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Kirsten Gillibrand's picture

As we continue to mourn the passing of Geraldine Ferraro, and honor her extraordinary life, women today must not forget the words she spoke in her 1984 convention speech, “The issue is not what America can do for women, but what women can do for America.” These words should serve as a clarion call for this generation of women to take action in advancing women’s progress.

So, as we mark yet another Equal Pay Day today, we also remember that in that same inspiring speech Geraldine Ferraro said, “It isn't right that a woman should get paid 59 cents on the dollar for the same work as a man.” She fought her entire life to end this inequality, yet we are still fighting that wage gap today.

It is time to recognize that the women’s movement is stalled. We have spent the last decade fighting to protect the hard fought gains of my mother’s generation. This is not good enough. We need to be moving forward.

It is alarming that in the 21st century, 27 years after Geraldine Ferraro spoke at the convention, millions of women who make up half the workforce make on average 78 cents for every dollar earned by men for equal work. For women of color, the disparity is much worse: African American women earn 71 cents on the dollar while Latino women only earn 62 cents on the dollar. Over the course of their careers, women and their families lose anywhere from $700,000 to upwards of more than $1 million.

Ensuring that men and women who do equal work receive equal pay is more than just a matter of principle. It is clear that a rebuilt middle class rests squarely on women helping to lead the way to economic recovery. More than half of all U.S. households today rely on dual incomes and the key for middle class success and economic security hinges on women being on equal footing in business, education and politics. In fact, according to recent statistics, it is estimated that if women’s paid employment rates were raised to the same level as men’s, America’s GDP would be 9 percent higher.

Women are also often protectors of the most vulnerable, including seniors and children, and are more likely to be heads of single households. As a result, discriminatory wage practices undermine women’s ability to provide for their families and survive on a decent retirement income.

We must close this chronic gap that shortchanges America’s women.  When women earn more, families are stronger and children have better access to quality health care and education. In fact, if we closed the wage gap, poverty would be cut in half for single moms and by more than 60 percent for married working women.

This year, I will once again lead the fight with Senator Mikulski to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for sharing salary information with their co-workers. The legislation would also establish training groups to help women strengthen their negotiation skills, enforce equal pay laws for federal contractors, and require the Department of Labor to work with employers to eliminate wage disparities through better outreach and training.

But that’s not enough. I am deeply concerned that women only hold 17 percent of the seats in Congress, 6 Governor’s mansions and just 22% of all statewide elected offices. For the first time in 30 years, the percentage of women in Congress went backwards, and women under 40 only represent less than 1 percent of Congress.

These are terrible indicators.  Women have to get more involved because if they don’t participate, decisions are going to be made about every aspect of their lives, and they may not like those decisions. My goal is to get women off the sidelines. To get them to be engaged, to care about whatever their priority is—whether it’s healthcare, education, access to capital, or tax policy. Women have to become part of the debate, because if they don’t, they may not like what they find.

Cross posted at the Huffington Post.

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