The State of Our Union: Feminists in Congress Vow to Fight on for Women’s Equality

Feminists from the House of Representatives, all dressed in “suffragette white,” came together Tuesday to sound the alarm on issues facing women across the country. The Democratic Women’s Working Group’s press conference served as a sort of pre-emptive strike to Trump’s State of the Union address that night—and offered up a State of the American Women address instead.

“Despite the considerable progress made by women, the Trump Administration continues to harm our advancements and set women and their families backward,” the group announced in a press statement. “The Democratic Women’s Working Group is committed to advancing solutions on pay equity and raising wages, expanding family-friendly policies, access to education and skilled jobs, reproductive justice and affordable health care, combatting workplace harassment and discrimination, ending women’s poverty, keeping families together and more. On the day that the President will deliver his State of the Union Address, we will address how the Democratic women will work to strengthen the State of Our Union and how our solutions leave no woman behind. ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro—cheekily referred to as “the godmother of pay equity”—took to the podium to decry the rollbacks of equal pay policies by the Trump administration—specifically, Trump’s suspension of the EEO-1 rule, which required employers to report information on pay rates for different demographic groups based on gender, race and ethnicity. “[The administration] effectively reversed steps put in place by the Obama Administration,” she explained, “to fix the gender pay gap.” 

Representatives Lois Frankel, Karen Bass and Veronica Escobar followed suit.

“Women make up 40 percent of breadwinners today,” Frankel said, “yet the research shows that women are still earning 80 cents on the dollar [when compared to men].” 

Bass and Escobar later reminded those in attendance that for women of color, the gap runs even wider. “Black women in the United States are typically paid sixty-one cents for every dollar paid to a white man,” Bass said. “But instead of creating job programs and raising wages…[Trump] signs a tax scam to benefit only the richest Americans.” Escobar also noted that Latinas face additional economic challenges “when it comes to access to good salaries and great jobs.”

The Trump administration’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act also came into sharp focus during the lawmakers’ remarks. DeLauro praised the Obama-era program for ending gender-based discrimination in healthcare pricing: “being a woman,” she said, “for the first time, was not a preexisting condition.” While the administration hasn’t attempted to end the ACA outright, Trump’s policies are leading the program to what Bass called “death by a million cuts.”  

Lawmakers also reminded the crowd that the law mandated that birth control and other reproductive healthcare be provided at little or no cost—and Representative Ayanna Pressley pointed out that for women of color, that kind of care is more critical than ever. Black infants are almost twice as likely to die as white infants in the U.S. today, and Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

But even as they outlined the serious challenges facing women and girls in the U.S., the newly-elected feminists of the 116th Congress and their senior counterparts also made room for optimism.

“This White House administration has tried to close its doors on women, but we will not be locked out,”Representative Brenda Lawrence declared. “To an administration that has closed its eyes to women: We will be seen. To an administration that has refused to listen to us: We will be heard. We will continue to fight for equal pay for equal work and access to quality healthcare. We will fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment. We will continue to fight to lift women and their families out of poverty.”

Pressley echoed the sentiment. “Tonight, we expect the occupant of the White House to utter the customary phrase, ‘The state of our union is strong,'” she said. “If that is true, it has nothing to do with the Trump administration. If our union is strong, it is because of the people who have persisted in spite of—not because of— this current administration.”

She closed with a powerful reminder: “We have each other, and we are the majority.”

You can watch the full press conference below.

On the day that the President will deliver his #SOTU address, @HouseDemWomen will address solutions to strengthen the State of OUR Union, leaving no woman behind.

Posted by Rep. Brenda Lawrence on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world’s most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.

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