Jess O'Connell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. All opinions are her own.
Senators Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Kassebaum wanted to wear pants. But unlike their male colleagues, they didn’t have that freedom in the workplace. Female senators had two choices: skirts or dresses, no exceptions. Then one day, Barbara and Nancy strode onto the Senate floor and brought that barrier crashing down.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a story from the early days of the suffragette movement or a black-and-white newsreel. It was 1993.
It took another 20 years for women to be able to serve in combat roles in the military. And to this day, no woman has ever served in our nation’s highest office.
Put simply, the fight for women’s equality is far from settled. That’s why today, on Women’s Equality Day, we not only celebrate the progress we’ve made, we also recommit ourselves to defending that progress and taking on the battles not yet won.
This work has never been more important. Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers in Washington and across the country are determined to turn back the clock — especially when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. One of the very first decisions Trump made as president was to nominate a Supreme Court Justice who has repeatedly sided against women in reproductive rights cases. And from Kentucky to Texas, Republican governors and legislatures have tried to rip away a woman’s constitutional right to make decisions about her own body.
Nowhere were these attacks more outrageous than in the repeated attempts by Republicans to take healthcare away from millions of women, including access to no-copay birth control for more than 55 million women.
And it’s not just an assault on American women. Almost as soon as he took office, Trump reinstated and drastically expanded the Global Gag Rule, stripping away U.S. aid from overseas organizations that provide health services to some of the world’s poorest women.
What Republican lawmakers consistently fail to understand or willfully ignore about these issues is the fact that women don’t make health care decisions in a vacuum. A woman’s decision about her own reproductive rights affects her economic security – and that affects our entire economy. In four out of ten households with children, women are the sole or primary breadwinners. Roughly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. That’s why it’s so important for women to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and their own careers.
Even though women power so much of our economy, the average woman who works a full-time job still gets paid 80 cents for every dollar made by her male counterparts. And the gap is even worse for women of color. Black and Hispanic women, for example, are paid only 65 cents and 59 cents, respectively.
Most working women also lack access to affordable child care, which on average now costs more than rent in every state and more than college tuition in a majority of states. Even the basic protection of maternity leave is out of reach for most women.
This is a uniquely American problem, too. We remain the world’s only advanced country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave.
The evidence is clear: When women have to choose between their family and their job, our entire economy suffers. So we can and we must do better as a nation. And the best way to fight back is to make sure that women also have a say in crafting the policies that affect their lives. Right now, women make up only 25% of state legislatures, 20% of Congress, and just 12% of governorships. That’s why it’s imperative for us to elect more Democratic women up and down the ballot who will expand equality and stand up for working families.
We did have some success to that end in 2016. Even though we fell short of the Oval Office, voters elected more minority women to the Senate than ever. But we’re far from where we need to be. We have to recruit and support more women running for office at every level of government.
Women like Annette Taddeo, a Latina immigrant and small-business owner running for state senate in Florida. Or Manka Dhingra, an Indian immigrant and senior prosecutor running to flip the Washington Senate from Republican to Democratic control, giving Democrats unified control of the state government. Or Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s first African-American woman assembly speaker, who is now running for lieutenant governor to fight for working families across the Garden State.
These are just a few of the women who are stepping to the plate and fighting for what it means to be a Democrat.
We still have a long way to go. But if the energy we saw on January 21st is any indication, I know that women across the country will not rest until they secure the full equality our nation has promised. And the Democratic Party will be fighting alongside them every step of the way.