Remaking history for North Carolina’s women of color

Remaking history for North Carolina’s women of color
March 03
00:00 2016

Gladys Robinson

Guest Columnist

[Editor’s note: March is National Women’s History Month.]

Black History Month is a time to recall the struggles of people of color in our country and to celebrate accomplishments in racial, economic and social justice that bring us all closer to the vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promoted by our founders.

We are reminded today, as we daily witness economic hardship, the aftermath of gun violence, mass incarceration, and rising inequality that enriches the one percent at the expense of our middle class, that these struggles are not just part of the past, but also shape the future.

No one is more impacted by the historical legacies of racism, sexism, classism and oppression than women of color, who continue to face persistent barriers and obstacles on every issue from fair pay and affordable health care to quality education and the wealth gap that we’ve seen historically. To make the kind of real progress that changes our history moving forward, we need a deliberate effort to address these issues and our approach must lead with race, class and gender.

In 2016, we need more than resolutions and political rhetoric to fix the economy and address inequality in our state; we need a plan. Now is the time for our elected leaders to make sure that they understand and are working for the people they represent. They need to be working with colleagues and advocates to take meaningful action on the policy priorities that will help make the lives better for those who are most struggling in our current economy:  women, particularly women of color, and their families.

For too long, women have been left behind in economic and workplace policies, even as they become more prominent in the economy, the workplace and in public life. Women today are half of all others, half of the workforce and increasingly leading households as sole breadwinners for their families. But although the economy has changed tremendously because of increased participation from women, our workplace policies and legislative priorities have not kept up.

Women remain unequal to men when it comes to every economic indicator. Not only have women not reached parity at work in terms of pay, leadership positions, or promotions, but women face constant attacks on their reproductive options, with little acknowledgement that if, when and how many children a woman has is a primary indicator of her economic status.  In North Carolina, on average, a woman who holds a full-time job is paid $33,459 per year while a man who holds a full-time job is paid $41,950 per year. This means that women in North Carolina are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap of $8,491 between men and women who work full time in the state. That gap is even wider for black women and Latina women.  Because of North Carolina politicians refusal to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and provide women preventive health care including birth control, women are less able to control their economic fates or to make basic decisions about their families.

Public policy can have a real impact on people’s lives. We expect our elected leaders to resolve to tackle issues that matter to families, like access to affordable childcare and paid family leave.

Parents, particularly single working mothers, have few affordable child-care options.  Over 65 percent of all children have both parents in the workforce, yet the cost of child-care for families is increasing.  The cost of childcare is more than rent in many places and a four-year education at a public university.

Since women more often have to take time off from work to care for children and for aging relatives, they face additional discrimination and lower earnings as a result of lost wages. About 20 percent of all women in the United States have or will provide at least part-time care to an elderly or disabled relative, family member or friend, and many will do so by sacrificing their own earning potential or retiring early. In fact, the average female caregiver loses $40,000 more in lost wages and Social Security benefits than the average male caregiver.

Although having children clearly carries real economic consequences for women and their families, attacks on women’s reproductive health care access to decide when, how and if to have children is at an all time high. More anti-woman state laws were passed last year than in the previous three years, with even more proposed for this year. Politically motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of family planning services in the country, erodes access to reproductive health care and endangers women’s ability to determine the size of their families as well as their economic security. These attacks do the greatest damage to poor women and women of color who often face the greatest economic barriers to getting birth control and abortion and depend most on providers like Planned Parenthood for everything from contraception to preventative health care.

This year, our state legislature must move forward on the priorities of women and families rather than spending the session turning back the clock on reproductive health care, starting with the most impacted women: low-income women of color. We must insist in 2016 that every lawmaker stand with women and families by protecting reproductive health care, advancing equal pay for equal work, and passing paid leave and childcare policies that enable women to take care of their families. And, we must be clear that any politician who wants to focus on a narrow, partisan agenda to distract us from this plan is standing in the way of progress not just for women, but for the whole state.

By working together to stand with women and families in the legislative session, we can be on the right side of history by increasing equity for all women, particularly women of color. Together, we can build a North Carolina legacy worthy of celebration.

Gladys Ashe Robinson is a health services executive and a Democratic State Senator for the 28th district (Guilford County). She serves as the Deputy Minority Leader in the North Carolina General Assembly.

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