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Women's Equality Day: Some Things You Should Know

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Today (Wednesday) is Women's Equality Day, a celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which acknowledged the right of women to vote.

While it seems like ancient history -- the amendment became law in 1920 -- we still have a long way to go. Gender discrimination still exists, most notably in the work place. Women are paid 78 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. The disparity is even greater for women of color. We in New York have every right to be proud of our civil rights history. In 1849 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott issued the Declaration of Sentiments, in the Finger Lakes town of Seneca Falls, demanding that the equal status of women be officially recognized and that women be given the right to vote. It was our own Congresswoman, Bella Abzug, who initiated the annual Women's Equality Day commemoration. New York was the first state to enact civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination based on gender, race, creed, a law that continues to be updated to reflect changing social conditions most recently adding protections for victims of domestic violence.

But to borrow a line from President Barack Obama "we cannot make the mistake of ignoring the fact that discrimination is still felt in America."

According to data compiled by the American Association of University Women ("AAUW"), females of all ages, races and education levels are paid, on average 22 percent less than males. African American women earn 30 percent less than males and Latinas earn 42 percent less than men. The median income of older women is half what it is for older men.

The AAUW states that female workers are still concentrated in traditionally female dominated professions, especially education and health industries, which continue to be lower paying than male dominated professions. Even in so-called male dominated fields the disparity is great--female marketing and sales managers earned $46,696 compared to $74,932 for males according to a 2005 survey.

This is more than a pure gender issue: working families lose $200 billion in annual income nationwide due to the gender gap; if married women received comparable pay families' poverty rates would fall from over 2 percent to less than 1 percent. Single working women would be the biggest beneficiaries of equal pay with their family poverty rate being cut in half. Progress is being made. On Jan. 29, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act which allows women to challenge pay discrimination by extending the time during which a complaint may be filed.

A motto in our office is, "Discrimination really hurts. If you see it or experience it, call us." That responsibility goes beyond the Division of Human Rights. That is the responsibility of every citizen, because if we are silent, discrimination by gender will continue and hatred will flourish. Whenever there is an act of individual bigotry or systemic discrimination we are all diminished because the humanity in our society is undermined and our efforts to evolve as a society are cut short.

Today we celebrate the concept of Women's Equality. I call on all New Yorkers to work to make that equality a reality.

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