“On the 91st anniversary of this landmark in civil rights, we continue to uphold the foundational American principles that we are all equal, and that each of us deserves a chance to pursue our dreams…We honor the heroes who have given of themselves to advance the causes of justice, opportunity, and prosperity.”
President Obama, 2011 Women’s Equality Day proclamation
Ninety-one years ago today, the 19th Amendment was ratified, culminating almost two centuries of women struggling for the right to vote in the United States. Women now have the right to vote and have made advances in the workforce, education and many other fields.
The observance of Women’s Equality Day is a day to reflect not only on the milestones and shattered ceilings of the past, but raise the question of whether equality has been reached.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen great progress toward gender equality, from job listings no longer categorized by sex, to more equal opportunities for women and girls in education and in the workplace, to a movement toward equal pay for equal work.
Yet, despite gradual progress toward gender equality in the 20th century, it is apparent that there still is a long way to go to break down the barriers to economic equality. Almost 50 years ago the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted. Today, American women still only earn on average 81 cents for every dollar men earn. This gap increases among minority women and those with disabilities.
President Obama and Secretary Solis, as well as the Women’s Bureau, remain committed to advancing women’s equality in all areas of society. The president not only took an important step forward in the fight for pay equity when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2009 (the first bill he signed into law as president), but helped ensure that women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy, by creating the White House Council on Women and Girls.
The Women’s Bureau has worked to advance the status of women since its creation in 1920, just two months before women achieved the right to vote. At that time, the Bureau was concerned with the eight hour workday, safe working conditions for women and equality with men’s wages.
The Women’s Bureau continues to advance and protect the rights of women workers. Today, as part of the administration’s National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, we work to ensure equal pay for all working women by educating employers and employees on their obligations and rights. The Bureau also serves as a catalyst for change that gives women a voice, while working to end occupational segregation, prejudice against working mothers, and get more women in higher paying jobs.
To find out more about the Women’s Bureau and our priorities, visit our Website at www.dol.gov/wb.
Sara Manzano-Díaz is Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau