Women and girls worked hard in 2014 to advance equality, and we should be encouraged that in many ways our efforts paid off. In each bit of 2014 news that we found depressing, maddening, truly appalling, or all three, we've found a silver lining that can inspire and fuel our efforts for 2015.
The bad news: In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the gender pay gap had barely budged in a year, from 23 cents to 22 cents. In fact, average pay for women compared with average pay for men hasn't really changed in more than a decade.
The silver lining (and it's a big one): The president signed two equal pay executive orders in April. Federal contract workers will soon be protected from retaliation if they discuss their salaries. And the U.S. Department of Labor will start collecting data from federal contractors on what they pay their employees, noting gender, race, and ethnicity. These data will help us work toward solutions to closing the gap. The president also announced a fair pay executive order in July that requires prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations. Plus, the Senate voted to bring the long-stalled Paycheck Fairness Act up for debate for the first time. Look out, 2015.
The bad news: No question about it -- the U.S. Supreme Court made some bad decisions in 2014. The court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that employees' use of contraception is their bosses' business, which opens the door for bosses to weigh in on whether employees are able to access other types of health coverage.
The silver lining: Thank goodness for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now widely known as the Notorious RBG, and her scathing dissents. Her reproach of the Hobby Lobby decision ignited a national outcry. Not hard to believe considering 99 percent of sexually active women have used contraception.
The Glass Ceiling
The bad news: Women's representation in the House and the Senate still won't reach 20 percent in the 114th Congress, and committee leadership is almost exclusively male. Women also are underrepresented in STEM, the media, upper management, and Fortune 500 companies. The list goes on.
The silver lining: Thank goodness for female firsts (and hallelujah for the day when they're no longer notable). In 2014, Janet Yellen became the first female chair of the Federal Reserve Board; Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; Becky Hammon became the first female regular-season assistant coach in the NBA; Megan Brennan became the first female U.S. postmaster general; Adm. Michelle Howard became the Navy's first female four-star officer; and Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal for excellence in math. Plus, 13-year-old Mo'ne Davis was the first girl to throw a shutout in Little League World Series history and the first Little League player ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Campus Sexual Assault
The bad news: We have a campus sexual assault epidemic on our hands. More than 90 schools are under investigation for Title IX violations related to sexual violence, thanks to solid enforcement by the U.S. Department of Education. Some schools are failing in their response to campus sexual assaults, and the criminal justice system, when involved, too often revictimizes the survivor.
The silver lining: Fortunately the issue is in the national spotlight thanks to survivor- and student-led campaigns and the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, its groundbreaking report in April with recommendations for colleges and universities, and the new website NotAlone.gov, which consolidates resources for students and schools. The It's On Us campaign has helped spread the word that it's on every one of us to end this epidemic, and smart schools understand that Title IX is the very tool they need to improve campus climates for everyone.
The bad news: You may not be over the results of the 2014 election, and that's okay. We're still seriously bummed about the folks who stayed home (ladies, young voters, Latinos -- your voices are important and you were missed!), and we're concerned about some of the folks who got elected and how their actions will affect women's ability to make their own health decisions or workers' ability to earn a livable wage.
The silver lining: Still, some workers, specifically those in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, will get a raise thanks to voter-passed minimum wage increases in your states. Plus, voters in Illinois said they supported a minimum wage increase. The state of Massachusetts and three municipalities passed paid sick days legislation, and Oregon voters passed an Equal Rights for Women amendment. During this election, the issues we care about were front and center, and several states and cities made progress on families' economic security. We can build on that.
All of these silver linings are appearing because of the work we did in 2014, and they're our reason for working even harder -- and inviting more friends to join us -- in 2015. Congressional gridlock may prove challenging, but elected officials can't get anything done without women. Plus, you'd better believe that the 2016 election is on everyone's minds, and both parties will need to listen to voters. That's an opportunity we won't miss.