Women’s History Month is the perfect time to recognize women’s issues

Entering Women’s History Month this March has me pondering a lot of issues related to women, especially women of color, and where we are headed.

In the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I can tell you we are going in the right direction in terms of addressing important issues that impact the daily lives of women who have been historically underserved, underrepresented, misunderstood, ignored and generally not heard.

We elected the first woman – a Black woman – to serve as speaker of the House. This role has always gone to white men with the exception of K. Leroy Irvis, a Black legislator from Pittsburgh, who served as speaker back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Speaker Joanna McClinton is accomplished, is the former Democratic leader in the House, is an attorney and represents the good folks of the 191st District in Philadelphia and parts of Delaware County. She brings experiences to this General Assembly that resonate with so many Pennsylvanians and is committed to making sure that everyone and every issue is heard during her tenure at the rostrum.

Some of the issues that I know exist, and ones that were discussed during my time as chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus’ Subcommittee on Women and Girls of Color, include a backsliding of women’s reproductive rights, the need to raise the minimum wage, period poverty, and health care access and maternal mortality, to name a few.

Women’s personal reproductive rights

We’ve watched the U.S. Supreme Court hamper the ability for women to hold accountability over their own reproductive rights. In Pennsylvania, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are working arduously to put reproductive rights, among other things, on the ballot and allowing rights that we have been fighting for over the course of many years to be eroded.

Raise the minimum wage

Women, in general, earn a lower wage than men and have historically. Fifty percent of Latina women and 40% of Black women earn less than $15 an hour. But even more disturbing, in Pennsylvania the minimum wage still stands at $7.50 an hour. It is impossible to sustain a family on this wage and it needs to be changed.

Period poverty and access to menstrual products

Every state in the country should be following the lead of New Jersey, whose state legislature recently passed a package of bills to ensure greater access to menstrual products for women and address period poverty through a menstrual products hygiene program, a feminine hygiene program for the homeless, and require the coverage of these products under programs like SNAP and WIC. The dignity and overall health of women can be preserved under this simple act.

Health care access and maternal mortality

A Pew Research Center report says while Black Americans have a mixed assessment of progress in health outcomes, for Black people it still shows that more than 50% either think the progress has stayed the same or think that it’s gotten worse.

Access, maternal mortality and health insurance are all issues that women face in an uphill battle. But for Black women, the climb is even greater. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is 3 times the rate it is for white women.

Historically, women have done it all: birthed children, raised families, cared for sick loved ones, worked two and three jobs to put food on the table, juggled school and family life…we’ve even led armies. There is nothing we can’t do. But advancing measures that help women in these roles -- like ensuring their autonomy over their bodies, raising the minimum wage and, with it, raising women out of poverty, and affording all women comprehensive, complete and quality health care access -- would go a long way to lowering the rate of maternal mortality for Black women.

We can do all these things, and I hope to see it happen in this next legislative session.

We’re women, we can make it happen.