BY TARA ROMANO, PRESIDENT NCWU North Carolina women started 2013 with a detailed research report on our status, reflecting the results of years of advocacy for policies recognizing our rights as full, valued citizens of this state. The report showed how far our advocacy had taken us, but also gaps where we could do better. Instead of using this data as a road map toward full equality for all women of North Carolina, however, many in our government and communities instead presented us with their narrow vision of womanhood – one in which we never need assistance raising our families, always have a husband to support us economically, never experience sexual/domestic violence or unplanned pregnancies, and have nothing but time on Election Day when we want to cast our ballot.
Instead of us moving forward on women’s equality this past year, many of us ended the year feeling patronized and disrespected, our voices blatantly and deliberately disregarded. We didn’t keep these feelings to ourselves – we regularly filled the legislative halls with our voices, and sent letters, tweets, and emails when we couldn’t be there in person to express our opposition to what was happening. We shared our experiences and opinions in the papers, on the airwaves and over social media. We demonstrated, marched and spoke out; some of us got arrested. And while our voices of dissent may have fallen on deaf ears in the legislative buildings, we haven’t slowed down in 2014, with another chance for protest at this year’s HKonJ (the Moral March). Why should women march on February 8th?
Because we need economic security.
With nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina women living in poverty, and single mothers more likely to live in poverty than any family type, we cannot separate the role sexism (and racism) plays in women’s experiences of poverty. With over 40% of North Carolina working women in the role of primary breadwinners for their families, we must address the stubbornly persistent pay gap that exists between men and women for the same work, a phenomenon that speaks to the antiquated (and for most of us, rarely true) notion that women can “afford” to make less than men because of our traditional role as domestic homemaker rather than economic provider. This economic inequality also has roots in women’s role as the primary caretakers in our families. Few options for affordable, quality childcare and preschool, and clustering in “pink collar” service work (traditionally low wage and/or part-time work that lacks supports like insurance benefits and paid sick days) make it difficult for women to fulfill both duties as workers and mothers. Coupled with so many women working in the hard-hit sectors of education and government – two sectors facing deep budget cuts – and we’ve got an economy that leaves many women working hard but never getting ahead.
Because our healthcare shouldn’t be dictated by political ideology.
23% of North Carolina women between the reproductive ages of 15-44 are uninsured, leaving them less likely to access sexual health and contraceptive care, as well as pre-pregnancy and prenatal care that can contribute to healthy pregnancy outcomes. Refusing to expand Medicaid leaves nearly a quarter of a million North Carolina women no other options for quality health care. And the intense political focus on limiting a women’s right to abortion means that all of women’s reproductive health choices, from contraception to birthing options, end up being considered up for debate by a public that has no business weighing in on a woman’s personal decisions, and in a way that would be considered an infringement on personal freedom if applied to men.
Because we need a voice in our local and state governments.
With women currently only comprising less than 25% of our elected officials in the NC General Assembly – despite women consistently voting in greater proportion then men – it’s difficult to get women’s input to the policy table in North Carolina. In a year that saw women’s voices blatantly disregarded as policy that directly affected us was debated, women still struggle to be heard in all levels of government. Changes to our election laws may exacerbate that. The majority of registered voters who don’t have the proper state photo ID to vote are women; and with women more likely to change their names due to marriage/divorce, there may be additional confusion and denied access at the polls. Early voting is a boon to busy women juggling both work and family duties, and any changes that results in increased wait times at polling places may discourage voting. Our voices are more vital than ever, and we need should be encouraging more, not less, voting.
Because it is still is difficult for many of us to find justice for the violence perpetuated against us.
Nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina women report they have experienced physical domestic abuse, and more than 1 in 5 North Carolina women report they have experienced sexual abuse. Some are able to successfully navigate the justice system to hold their abusers accountable and keep themselves and their families safe. But too many are failed by a system founded on traditional notions of gender, sexuality and family. Even when women do engage the criminal justice system to hold abusers accountable, they often times still may end up depleting their financial and emotional resources, and be in danger of losing their jobs, homes, family, reputations and lives. And for too many women, our age, race, religion, sexuality, disability and economic and immigration status – and that of our abusers – can have a direct effect on whether or not we see any justice for the crimes committed against us.
Because women matter.
We will march on February 08 because we know if we don’t raise our voices for ourselves and other women in North Carolina, no one else will. We march because every time our roles as workers, mothers, partners, educators, caretakers and constituents is dismissed, it contributes to our status as second-class citizens, leaving us vulnerable to the physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual violence so many of experience at some point in our lives. We march because women’s lives matter.
(Join us 9:30am on Saturday, February 08 in front of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. We’ll have the big green NCWU banner.)