Equal Pay: Only Part of the Battle

gendergapOne of life’s most misleading axioms is that the majority will always win.

If that was the case, then women would be running the show, at least here in the United States. As of December 2013, women outnumber their male counterparts by at least 4.9 million, and make up 51% of the country’s population (a percentage that has stayed roughly the same for the past decade or so). That’s a lot of wo-manpower.

Alas, it seems that sheer numbers is the only arena in which women have the upper hand. Women working full-time, year-round jobs in the United States still make only 77 cents to every dollar that their male counterparts make, and in 2012 the median annual earnings for women ages 15 or older working full-time, year-round jobs were $37,791 while the median annual earnings for males in identical positions were $49,398. This, more than 50 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act.


Fortunately, President Obama took steps to rectify the “gender gap” in pay this past Tuesday when he signed an executive order requiring all federal contractors to publish wage and labor data stratified into race and gender groups, in order to comply with federal wage laws. Props, Barry. Unfortunately, when Congress had the opportunity yesterday to extend this same transparency to the private sector and make it a universal requirement for all companies and corporations, it dropped the ball and rejected the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014, after having already rejected it twice in recent years. Guess the third time isn’t always the charm?

As disappointing as Wednesday’s loss might be, what’s even more disheartening is realizing that it’s just another let-down in a long list for women when it comes to the rights they deserve. Like a right that every human being deserves to have, regardless of gender, but which more and more women are having stripped away from them each year: the right to physical integrity (which basically means the right to determine what is going to happen to their bodies at any given time).

In a recent interview while promoting his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, former President Jimmy Carter spoke about the very real and pressing issue of human trafficking. According to the US State Department’s figures, roughly 800,000 people were sold across international borders in the past year, with 80% of those victims being women and young girls sold into sexual slavery. What’s even more staggering is the fact that of that 80% of women and girls, 100,000 of them are being sold right here in the United States. That’s right. They’re being forcibly shipped here to work in illegal massage parlors and to walk the streets at night servicing clients, taken from their families and friends and everything they know in this life to live a literal hell-on-Earth.

Engaging in an effort to stem the influx of people being brought against their will to the US, the Obama administration signed an act in 2013 reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which helps provide valuable federal resources to victims and prosecutors of human traffickers alike.

This is a victory in and of itself, but a mitigated one, because how effective can a piece of legislation protecting federal programs and initiatives be if there is no money to fund those programs and initiatives? Time to be real: the amount of federal funds allocated to fighting human trafficking is pitifully, laughably small. In 2010, the total amount of money that the US federal government spent on combating human trafficking and prosecuting traffickers was roughly 190 million dollars. On the other hand, in that same year, the federal government spent 7.7 billion dollars enforcing the prohibition on marijuana and prosecuting its illegal sale and consumption. That’s right. Billion. You can pop your eyeballs back into your head now. Imagine how much money they could make (and then distribute) if marijuana was legalized and taxed?

Protecting and liberating women and young girls from the very dangerous and very stark reality of forced sex work and human trafficking should always take precedence over regulating the use of a substance that has already been approved for medicinal use in many states.  What do these ridiculous figures say about our priorities as a nation? What do they say about how we view the merit and worth of women — the mothers and sisters and daughters and friends – in our lives?

During the speech he gave when he passed the executive order on Tuesday, President Obama said “We don’t have second-class citizens in this country.” Well, Mr. President, please indulge us for a moment while we paint a little metaphor: imagine that the American economy is an airplane, ready to launch into the future, and you’re the pilot. What do you call it when all the boys get to sit in first-class, right up front by you, while all the ladies have to sit in economy by the bathrooms (or business at best)? What do you call it when members of a group are being sold into modern-day slavery, having their fundamental rights removed, while very little is being done to liberate them? That sounds a lot like a second-class citizenry to us. Tuesday’s executive order is indeed a win, there’s no doubt about that, but that doesn’t mean we as a nation can rest on our laurels and say, “Well, that take cares of that. Everybody (in the federal sector) has equal pay, the gender gap is gone.”

When it comes to making the sexes truly equal — that includes pay, physical integrity, and sexual autonomy, among many other things – there’s still a whole lot of work to be done.

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