Every year, the Source Weekly puts out its Women's Issue, typically coinciding with International Women's Day on March 8—a day that celebrates "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity," as described on the International Women's Day website.
The issues around equal pay, access to reproductive healthcare, outdated models of family caregiving and more are still salient in modern times—and during this pandemic, we have once again been reminded of how women's work is often set aside or de-prioritized when times get tough and families are forced to make hard decisions about whether to have a mother continue to work, or to stay home and care for children. We honor and recognize the many mothers, grandmothers and other caregivers who have been forced out of the workforce this year, and who have gone on to become in-home teachers, never-ending dish-doers and emotional caretakers of families ravaged by the pandemic.
When faced with limited child care (for those who've kept their jobs) or furloughs and layoffs (for those who haven't) families with children have been forced to make impossible choices this year—and it disproportionally falls on women to bear the burdens. By one estimate, at least 3 million women have dropped out of the workforce over the past year. While employers have struggled too, this phenomenon has also reminded us that employers can and should do more to support working parents by way of flexible schedules or even on-site child care. In Central Oregon, some of our largest employers, such as St. Charles Health System, the City of Bend and Bend-La Pine Schools could pave the way by offering child care services in-house. This was a community need before the pandemic, and it's only gotten more dire.
This call for gender parity goes beyond one gender, too—which is why, as a new administration gets to work in Washington, D.C., it's critical for Congress to pass the Equality Act. Already passed by the U.S. House, the bill—introduced in the Senate by our own Sen. Jeff Merkley, among others—would ban the discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As described by the Human Rights Campaign, "The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law—including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government—to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex."
"Additionally, the Equality Act would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services. These important updates would strengthen existing protections for everyone."
Following the Supreme Court's ruling in June that the protections afforded to people under Civil Rights Act of 1964 also apply to LGBTQ individuals, the Equality Act would put those protections into codified law, and also ultimately expand the protections. Some might say that the Supreme Court ruling was enough—but without a specific law, it would be easier for a less-welcoming administration to strip those protections. And since the Equality Act imposes those protections beyond government and into the realm of, "public accommodations," it would be much tougher for a bakery, for example, to refuse to sell a cake to a couple based on their sexual orientation.
With it codified into law, we may also see less of the churlish and hurtful behavior demonstrated by the likes of Georgia's Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who posted an anti-transgender sign in the hallway of her Congressional office—right across the hall from another lawmaker with a transgender child. We wish we didn't have to see such childish behavior from a member of Congress, yet here we are.
This past year has taught us that for every stride and advancement made in social or political spheres, it can be terribly easy to slide back. Whether in the home or the workplace, the battles for gender parity continue.