Four ways elected leaders can do better for women and families


By Amanda Litvinov

More than 80 percent of public school teachers are women, but that’s not the only reason educators care about women’s rights. Doing the best we can legislatively to support and empower women helps families, entire communities and the next generation. Here are four ways that our elected leaders could do better.

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1. Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

Although the Violence Against Women Act has been credited with reducing domestic violence rates by more than half since its passage in 1994, Senate Republicans dug in their heels against the bill’s reauthorization this spring. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he and his GOP peers simply did not believe that expanding the law to provide better outreach for underserved women — specifically, those who are immigrants, Native American or gay — is worth the money it would cost.

lady with green eyes
photo by Dithedy

“The idea that only certain people are worthy of the full protections this law affords goes against all that we teach our students and our own children about American values,” said Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah and current vice president of the National Education Association.

The House version of the bill does not include the new protections.

President Obama has been unwavering in his support to end domestic violence, building protections into the health care reform and strongly urging Congress to reauthorize the Senate version of the VAWA. Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in the original bill’s passage, issued a statement in September on the Act’s 18th anniversary, expressing his dismay that it has not been reauthorized.

“While women and girls face these devastating realities every day, reauthorization of a strengthened VAWA languishes in Congress,” he said. “VAWA is just as important today as it was when it first became law, and I urge Congress to keep the promise we made to our daughters and our granddaughters on that day — that we would work together to keep them safe.”

2. Don’t try to redefine rape

Ousted U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) and defeated U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R-IN) were among those who reminded us this year that critical ignorance about rape still exists. Voters held them accountable. After all, what we need from legislators is not a reimagining of what constitutes “legitimate rape,” but better ways to support all victims of this violent and devastating crime.

3. Get on board with health care reform

As portions of the Affordable Care Act have taken effect, women have gained remarkably improved access to health care and more choices are now in their hands rather than the companies that insure them.

President Obama and Vice President Biden react after the House approves the Affordable Care Act in March 2010
President Obama and Vice President Biden react after the House approves the Affordable Care Act in March 2010

Gone are the days when insurance companies could charge women more for their premiums just because of their gender. And the Affordable Care Act gives women unprecedented free access to eight crucial services that can help doctors catch and treat serious conditions in the early stages (including screenings for cancer, high cholesterol, and gestational diabetes). Before “Obamacare,” too many women would forgo these services because they could not afford the associated fees, and sought medical attention only when their medical problems had progressed to more dangerous stages (worse for the patient and a far greater drain on the system than preventive care).

report issued in August by the Department of Health and Human Services states that approximately 47 million women will benefit from these preventive services alone.

But some GOP governors are still doing what they can to halt progress on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, passive-aggressively refusing to get to work on creating insurance exchanges or expanding Medicaid.

A recent report in The Hill shows mounting frustration with those governors who say they haven’t had ample time for implementation.

“It seems to me it’s just the latest attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) told The Hill. “Let’s not buy into this next line of attack that the law must be delayed.”

4. Take wage discrimination seriously

Women earn an estimated 77.5 percent of men’s annual earnings. In this tough economy, more and more families rely on women’s earnings, and unfair pay practices just make things harder.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to address gender-based income disparity, was defeated in June in a party-line vote. The Act aimed to close loopholes that perpetuate wage discrimination and bar retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to coworkers.

President Obama called the legislation a “common-sense bill,” and yet there was not a single Republican co-sponsor. Can’t we do better in 2013?

If you have additional ideas about smart legislation that would support women and girls, please leave a comment!

Reader Comments

  1. Legislators can help women teachers out by repealing the WEP and GPO – Social Security Provisions and Offsets that disallow public workers in 15 states from receiving the Social Security they and the spouses earned in the private sector.

    Statistically, the largest group affected by these offsets are women teachers. And even though these offsets only affect those in 15 states, people move around so much, that this is a national problem that takes an Act of Congress to undo.

    It is part of the wage discrimination story – and in many cases, denying Social Security when a teacher picks up their public pension puts a teacher in poverty.

    My husband and I are both mid-career teachers and, unless there is a repeal, we will be denied over 50 years of contribution to Social Security.

    We need NEA’s continued help to fix these discriminatory and unfair laws.

    1. This is especially true of people who are in 2nd career situations. I worked over 25 years in Puerto Rico contributing to Social Security, but at a salary that is approximately 50% of the mainland U.S. rate. Now that I am in Texas teaching- I am facing a retirement income of $466. for only 10 year period because of my age and income without having the ability to utilize the Social Security which I fully contributed and paid for. Saying I can’t retire is an understatement. .

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