Hundreds of thousands of men and women have marched in the streets, flooded Congress’ phone lines, and mobilized online to stand up for women and our basic freedoms in the months following President Trump’s election.
Today’s strike, “A Day Without a Woman,” is another huge outburst of this energy, and it builds on the power of the Women’s March and the strikes that have come before it — strikes like the one staged by Icelandic women who vacated their offices at 2:38 p.m. to protest the country’s 14% pay gap; by the hundreds of thousands of Polish women who took to the streets to protest an extreme ban on abortion; and by the American women who took to the streets in 1970 during the Women’s Strike for Equality to show just how powerful the feminist movement had become.
The power of today’s strike and the strikes before it lies in the power that women bring to every part of society. Women do the work that builds the backbone of our economy — more mothers than ever are the breadwinners for our families, and women make up the majority of workers in vital occupations such as teaching, nursing, and retail. The demand of today’s strike and the ones before it is simple. We want our laws and the leaders who enact them to recognize and support this power.
The freedom and equality women have won since the Women’s Strike of 1970 have made it possible for more women to pursue higher education, careers, and families on our own terms. Thanks in part to advances in birth control, the legalization of abortion, policies prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers based on sex, to name a few, more and more women have entered the workforce: Women’s labor force participation leapt from 43.3% in 1970 to 56.7% in 2015.
You would think that any politician who is committed to making sure all Americans reap the rewards of our nation’s economic gains would support policies that make it possible for women to pursue both a career and a family — policies that we know support a stronger economy, create jobs, and fight inequality. That’s not the case.
Instead, politicians — typically Republicans — from the White House to state houses focus on an outdated agenda that rolls back the progress women and our economy have made. As a result, the United States is one of the only OECD-member countries without guaranteed paid parental leave, while child care costs more than in-state college tuition in 33 states. Women aren’t expected to be paid equally until 2059. And access to reproductive healthcare is restricted in varying degrees in all 50 states.
Americans do not want politicians to roll back the progress we have made for women’s autonomy and our economy. According to recent polls, 62% of Americans do not support attempts to defund Planned Parenthood; 70% of Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade; and the same number of Americans believe that abortion should be legal and accessible.
What the overwhelming majority of Americans do want their elected officials to do — especially President Trump — is build a better economy. One way he and others can increase employment and raise wages for millions of Americans is by focusing on the very things he and his administration seem most intent on rolling back: policies that expand equality and freedom for women.
By expanding access to affordable contraception and legal abortion care, we can continue to empower women to choose whether, when, and with whom to start or grow our families. This means protecting funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides countless women with access to affordable birth control ever year. It means fighting back against medically unnecessary laws aimed only at shuttering clinics and curbing women’s access to abortion care.
When women do decide to have children, we need to make sure that employers support that choice. States like Colorado have moved to curb pregnancy discrimination against employees and applicants by passing legislation that guarantees pregnant employees in Colorado accommodations such as bathroom breaks, access to bottled water, and the option to sit instead of stand.
Finally, we need paid family leave policies that address the full scope of our lives — whether we need to take time off to care of a new addition to our family or for an ailing relative. Donald Trump’s proposed so-called paid maternity leave plan is woefully inadequate. It narrowly defines who would be able to use the benefit — only mothers, and possibly only married mothers at that — and it is largely just a kickback for businesses. A truly comprehensive paid parental leave policy will recognize that fathers and LGBT couples play a critical role in raising happy and healthy families, and that parents shouldn’t have to gamble with their careers when they decide to start or grow their families.
All of these policies will go a long way toward giving women the same equality and freedom afforded to our male counterparts. When women strike, we all feel the pain of a day without them. When women win, our families, our communities, and our economy reap the rewards.
Kaylie Hanson Long is National Communications Director at NARAL Pro-Choice America. The views expressed here are her own.