In the United States, a woman makes only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. The majority of minimum wage and tipped workers are women. Nearly 40 million workers don’t have a single paid sick day. And here’s just one more incredible stat about women in our country: The U.S. has paid maternity and parental benefits similar to Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea. That is to say, zilch.
Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I can’t help but think of inequality and all the work we have to do for women workers. Yes, we’ve made strides and we should celebrate those, but when it comes to basic necessities for women to make a living for themselves and their families, we are falling short. The United States ranks 23rd globally in gender equality. We’re also ranked 17th among 22 industrialized countries in terms of labor force participation for women (we were sixth in the ’90s.) And we’re supposed to be a nation that leads on fairness and opportunity.
Considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40% of America’s families, this should concern everyone. Pay and access to benefits are even more unequal for women of color, who make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.
Despite the challenges we face, we do know there are solutions: raising wages, improving working standards and building worker power through collective action. In the United States, 6.5 million women have a voice on the job through union membership. Women in unions are more likely to have access to health care, pensions and paid sick and family leave, and our goal is for every worker to have these basic benefits.
As the labor movement, we see women’s equality as a shared struggle, and one that is core to our larger vision of social and economic justice. Simply put, the labor movement is a movement of and for women.
This is why on International Women’s Day, the AFL-CIO stands with women across the globe to stand up, join together and say the status quo is unacceptable. Under the status quo, four organizers in Bangladesh—two men and two women—were brutally beaten just last week for daring to organize unions in garment factories where women represent more than 80% of the workers; under the status quo, workers were gunned down in Cambodia for fighting for a living wage; and under the status quo, one-third of new mothers in the United States take no maternity leave because they can't afford it. Our common problems require a framework for collective solutions across borders, whether we live in Cambodia, Bangladesh or the United States. Ensuring equal pay, safe workplaces, health care, paid sick and family leave, living wages is a struggle we share with women around the world.
Women workers know that coming together collectively improves their workplaces and communities. Here are some great examples from our partner unions around the world of organizing in their workplaces and building power for women workers.
During the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women the AFL-CIO, the International Trade Union Confederation and other women’s rights and labor groups will convene to support a global agenda to address gender equality and ensure labor laws protect all kinds of workers, in the formal and informal economies. We know we must strengthen a broad array of labor rights—including the right to decent work—in sustainable development frameworks currently being negotiated by the international community. We’ll also call on the International Labor Organization to move forward on an agreement (an international convention) to ensure women are safe from workplace violence.
When we work together, we are stronger and we can make gender equality a reality for women across the globe.
If you’re interested in women’s workplace issues and gender equality, don’t forget to check out my biweekly column at MomsRising and leave your comments. I’d love to hear from you.