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Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 10:11 am

Women’s equality: Are we there yet?

Each year, on Aug. 26, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day to pay tribute to those brave suffragists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Ida B. Wells Barnett, who led the struggle for American women to win the most critical tool of democracy — the right to vote.

Women today not only have the right to vote, but we’ve made significant advances in the world of work, in education, in business, and in many other arenas. Still, Women’s Equality Day 2009 offers the chance for a temperature check. How close have we come to full equality?

Women in the U.S. still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. African-American women and Latinas experience an even bigger pay gap. The pay gap persists despite occupation, despite personal choices, despite income and despite education. In fact, women earn less than their male colleagues just one year out of college, even when the work is exactly the same. And the gap widens after that.

We need stronger fair pay laws and vigorous enforcement to end pay discrimination.

We must also address workplace policy that ignores women’s dual responsibilities — work and family. Consider this: The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that does not guarantee paid time off for new parents. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks leave for major illness and the birth or adoption of a child. But not everyone is covered and the leave is unpaid. To move toward equality, we must expand family and medical leave now and make it more affordable.

Additionally, we must provide legislative relief for the nearly 60 million workers who lack paid sick days. Now is the time for Congress to take federal action.

Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, with 100 House cosponsors, have reintroduced a proposal to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days each year.

Paid sick days protect the public health, provide a safety net for workers in a tough economy and are good for business. Studies show that businesses that offer their workers paid sick days have less turnover, higher worker morale and higher productivity.

Providing workplace pay equality and sick days for all workers will not be easy victories, but they are attainable. If we are ever to see a vision of full women’s equality, we must honor the legacy of those brave women who went before us.

Linda Meric is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. Article is copyright 2009 by the American Forum.
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