Continuing the Fight

Illustration and Painting
Illustration and Painting

###Continuing the Fight###

One thing I know is I stand on the shoulders of the sheroes who came before me. My own mother from the District, the late Dorothy C Johnson; the Honorable Shirley Chisolm; Barbara Jordan; Bella Abzug; Dolores Huerta and Lilly Ledbetter are women who touched lives and made a difference.

From teaching three generations of children in the District to legislating in the Capitol and organizing labor marches, from a Goodyear tire shop in Alabama to the Supreme Court of the United States - these women fought relentlessly for a better tomorrow, a better America. Because of them, I can too.

Today, on the 7th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being signed into law, I want to celebrate how far we've come and acknowledge how far we still have to go.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tires for 19 years, during which she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. She took Goodyear to court for that inequity and, ultimately, reached the Supreme Court. She argued that the pay disparity not only hurt in her actual paycheck, but in her overtime pay, 401(k) and social security as well. The lawsuit was not decided in her favor because of the interpretation of the strict laws at the time.

President Obama made women's equal pay for equal work a cornerstone of his first term. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 as his first piece of legislation as President, which passed Congress and was cemented into law. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act loosened the timeliness requirements for "the filing of a discrimination suit so long as any act of discrimination, including the receipt of a paycheck that reflects a past act of discrimination, occurs within the 180 day period of limitations."

We celebrate. But we cannot stop fighting.

In our home district, New York's 13th congressional district, 40% of families whose income in past 12 months is below the poverty level are headed by single women. In New York County, 34% of children are raised in single parent households. In the Bronx, that number rises to 64%.

We have fiercely strong, independent women in our community. However, women are not paid the same as men. These are our sisters, daughters, friends, mothers who are paid less. When women continue to make 79 cents to a man's full dollar on average, and Black and Hispanic women make 64 and 54 cents - we must demand further action. While we have made progress, we have more to do. Gender equality cannot happen without income equality. There are some who rent a one bedroom apartment for $2,000 a month; they're earning minimum wage, while raising two kids. That's one of the reasons why I started the Pro Voice/Pro Voz movement for women - to fight for and amplify women's voices.

We must persevere.

I stand with President Obama's executive action issued today to require companies of 100+ to disclose pay according to gender. As a Congresswoman, I will fight for the Paycheck Fairness Act to pass, allowing women to further help in ensuring equal pay for equal work.

It is but one step in closing the pay wage gap. We must do more:
pass paid family and sick leave
bring more jobs & training home to our community
raise the minimum wage to one that is sustainable and living
continue to fight for income and gender equality.

Stand with me in celebrating how far we have come, and join me in fighting for what remains to be won.

Suzan Johnson Cook, the 3rd US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, is a faith leader and organizer of the ProVoice Movement for Women, and a candidate for New York's 13th Congressional District. She is a frequent contributor and columnist for the Huffington Post.  She may be reached at: