Why should we pass the Women’s Equality Act?
This past June, Governor Andrew Cuomo strongly advocated for the passing of all 10 points of the Women’s Equality Act in New York state. Nine of these 10 bills had approval among both the population and the lawmakers, but none of the bills were passed in the last election. This shocked many N.Y. residents; for a socially progressive state, it is incongruous that so many different provisions for gender equality are not covered legally.
The failure of the act is often credited to the “all-or-nothing” approach that both nonprofit activists and politicians like Cuomo took on the issue — they didn’t want the least popular of the 10 bills, entitled Safeguarding Reproductive Health, to be dropped off the act. Although when the voting finally occurred, advocates decided that each bill could be voted on separately, it was already too late in the political process.
But, when it comes around next legislative session, why should you care about this act? Why does it matter?
Courtesy of the Women’s Equality Coalition, the bill would entail:
1. Strengthening laws that require Equal Pay for Equal Work
2. Ending Sexual Harassment on the job for Every Employee
3. Allowing for Attorney’s Fees in Employment, Credit, and Housing Sex Discrimination Cases
4. Ending Familial Status Discrimination
5.Ending Discrimination in Housing based on Domestic Violence Victim Status &?Source of Income
6.Ensuring that Victims of Domestic Violence are not punished for “violating” their own Order of Protection
7. Creating a Pilot Program for Remote Access to Orders of Protection
8. Strengthening laws against Human Trafficking
9. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination
10. Safeguarding Reproductive Health*
Some of these bills are based on the elaboration of existing bills. An example of this is point no. 2: there is already legislation against workplace sexual harassment in N.Y., but until this bill is passed, it won’t cover employers with fewer than four employees.
When it comes to other provisions it might be shocking, but some laws just don’t exist in New York state. For point no. 4, for example, the official statement of the bill is: “Women with children are less likely to be recommended for hire and promoted, and, in most cases, are offered less in salary than similarly situated men. Currently, State law protects against familial status discrimination in housing, but not employment.”
The final provision, under the name of “reproductive health,” was the one that led to the most controversy. As the bill’s Senate support statement articulates, “New York became one of the first states to provide women the right to choose prior to Roe and therefore did not include elements now protected under federal law.” This bill would not change anything about New York state law, but it would formally incorporate Roe v. Wade into state law.
To me, at least, it seems pretty incredible that so many of these rights are not law. Principles becoming legitimate policy is so important for progress to truly occur in government. Whether you identify as a woman or not, the right to have your job not be based on your perceived gender or parental role is important — equality is important.
So, now that you know why this act is important, what can you to get it back on the floor- and to get your representatives to vote for it next time it is?
- Learn more about it! There is great information on Governor Cuomo’s website and at nywomensequality.org . For a straight-up description of each bill, you can visit open.nysenate.gov.
- Sign petitions! Call your representatives!
- And tell others! Whether it’s the bill about domestic violence victims or pregnant women, so many people can identify with what the act supports.
Your voice can make a difference so that New York, and therefore the whole United States, can more truly defend equality.
Alexa Salvato is a freshman journalism major who thought we had our shit together by now. Email her at asalvat1[at]ithaca.edu.