Yesterday, on Women's Equality Day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi visited Austin to speak on her agenda for women's economic equality. The talk, titled “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” featured other women leaders from the area, including Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole and Jeannie Best, the Texas president of the American Association of University Women.
Pelosi highlighted her three-pronged approach to empowering women financially without once telling us to “lean in.” Her agenda includes rectifying paycheck inequalities, promoting family leave policies, and increasing access to quality, affordable childcare.
She also gave me the best side-hug of my life.
Details about Pelosi's speech and evidence of the side-hug after the jump.What struck me about Pelosi's agenda for the economic wellbeing of women was how different it sounds from the mainstream quasi-feminist conversations about women and their work. Instead of placing the onus on women to work harder and do more, she acknowledged the need to dismantle systematic inequalities women face in the workforce.
Pelosi mentioned the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but emphasized that more measures are needed to ensure women are not the victims of pay discrimination. Women in Texas understand the need for more enforcement all too well: Perry recently vetoed the statewide version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act.
Furthermore, for women of color, the pay gap is even larger, largely because the minimum wage has not kept up with the inflation rate. Over half of the minimum wage workforce is comprised of women. To keep women and families out of poverty, Pelosi said, “the minimum wage must be a living wage.”
Most of the discussions of pay inequity revolve around the “glass ceiling”: in other words, how many women are making six-figure salaries or running Fortune 500 companies? That conversation ignores the pay gap between white women and women of color, between affluent women and poor women.
Pelosi, on the other hand, stressed the importance of policies that work for more women. Paycheck equity is important for all women, but it is most important for women who live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Pelosi also discussed the work and family balance in America, one of the few industrialized nations with mandatory family leave policies. Her agenda includes legislation for paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and paid parental leave.
Lastly, she discussed the need for better child care programs. Women have been demanding affordable child care for decades; the House and Senate even passed a child care bill in the 1970s that Nixon vetoed. Child care programs similar to Mayor Castro's pre-K program in San Antonio are necessary to give children a strong educational foundation and give women easier access to the workforce.
Pelosi emphasized the need for child care providers to be “educated and paid respectfully.”
During the question and answer period, Pelosi addressed the Affordable Care Act, women who wanted to be involved in public service, and voter suppression.
Her advice for women seeking to get involved in public service: “I'm tired of incrementalism. Kick open the door.” She called for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and for public financing of campaigns for more equitable elections.
Pelosi's agenda would provide opportunities for women not only in business but in education and government as well. And for Texas women, her remarks are a necessary reminder that for every veto-happy governor fighting against us, there are stronger and more influential leaders fighting for us.