THE BLOG
09/23/2013 06:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2013

Yes, We Can! 40 Years of Winning Justice for Working Women

The year was 1973. Women were starting to make great strides. Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional right; Captain Emily Howell Warner became the first female pilot hired by a U.S. commercial airline; and Bobby Riggs lost to Billie Jean King in the tennis match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."

That same year, when "Yes We Can" by the Pointer Sisters hit the radio waves, a group of female office workers, fed up with being harassed, objectified and undervalued, mobilized to change how they were treated and paid. Yes, they wanted the rights and respect they worked so hard to earn. So, in 1973 they formed 9to5, National Association of Working Women. "Raises not Roses" became their slogan.

These early activists left a remarkable legacy, from which 9to5 continues to thrive. Today, 9to5 is one of the largest and most respected national membership organizations of working women in the U.S. The group has made bold gains since Jane Fonda's movie Nine to Five, inspired by our organization, premiered. Alongside other women-centered groups, we helped win the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the 1991 improvements in the Civil Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, higher minimum wage and greater investments in child care and health care for working families.

But despite these hard-won victories, women still have miles to go. Over the past year, corporate profits have soared while working wages have declined or stagnated, leading to a chasm of income inequality hitting women the hardest. Millions of women barely scrape by on wages that amount to less than $15,000 a year. These women, often invisible to the world, provide essential services in our communities -- they clean our homes and offices, cook and serve us our food and care for our children and elderly parents.

Women in low-wage jobs are least likely to have any paid sick, personal or vacation time at all, leaving one of the most vulnerable segments of our workforce unprotected. And yet women represent 59 to 75 percent of family or informal caregivers. Being fired, or losing a day's pay, for taking care of yourself or a loved one during an illness means that working women can't pay their rent, buy groceries, or repair their car -- purchases that support families, local businesses, our communities and the economy.

Not only are millions of women not paid fairly and denied the right to earn paid sick days and family leave, they also lack available, affordable, quality child care. This is one of the biggest obstacles low-income mothers face when trying to enter and stay in the workforce. Women making only minimum wage or below can't afford the rising costs of housing, food, medical care and transportation, let alone safe and affordable child care -- putting children and families at risk.

But there remains a ray of hope amid these unsettling statistics and obstinate barriers.
9to5's members are its strength, and there is strength in numbers. Today we are 20,000 strong, including members, donors and activists! For 40 years, our members and activists have been organizing for change on the matters that affect their lives - and winning.

"The goals of 9to5 are really important to me. [These issues] affect every single woman I know, and families who are supported by women," says Dorothy Dean, 9to5 member from Wisconsin. "Every single time there is some idiotic piece of legislation that would hamper opportunities for women; 9to5 is out there making their voices heard..."

On the eve of our 40th anniversary celebrations held in Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, we must recommit ourselves to a renewed effort to fight for good jobs, equal opportunity, economic security, protection against discrimination, and a robust safety net - basic standards that all of us need to contribute to overall stability for families, communities and a growing economy. And that time is now -- yes we can!