On August 26th, 2017, we were proud to celebrate National Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
However, even after the United States constitutionally expanded the right to vote, countless women were still disenfranchised and kept from voting. African-Americans were subjected to literacy tests and poll taxes, and many states even had laws on the books barring Native Americans from voting. The fight to end these laws and ensure all women were able to exercise their right to vote continued for decades.
This is an important lesson we should all remember: Progress is a continuous process. We should never rest on our laurels, and should instead look for new and innovative ways to ensure equality for all residents. In that spirit, we are working hard to fight for women’s equality right here in New Jersey.
It is an outright shame that funding for women’s healthcare in our state has been continuously slashed and eliminated since 2010. This crucial family planning funding helps provide cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexualy transmitted infections (STIs), and other services that women across New Jersey depend on. Since 2010, we have seen an alarming 35 increase in STIs statewide, and a significant increase in the number of breast and cervical cancer cases.
We have twice sponsored legislation to restore this funding, and twice it has been blocked by the Governor. But we believe access to care should not depend on a woman’s income or zip code, and we will continue leading the fight to restore this funding.
In New Jersey, we have some of the strongest laws barring wage discrimination. But even so, the gender wage gap persists, and women in New Jersey working full time lose a combined $16 billion every year due to the wage gap. This hurts women, it hurts families, and it hurts our economy. The wage gap is insidious, and we cannot say that current laws are “good enough” while women across our state are still paid less than men.
That is exactly why we sponsored legislation to strengthen existing discrimination laws in New Jersey, and why we authored a bill that would bar employers from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history - a practice often used to pay employees less than they deserve. It’s also why we introduced a bill to ensure prompt payment of Temporary Disability Insurance payments, which are used often by working mothers to compensate for lost wages while out on maternity leave.
New Jersey can and should be a leader on the issue of wage discrimination, and we are not done working toward simple, common-sense solutions that will have a huge positive impact for women in the workplace.
Even in the year 2017, we have a lot of work to do to ensure women’s equality. But as long as we are in the Legislature, we intend to fight tooth and nail on behalf of women all across New Jersey.