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Women’s Equality Day?

Right to Vote Commemorated But Louisiana Lags Behind in 2014

August 26th, the anniversary of the enactment of the 19th Amendment, marks Women’s Equality Day. However in Louisiana, women still face major obstacles to achieving facets of equality. A look at income gaps and political representation lays out the climb ahead.


In Shreveport today, Representative Kenny Cox of Natchitoches seized the opportunity to call for equal pay for Louisiana women.


“Our state cannot thrive if half our population is struggling when it comes to getting a fair paycheck,” said Rep. Cox. “We simply cannot afford to continue down the path of unfair wages and gender discrimination and allow things to get worse, as in they have in the past year.”


At Loyola University this evening, the Independent Women’s Organization and the Louisiana Women’s Roundtable are partnering with Loyola’s Women’s Resource Center to screen How We Got the Vote, a documentary on the suffragettes who fought for the 19th Amendment. The film includes interviews with activists like Mabel Vernon and Alice Paul, both of whom were arrested at the first protest ever to be held in front of the White House. Paul went on to write the text of the long-debated Equal Rights Amendment in 1920.


After the film, the women’s organizations will host a discussion on opportunities for continuing gains in elections and politics. The panel is set to include Michelle Erenberg of National Council of Jewish Women, Raegan Carter of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, and Audrey Stewart of the American Civil Liberties Union.


The 19th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to women, was ratified in 1920. Congress formally declared the anniversary as Women’s Equality Day in a 1971 joint resolution sponsored by Democratic Representative Bella Abzug of New York.


“Whereas, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States,” begins the resolution, sounding very much a part of the second wave feminism from which it arose. 


The resolution also authorized the president to release an annual proclamation for the occasion.  President Obama released his yesterday.


“When women are given the opportunity to succeed, they do,” the statement reads, noting that women are more likely to graduate college and increasingly represent the main earners in their families. “But despite these gains, the dreams of too many mothers and daughters continue to be deferred and denied.”


This is especially true in Louisiana, where 61 percent of women are the primary or sole wage earners for their family, according to Rosalind Cook, a professor at Tulane University’s Newcomb College Institute. However, Louisiana women earn just 67 cents for each dollar earned by men. The second-worst pay gap in the nation means that women achieve a median annual income of just $31,586, according to numbers from the National Partnership for Women and Families. In Louisiana, 39% of households headed by women make do with income below the poverty line.


The disparity is greater for Louisiana women of color. African-American women working full-time in Louisiana have a median income of $26,030, or just under 49 cents for each dollar earned by a white man. Louisiana Latinas earn 51.5 cents to the male dollar. Nationally, African-American women earn 64 cents and Latinas earn 54 cents compared to each dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man.


Although Louisiana is represented by a woman in the Senate–Mary L. Landrieu—women lag behind in political representation on the state level. According to the Center for Women in Politics, only six women have ever been elected to statewide executive positions, including Mary Landrieu, who served as State Treasurer from 1987 to 1995.


Eighteen women serve in the Louisiana legislature, up one from last year. However, women still represent just 12.5% of the legislative body, ranking Louisiana among the states with the lowest representation of women in state legislatures.


After considering wage gaps, poverty rates, health care, women in government, and many other factors, the Center for American Progress last year cited Louisiana as the state with the worst services and outcomes for women.


The Louisiana Women’s Roundtable hosts film screening of “How We Got the Vote” tonight, August 26, at 7p.m. in Loyola University’s Monroe Hall Room 610.

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