Monday, April 29, 2013

The Women’s Equality Agenda

For as much complaining as I do about living in New York, (The taxes! The school systems! The general inanity! ….that also might just be a Rochester thing), there are days I feel really lucky to live here.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed in his State of the State address in January an attempt to step up the efforts to protect New York women, our families and our ability to pursue our lives and interests as equals here. The Women’s Equality Agenda is a gutsy tn-point measure that seeks to remedy many of the points of discrimination women feel every day, more specifically to correct the wage gap, housing discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, human trafficking, reproductive health law and family status discrimination, among others.
I think what is so excellent about this entire agenda is the tacit understanding that these issues are intertwined with each other. It’s disingenuous at best to say the persistence of the wage gap, persistence in discrimination against pregnant women, the inability to afford safe housing for the myriad of reasons that women are unable to afford it and the right to choice aren’t interrelated. Not one of those single ten points can be discussed by themselves, without elements of the others working their way into the conversation.

The convergence of poverty, violence, and discrimination affect many women, and to think that you may not be affected by these things is myopic. Of course, we pay for inequality in our taxes, but we also suffer in the overall quality of life for everyone. Dismissing or ignoring the problems of literally half the population only exacerbates them. Linda Stephens in her op-ed points out that a woman will make 500 thousand less dollars in her lifetime than a man would, and twice as likely to become a single parent living in poverty and to live out old age in poverty. There are consequences to poverty that we’re seeing now, and these agenda will hopefully alleviate them.

Some of them feel icky to talk about— I don’t know a person who’s like, “Hey let’s talk about the perks of domestic violence” or “YES! Drug abuse!” or “HUZZAH perks of being in prison and how that affects your ability to be a member of society when you’re out!” To many who live this every day, the reaction is “Well…duh.” Those are all horrible. That I’m writing them out like that is skeeving me out. But still, they must be talked about, they must be addressed and I think the WEA is a good start in doing all of those things.

We obviously need to have a larger cultural conversation about how we view women. Discussions about why violence against women (and men!) is wrong, about consent, about body policing, about other-izing women and those who do not fit into the rigid gender roles we’ve been socialized to accept need to happen. We’ve internalized a culture that routinely objectifies women and demonizes them for choices that deviate from the “norm.”

The Women’s Equality Agenda won’t change everything that we need to work on, but it gives us the structures and the law that make discrimination unacceptable, and mechanisms to prosecute those who do discriminate. Creation of space and allocation of the resources to make New York more equal is a positive step forward.

I think Jamie Saunders probably sums it up the best: “Isn’t all of this just common sense?... It’s basic human rights. All of us deserve to be safe.” In light of news from other states in regards to women’s equality, I’d say this is one giant step in a positive direction.


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