The last two legislative sessions have been hard on North Carolina women. I can’t recall a single issue over the past four years with which the NC General Assembly hasn’t managed to undo hard-won feminist fights or blatantly refused to make progress toward gender equality when given the opportunity.
One recent attack by our state leaders was on our most basic civil right—the right to vote. A new law (which goes into effect in 2016) requires North Carolinians to show an approved form of photo ID at the polls to vote. Who makes up two-thirds of the population who lacks an approved ID? Women.
In the past, high-quality public education has set North Carolina apart, not just in the South, but in the nation. Today teacher pay has fallen well below the national average. Teaching is a profession dominated by women, and our teachers are quickly leaving the state and even the profession itself as North Carolina class sizes grow and teachers’ assistants are all but eliminated. Who is hurt at the most immediate, basic economic level when TAs are laid off and experienced teachers are forced out of their classrooms? Women.
Then there’s access to health care. State legislators’ refusal to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars hurts workers in low-wage jobs that don’t provide health benefits. Who makes up the majority of NC’s low-wage workers? Women. North Carolina women regularly make 83 cents for every dollar that a man does — and women of color make even less.
How did we fall so far so fast? The obvious answer is that our elected officials are not interested in promoting policies that support women and families. But of course they didn’t get into office on their own.
Women make up 54% of registered voters in North Carolina and, overall, we vote in higher numbers than men. Put those two facts together and women are an incredibly powerful voting block. Yet in 2010, only one of those facts was true; while women outnumbered men as registered voters, we simply did not go to the polls. In more than three-quarters of North Carolina counties, turnout among women voters was equal to or, in most cases, much lower than that of male voters. In fact, 2010 was one of the only modern elections where men outperformed women in terms of voter turnout.
The bottom line is that women simply can’t afford to stay home on election day this year. For decades North Carolina shined as a beacon in the South for education, healthcare and civil rights. Female voters played a key role in electing lawmakers who were forward-thinking and cared deeply about the issues impacting women and our families.
Election Day is November 4th. Studies show that when women are educated on the issues and about the candidates on their ballots, they show up at the polls. So I’m going to start right now by talking to the women in my life and making sure they VOTE. We learned the hard way in 2010. This time we know: when women vote, women win.