chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee