COLUMN: Women’s Day–100 years later and we’ve still got a lot of work to DO

Members+of+the+West+Virginia+House+of+Delegates+Democratic+Women%E2%80%99s+Caucus+pose+for+group+photo.

Perry Bennett

Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates Democratic Women’s Caucus pose for group photo.

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We come from different parts of this great state, from different life and professional experiences, some of us have served before and some of us are in our second year of service, but we are all working together to improve the lives of West Virginia women and families through legislation, advocacy and awareness. When we put West Virginia women first, we put our state on a path to greater opportunity. 

While women make up 50 percent of our state’s population, our voice in the statehouse has been soft or non-existent. On the 100th year of the Suffrage Movement and white, married women in our country gaining the right to vote, together as the Democratic Women’s Caucus, we pledge to continue to uplift our collective voice to support all women and families by supporting economic security, protecting women’s health care, promoting equal pay for equal work, preventing sexual assault and domestic violence and encouraging more women in government. 

When we put West Virginia women first, we put their ability to earn equal pay for equal work in reach; we ensure affordable, quality childcare so women and men have shared opportunities to pursue professional careers; we enact paid family medical leave so no mother is forced to choose between caring for a family member or earning morning to help support a household; and we put money in the pockets of working West Virginia families by enacting a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit. 

These policies elevate women and children from poverty, preserve basic needs to support families, close the gender wage-gap and support family-friendly workplaces. 

West Virginia has the fourth largest gender pay gap in the nation, with women earning 71 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. In 2018, median annual earnings for men in West Virginia were $46,346 compared to $32,778 for women. The pay gap is even wider for women of color. Not addressing this disparity sends a signal to young women in West Virginia that their work is not of equal value and their professional ambitious are best suited outside of our great state. We have an opportunity to change that by passing the Katherine A. Johnson Equal Pay Act. 

Another policy that would increase economic security and keep more of our young women and families in West Virginia would be to enact a state-level Earned Income Tax Cut. More than 400,000 West Virginians would qualify for the credit and be able to put that money right back in our local economies. 

Ensuring that our state has family-friendly work policies helps us attract and retain talented individuals. No family member should face the decision of earning money or caring for a loved one. That’s why we are supporting paid family medical leave that improves employee retention, morale and productivity. 

In West Virginia, unpaid leave under the Federal Medical Leave Act is inaccessible to 61 percent of workers, either because they are not eligible for FMLA or cannot afford to take unpaid time off. There’s a nine-percentage point gap in labor force participation between men and women in our state, in part because we lack family-friendly policies.  

Additionally, West Virginia must prioritize and protect women’s health care and access to it. This means moving forward not backward on accessibility to affordable, preventive care, to affordable family planning and birth control and routine, life-saving screenings. 

Putting West Virginia women first means listening to women. It means prioritizing the safety of all women in this state, and when their safety and rights have been violated, taking steps toward justice and recovery in a timely manner. Our state has failed women – and all victims – with its backlog of sexual assault kits. We must expedite the processing and testing of these kits. We can do that by passing House Bill 4476. These victims deserve our attention and their justice

To move these issues forward we have to encourage women to run for office on every level. Our state’s representation is better served when it is reflective of our state’s population. The issues that everyday West Virginians face are better brought to light when people just like them serve. West Virginia ranks 50th for women in the state legislature. When young women see women lead in government they don’t wonder if one day they could serve their communities but know they can and should. 

After 100 years of having a voice in government, it is evident there remains a lot more work to do. We need to act on these proven policies that uplift West Virginia women and families and encourage others to do the same. That’s why we are calling on Congress to extend the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal legal rights to all American citizens, regardless of sex. It is never too late to do right by our mothers, daughters and sisters.