Women’s Equality is a Social Work Issue
Lauren Frederico, MSW, Organizer, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
Editor’s Note: The NYC Chapter has endorsed the Women’s Equality Agenda, which is discussed below. Just before the newsletter was completed, Governor Cuomo introduced legislation to enact the agenda on June 5th.
During his state of the state address in January, Governor Cuomo announced plans to advance a ten point Women’s Equality Agenda that seeks to break down multiple forms of gender based discrimination in New York. The proposal encompasses a wide range of issues including access to reproductive health care, pay equity, domestic violence and tenants’ rights. Informed by conversations with service providers and advocacy groups across the state, the governor’s office convened a group of 20 organizations, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, to lead the charge around the groundbreaking initiative. Since then, the agenda has garnered widespread support. To date more than 800 organizations from every corner of New York State, including NASW-NYC, have joined the New York Women’s Equality Coalition. Together these groups are working together to raise awareness around the barriers impeding women’s equality in New York.
As we work toward equity and fairness, the agenda brings to focus the intersection of racism and gender-based discrimination. In my work with this coalition, I have approached this effort with the understanding that the problems and solutions, outlined in the Women’s Equality Agenda impact social workers as individuals and employees, in addition to the clients and communities we work with who all too often find themselves at the axis of marginalized identities and discriminatory practices.
While gender discrimination cannot be solved by passing legislation alone, the Women’s Equality Agenda presents an exciting opportunity for dialogue and movement in the fight for women’s rights. Some of the agenda’s goals directly tackle gender-based discrimination and socio-economic marginalization, which too often disproportionately affect communities of color. For example, the agenda seeks to:
• Achieve Pay Equity
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Fifty years later, women in New York only earn between 55 and 80 cents for every dollar that a man earns, with women of color, and in particular Black and Latino women, earning the least. These statistics are important reminders about sexism and racism in the workplace and that the fight for equal pay, for us and our clients, continues.
• End Family Status Discrimination
In social work, a profession historically defined as “women’s work,” we are no strangers to the way gender stereotypes impact the way work is valued. Even today, in New York City, mothers are less likely to be hired and are offered lower salaries than women without children (and fathers). This form of discrimination exacerbates the existing wage gap. Currently more than 26 percent of households headed by women in New York City live below the poverty level.
• Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All
It is not uncommon for a pregnant woman to be pushed out of her job after making requests for temporary accommodations at work. The lack of accommodation disproportionately impacts low-income women who work in positions that require manual work or extended periods of standing. Women should not have to choose between their health or their employment. Common examples of appropriate modifications for pregnant workers would include a stool to sit on, more frequent restroom breaks or an altered uniform.
These represent only three of the 10 points included within the Women’s Equality Agenda., and yet each of them speaks to an important opportunity to create a more equitable state for New York’s women and families.
The governor’s agenda marks the beginning of a conversation and opens the door for us to think holistically about the intersecting challenges facing New Yorkers today. It provides a platform to elevate future conversations about equality and the intersecting challenges New York women face, including discrimination based on race, class, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and immigration status. These elements are present in our work every day, the NASW’s code of ethics and its continued commitment to social justice provides a framework for moving NYC forward.
Ways for NYC based social workers to get involved:
• Representatives and supporters of the New York Women’s Equality Coalition gathered on June 4th for #NY4Women Rally and Lobby Day in Albany. Visit www.nyclu.org/we for more info.
• Get your organization to sign on! Add your organization or business to the list of more than 800 supporters across the state.
• Contact your elected officials. Let them know women in NYC, and across the state, are still facing barriers. Even if you think your elected officials are in support, let them know you are paying attention and appreciate their commitment to issues of equality.
• Keep the conversation going. The women’s equality coalition includes medical professionals, small business owners, lawyers, labor and social workers and demonstrates the ways we can work across disciplines to help achieve equality.
• New York has the power to solve many of the problems impeding women’s equality by simply amending state law. Empowering New York women to once again make history depends on leveling the playing field here in New York. This agenda, and the extraordinary range of businesses and groups supporting it, underscores that full equality for women cannot be achieved by taking partial steps or by focusing solely on a single barrier to equality. The agenda and the coalition behind it recognize that women’s struggles, and the solutions, are all interconnected. This is an opportunity for activists across professional lines to engage in a sincere dialogue about the inequalities that exist today, and to plant seeds for future movements toward equity and fairness.
We welcome letters and comments.
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