Do Governors Know How to Pronounce “Woman”?March 13, 2017
Every year at the beginning of their state’s respective legislative session governors deliver a State of the State address. They tell stories of past successes, recount acts of bravery among their citizens, and outline the priorities for the continued progress of their state. Governors reassure their legislatures and citizens that “the state of our state is strong” and build excitement for the year ahead. This year the majority of governors’ agendas failed to cover AAUW priorities. Most didn’t even use the word “women.”
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AAUW calls for rich discussions of policies important to women and girls, but only 12 of the 45 governors who had addressed their states by March even said the word “women.” AAUW appreciates that the governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington directly acknowledged women during their speeches, but this is a low bar. Many of those mentions were not substantive. Governors in several states did touch on AAUW priorities, including STEM, human trafficking, LGBT issues, paid sick days, and family leave. However, paying brief lip service to these concerns is insufficient. The silence from the majority of governors regarding the role of women and girls in these policy areas is striking.
Many of the governors spoke about the importance of the economic welfare of families and the economies of their states, but they failed to take into account an important piece of creating better outlooks for families and the economy: the welfare of women and girls. No State of the State address mentioned the words “equal pay,” a concerning statistic given the fact that women who work full time continue to be paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to full-time male workers. The best way to create a more just society is through advancing the economic rights of and opportunities for all women and girls.
Despite the governors’ oversights, a number of states are taking action on AAUW issues. In 2016 six states signed equal pay bills into law. Since the start of the current legislative session, 36 states and Washington, D.C., have introduced equal pay bills. This year has the potential to shift the national discourse on the issue as we continue to push for strong equal pay legislation in all 50 states.
Beyond our equal pay efforts 2017 promises to be an exciting year for paid family leave and paid sick days, both of which are crucial to women’s (and families’) economic security. Election night 2016 revealed increasing public support for paid sick days with ballot measures passing in Arizona and Washington. The momentum from that continues into the state legislatures this year.
AAUW will continue to watch for and oppose problematic state-level legislation, such as bills that shift money from public schools to private vouchers schemes or put limits on a woman’s right to choose. But the momentum on important issues such as equal pay and paid leave provides prime opportunities to get involved and hold state elected officials accountable. And if you live in New Jersey or Virginia you’ll vote for a new governor this year.
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This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Interns Kate Connor and Monica Gibbons.
Until a federal law is passed, states will continue operating under piecemeal laws to combat unequal pay.
Ready to take action? First, make sure the state legislation you’re working on aligns with AAUW’s public policy priorities.
Read AAUW’s roundup to learn about bills pertaining to STEM education, school vouchers, campus sexual assault, student debt, and more.