Yesterday, I was honored to speak to the GLOW Women March in Batavia, NY. Despite the snow, an enthusiastic crowd of women and supporters joined in for the event. I thought I’d take a moment to share my speech with you.
One summer, during law school, I interned at Neighborhood Legal Services, where we represented people facing eviction and, ultimately, homelessness. Our clients were almost all women, most of them single mothers, living paycheck to paycheck. One woman didn’t have $50 to pay her share of the rent, reminding me of the days when I was a young single mother without fifty dollars to my name. Another woman was facing eviction, because her bus driving job had laid her off for the summer and she had some unexpected car trouble that month.
The reason for these struggles is varied. For instance, the NYC Comptroller’s office recently found that Latina women in the area were paid only 49 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. We know, too, that lack of access to education and work opportunities play a significant role. Furthermore, the UN reports that structural constraints limit the opportunities for rural women to reduce poverty.
One factor, though, that doesn’t get enough mention is the lack of access to safe, affordable childcare. Having childcare can mean the difference between gaining skills and experience needed to enjoy a career, or working a low-wage job with few future prospects. It is the difference between building generational wealth or continuing the cycle of poverty.
Yet for so many women, it is unattainable. Childcare costs more than college tuition in most states, and the WNY Women’s Foundation reports that, even with childcare subsidies provided for some, hundreds more families don’t get the childcare they need, because the funding simply isn’t there.
Even highly skilled women find themselves choosing between their careers and their children. And while I applaud those women who make an informed choice to stay home out of a passion to do so, no one should be sidelined in their career because the cost of child care and absurdly short family leave policies.
That simply isn’t acceptable. If we want to make a more equitable world, we must recognize that childcare and family leave are undeniably economic issues, with serious effects for women and their families.
I want to invite you to dream with me: Dream about a world where the issues that keep women on the sidelines are addressed, not as fringe issues, but as serious issues that affect, not only the net worth of families, and the potential of young children, but the GDP of the entire nation. Not only would there be fewer single mothers facing eviction, or choosing between medication and diapers, but we would be a nation of increased talent, creativity, and productivity.
That is the world we can build! But we can only do that when we stop placing women-centric issues on the backburner. We need to stop pretending that the workforce model developed to support a male workforce during the Industrial Revolution still works today.
But there is hope. Every time we enter the voting booth, we have the chance to push our issues to center stage.
And make no mistake, every single election, whether it’s for dog catcher or for Congress, is a chance to fight for the issues that matter to women and families, by propelling skilled, principled women into leadership.
A government by the people for the people can’t happen without true representation and inclusion. And that’s ours to create locally. So, let’s do it!!