Women’s History Month

On March 8, 2016, people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Many marked the day by participating in the Day Without a Woman strike, which protested the many ways women continue to experience oppression in patriarchal societies. The strike called for women to take the day off work and refrain from spending money except at small, minority-owned, or women-owned businesses. Strikes have historically been used to push for improved work conditions; the legacy corresponds well with the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month, as declared by the National Women’s History Project: “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

Each year, the NWHP selects honorees to illustrate the many contributions made by women to our society. The 2017 honorees range from Kate Mullaney, an Irish-English immigrant who founded the first all-female union in 1864; to Nina Vaca, the founder, chair, and CEO of Pinnacle Group. The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month and the selection of these honorees celebrate women’s progress in the professional world.

This theme is especially relevant given the ongoing problem of the gender wage gap. According to the American Association of University Women, American women still earn, on average, 80% of what their male counterparts do. This statistic can be higher or lower based on state or ethnicity – for instance, the number is 64% in Wyoming, and just 54% for Hispanic and Latina women. It’s true that these statistics are influenced by the facts that women are more likely to work part-time or in lower-paying jobs, but this doesn’t discount the systemic problems that influence that likelihood. Women still face greater pressures to prioritize family over career, and stereotyping and sexist microaggressions can discourage women from entering traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering or senior management positions.

Despite the lower pay, women account for up to 85% of consumer purchases in the U.S. and have massive influence over the world’s economy. If economic strikes such as the Day Without a Woman continue, it could have a profound effect on businesses across the country, which rely heavily on women’s spending power and labor. Though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, the gap has persisted since. The most recent federal legislation addressing the issue was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law as his first piece of legislation in 2009. There is more that we can do to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workforce, from encouraging girls to join traditionally male-dominated fields, to enforcing equal pay legislation, to providing better support for working mothers.

This Women’s History Month is the perfect time to learn about the many contributions that women have made to labor and business, and to affirm our commitment to fair pay and equality in the professional sphere. Actions like the Women’s March and the Day Without a Woman are bringing women’s rights to the forefront with a strong fourth wave of the feminist movement. With a president in the White House who has made disparaging and offensive comments about women, with Planned Parenthood at risk of being defunded, with the historic defeat of a female presidential candidate who won the popular vote, these issues of gender inequality continue to be pressing and vital to address. Women’s History Month is a time for all of us to show support and appreciation for all the incredible women in our lives and recognize the importance of fighting for the equal rights and treatment we all deserve.

Lucie Pereira is a junior WLP major and the editor in chief of The Luminary.

Lucie Pereira