Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda addresses a number of underlying issues that cause women to be in greater need of human services. This ground-breaking plan seeks to help women in New York access better employment opportunities, receive equal pay, obtain affordable housing, gain better protection from sexual and physical violence, access credit, and more. It outlines ways in which women are more likely to be discriminated against in housing and job markets and in the justice system, eradicates loopholes that allow for these various forms of gender discrimination, and calls for stricter enforcement of existing laws that protect women against discrimination.
Women are now the majority of college graduates and single-parent-headed households, yet are still only paid $0.55 to $0.80 for every $1.00 made by a man in New York. The lack of equal pay, as well as discrimination against women with children and pregnant women in hiring and promotions, and sexual harassment in the workplace, make many women’s experiences in the job market difficult. With more and more households heavily or entirely dependent on the income generated by women, it is critical that we remove barriers to employment and maximize women’s access to the job market, ensuring that they can sufficiently provide for their families.
The New York Women’s Foundation released a publication in March 2013 titled, Economic Security and Well-being Index for Women in New York City, that examines quality of life issues for women in New York City based on categories such as citizenship status, race/ethnicity, age, borough of residence, and neighborhood/district within a borough. It explores how such factors affect or correlate to outcomes such as educational attainment, health/safety, and employment status/income. The overall findings of the report show that women in New York City face major obstacles in regard to economic stability, health, and safety across all categories.
Current New York State law contains a number of loopholes that perpetuate gender-based discrimination. Some examples of practices that disproportionally affect women include landlords refusing to rent to tenants with rental assistance and upholding zero-tolerance policies for eviction with domestic violence victims. Domestic violence victims also are mandated to testify in court against their abusers in order to receive an order of protection, an often traumatic and unnecessary experience. In addition, the recovery of attorney fees for victims of employment, credit, and lending discrimination lawsuits is not allowed because of how small the back-pay awards would be for many victims, who are mostly female. Lastly, human trafficking victims – mostly underage girls – often are convicted of crimes such as prostitution.
The Women’s Equality Agenda would address many of the inequities women face by allowing employees to disclose their salary earnings without potential reprimand or termination, providing accommodations in the workplace so that working mothers can avoid taking unpaid leave, penalizing landlords who discriminate against domestic violence victims or persons receiving rental assistance, creating stricter punishment for human traffickers, and protecting all victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, regardless of company size.
As the voice of the human services sector in New York, HSC supports the Women’s Equality Agenda* because it is a stepping stone to achieving goals of central importance to the work of HSC and our member agencies–the reduction of poverty, greater equality, and quality of life improvements for individuals throughout New York State. As HSC’s 2012 report, Dangerous Moves: How Public Funding Cuts to Human Services Hurt Women and Children demonstrates, human services are a women’s issue. Governor Cuomo should be applauded for his leadership in advancing this important agenda that will address many of the underlying problems that bring women to the doors of nonprofit human service providers.
Lend your support to the passage of this critical agenda.
Contributed by Allison Sesso and Laurina Santi of the Human Services Council.
* Not all HSC members support every point addressed in the Women’s Equality Agenda.