“It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America” ~ Patricia Arquette, 2015 Academy Awards
If you were able to convey one message to 36 million people at the same time, what would that message be? You’d choose carefully, right? For us, the cause of wage equality was a fitting one to lift up at the Academy Awards in 2015.
Fitting, urgent, and compelling: wage inequality impacts women in nearly every profession and every job category. It not only harms women, but entire families, including children and men who rely on women’s earnings. And it is hurting women of color the most. Nationally, African American women make just 60 cents and Latinas just 55 cents to one dollar earned by white men. California is one of the worst states in the nation in terms of the pay gap for Latinas; here Latinas make just 44 cents to one dollar earned by white men.
It has been a year since the moment when women’s equality took center stage at the Academy Awards. It has been a year of tremendous progress, as Hollywood activists have joined hands with advocates and community members and legislators and business leaders. We’ve been inspired by the range of allies invested in unearthing, exposing, and addressing wage inequality impacting nearly every industry – from Jennifer Lawrence to leaders at Salesforce to members of the national Equal Pay Today! Campaign. Currently, there are efforts in multiple states to close the pay gap.
The California Fair Pay Act, the strongest equal pay law in the country, was signed into law by Governor Brown this year. The bill was a centerpiece of a broader women’s economic security campaign called Stronger California: Securing Economic Opportunities for All Women, led by the state’s top advocates, which promotes policy reform to address poverty, expand access to childcare, and ensure fair pay and family friendly workplaces. We certainly have not removed all of the obstacles faced by women and families in California, but the momentum to do so is fierce.
But what about the rest of the nation? As the newly released documentary Equal Means Equal, made by filmmaker Kamala Lopez, reveals, women’s progress is seriously hampered. More than one in seven women – nearly 18.4 million – and more than one in five children – more than 15.5 million – lived in poverty in 2014. More than half of all poor children lived in families headed by women. Employers are firing pregnant workers who request bathroom breaks or a stool to sit on while working. Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in the U.S. In 2014, 38 states introduced legislative provisions to limit women’s access to critical health care services. While President Obama has approved executive orders to close the gender wage gap, federal legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act continues to stall in Congress. And both executive orders and legislation can be repealed.
Whether you are paid equally or protected from violence or have access to health care should not depend on the state in which you live or the political whims of legislators. That is why we are joining partners across the country to call for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced into Congress in 1923. It provides simply: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It sets a national standard that cannot be repealed.
Polls indicate that 90 percent of Americans support the Equal Rights Amendment. But the political momentum needed to move this amendment has not matched the pace of popular demand. We can change that. Federal and state legislators have renewed efforts to pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and you can support this critical women’s equality effort on Change.org by clicking here. As the 2015 Oscars demonstrated, the movement for women’s equality is a movement of inspirational moments. This is an important one to seize. It will take all of us in a sustained effort to improve the lives of families across the nation. We think the U.S. Constitution is an excellent place to start.
Patricia Arquette is an Academy Award winning actress and activist, and Noreen Farrell is the Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, one of the nation’s leading non-profits fighting for women’s equality.