It's Women's Equality Day, the date marked to celebrate women getting the right to vote in our nation 90 years ago today. It's both hard (and easy in some sad ways) to believe that it was just 90 years ago that women got the right to vote in our nation.
Reflecting on this, I called my grandmother, who turns 95 this year, to see what she recalled about women winning the right to vote, and who had this to say with a twinkle in her voice:
"Well, I wasn't able to vote when I was 5 years old and women first got the right to vote. Although as a child I thought I should be able to vote, but of course I couldn't. I had to wait for what felt to me like a very long time to be old enough to vote. I remember when I first voted and going into the polls. I remember that all my girl friends voted too. We all voted. We wanted to take part in what was going on in the world. The only way we could do that was by voting."
Fast forward 90 years to now in 2010: Women do have the right to vote, we also have a modern economy with women comprising 50% of the entire paid labor force for the first time in history this year, and women now take part in what's happening in the world in many more ways than appeared possible to my grandmother when she could first vote.
But that doesn't mean women in our nation have achieved equality yet.
That's right. It's not yet time to pop the bubbly and celebrate victory on Women's Equality Day just yet. There's one very large group of women in particular who are experiencing significant inequality in our nation: Mothers.
The issue of wage and hiring discrimination against mothers is bigger than most people realize. The maternal wall is what's standing in the way of most women even seeing a glass ceiling.
In fact, while most women without children make 90 cents to a man's dollar, mothers make only about 73 cents to a man's dollar, with mothers of color experiencing increased wage hits. Since over 80% of women in our nation have children by the time they're forty-four years old, the majority of women face this kind of discrimination at some point in their lives.
And, this discrimination can't fully be blamed on mothers for choosing different career paths, as many have done. In fact, there was a study done on this very topic at Cornell University a couple of years ago which found that even when people have identical resumes, education, and job experiences, women with children are much less likely to be hired.
There's real discrimination here.
As a result, families are struggling. Moms who work full-time still struggle to put food on the table. This hurts children. This hurts taxpayers. This hurts us all. Case in point: Almost 1 in 4 kids in our country are experiencing food scarcity due to family economic limitations, according to the USDA.
In this economic downturn the paychecks of moms are critical to keeping families afloat. In fact the majority of families need two parents in the labor force to make ends meet these days. Frankly, we have 1950s public policies when it comes to families, while the rest of the nations in the world have sped ahead.
Without such policies, having a baby is a leading cause of poverty spells in our nation. One of the big reasons for this is that people end up having to quit needed jobs when they don't have the bridge of paid family leave for a few weeks after the birth of a baby--like 177 other countries do.
We can do better. We can't celebrate Women's Equality Day just yet.
We need to see family economic security polices pass that are the norm in most other nations--policies that studies show help lower the wage gaps--including paid family leave, access to affordable childcare, sick days, flexible work options, and the Paycheck Fairness Act among other things.
Modern women are between a rock and a hard place, and we need to band together in organizations like MomsRising.org, The National Partnership for Women and Families, 9to5-National Association of Working Women, AAUW, National Women's Law Center, and more to push for family economic security policies that make it possible for everyone--not just moms--to be able to excel at work, to have a life, and to care for loved ones.
There are now more ways for women to be involved in our nation than in my grandmother's time when she felt the only option open to her was voting.
It's now time to use those increased options for our voices to be heard to take those next steps for family economic security policies and to lower the wage gaps so we can fully celebrate Equality Day with our daughters and granddaughters.
Here's to making it so!