April 9 is Equal Pay Day, which represents how far into the year the average U.S. woman must work before she is paid the same amount as the average U.S. man. Women’s wages have still not caught up with men’s wages, and this persistent wage gap is intimately tied up with a societal lack of respect for women’s bodies, women as parents (and parenting in general), and women’s reproductive health.
In other words, pay equity is a reproductive justice issue.
Statistically, women, and especially women of color, fare poorly in the workplace in comparison to white men. Before you blame this on women’s choices, look at the data from a recent American Association of University Women (AAUW) study: “At every level of academic achievement, women’s median earnings are less than men’s median earnings, and in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education.”
According to the report, for every dollar a white man is paid in wages, Hispanic or Latina women are paid 59 cents, African-American women are paid 69 cents, white women are paid 81 cents, and Asian women are paid 88 cents.
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We often hear that overall, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a white man is paid, but that figure does not reflect the wide wage disparities experienced on the basis of race. Given that figure’s limited utility in describing wage discrimination, since it only reflects the experiences of the average white woman, it is helpful to speak more routinely of both gender- and race-based wage discrimination.
Economic justice, which includes but hardly ends with reversing discrimination-based wage gaps, is a critical component of reproductive justice. Consider this statement from the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective website:
“The reproductive justice framework—the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments—is based on the human right to make personal decision’s about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions … [which is important for] women of color.”
How can you afford to have children and access to decent medical care with a full range of birthing options when you are paid according to your race and gender rather than your contributions to society?
How can you afford to avoid pregnancy, to consistently use a contraceptive method that works for your body, and to terminate a pregnancy when public and private funding for abortion is so frequently forbidden by lawmakers (typically white men) and when the marketplace uses discrimination to diminish the exchange rate of your work?
How can you afford to raise children in safe and healthy environments, to live in areas with access to good schools and good food and trusting relationships between law enforcement and citizens when wages are too low?
Raise your voice and raise some hell this Equal Pay Day. It’s about money. It’s about race and gender. And it’s about reproductive justice.