Last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he is planning to lead the fight against gender discrimination, starting in his own state. The governor’s third state address was both progressive and bold, outlining a proposed ten point package of legislation known as the Women’s Equality Act. If passed into law, the act will guarantee equal pay for women, combat sexual harassment in the workplace, protect women’s right to choose, strengthen laws against human trafficking, and ensure that single mothers have improved access to affordable housing, among others. Women’s rights activists across New York State quickly expressed their support for the act.
If passed, the legislation will be a major stepping-stone in battling both conscious and unconscious gender discrimination in the workplace, and will help to make women safer from everything from domestic violence to sexual harassment.
While Cuomo’s newly proposed legislation is both admirable and necessary, women across the country are left wondering why such a bill hasn’t been proposed in their home state, and why the Obama administration has not been more aggressive in its fight against gender discrimination throughout the United States. While Obama has spoken out against the gender pay gap, nothing has been done to address the issue since the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter act in 2009. Despite the fact that the Ledbetter act makes it easier for women to bring discriminatory employers to court, the gender pay gap is still alive and well in the United States. In fact, recent reports claim that even women working in the White House are paid significantly less than their male colleagues, and are underrepresented in an administration that vocally supports gender equality.
Although it may seem difficult to believe in the 21st century, gender discrimination is still a huge problem in the United States. The Global Gender Gap Report, published each year following the World Economic Forum, rated the United States number 22 on its list for 2012. Countries such as the Philippines, Lesotho, Latvia and South Africa all rated higher than the United States in regards to gender equality. The pay gap between men and women in the U.S. is above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, and various studies have demonstrated that women earn around 82% of what men earn in all occupations. Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing are the only exceptions to this rule. Additionally, the pay gap increases for women after motherhood.
While the causes that lead employers to offer female employees lower salaries will not be eradicated overnight, it seems clear that legislation is more than necessary if employers are to be held accountable. The Women’s Equality Act proposed by Governor Cuomo is inclusive enough to be just the legislation that women across the country can support. Other initiatives supported by Obama (such as the White House sponsored Council on Women and Girls) are a positive step forward, but New York is doubtlessly leading the way in the fight against gender discrimination.