Our Commitment to Women's Success Continues

March marked Women's History Month to commemorate women's social, political and economic contributions. But the month's end should not mark the end of our focus on women and families, or temper our advocacy.

I appreciate that part of my own path was paved by Jeanette Rankin of Montana. In 1916 -- before women were granted the right to vote -- Ms. Rankin was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, saying, "If I am remembered for no other act, I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote." She further noted, "I may be the first woman member of Congress but I won't be the last."

She was right. Hawaii's own Patsy Mink served as the first congresswoman of color and first Asian American woman in the House; she later sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination. A powerful advocate for equality, Congresswoman Mink authored Title IX, to protect and improve gender parity in education and athletics. It was a continuation of an early commitment to equality: as a young student at the University of Nebraska, she was placed in a segregated dormitory; she responded by leading a coalition that successfully desegregated the university's dorms.

Hawaii has a history of breaking barriers. A woman, Rhoda Lewis, served on the state's first Supreme Court. Appointed following statehood in 1959, Justice Lewis was only the second female on a State Supreme Court nationwide. Justice Lewis felt her appointment to the court reflected Hawaii values. "I find it a pleasure to work in Hawaii where a person is able to do all she is capable of," Lewis said. "It shows an open-minded attitude. Women have their chance here."

The reality is that women in Hawaii lead every day at every level. Dr. Margaret Oda, a true trailblazer in education, served as Honolulu school district superintendent and was the driving force behind the middle-school concept and the first chairwoman of the Japanese American National Museum. Helene Hale, the first woman to hold an executive position in Hawaii local government, was instrumental in developing astronomy on Mauna Kea, establishing the Merrie Monarch Festival, and providing Hilo's first sewage treatment plant. Her commitment to her community led to a career in public service that spanned four decades, until retirement from the state House of Representatives at age 88.

Dr. Ruth Matsuura practiced pediatrics for more than thirty years, helping usher in and care for new generations of many Hawaii families. She and her late husband, veteran State Senator Richard Matsuura, shared an unwavering commitment to bettering their community. In 2012 Dr. Matsuura was recognized as the YWCA Remarkable Person Honoree, and the Matsuuras have since created a college scholarship fund, acknowledging that education opened doors for them that would otherwise have been closed.

The history of our state and nation is illuminated by the successes of dedicated women. However, the hard truth is that for many women across Hawaii it has become increasingly challenging to keep afloat. These are our everyday heroes, notable among their families and friends for achieving what has become far too difficult a feat: making ends meet. Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, and of those two-thirds are either primary or co-breadwinners in American families. Yet women continue to receive less pay than their male counterparts. Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. They may not feel like heroes while they struggle to keep their families together and put food on the table, but they are the foundation upon which our communities rest.

Women have helped shape our world, yet still do not receive the recognition, and compensation they deserve. As we move beyond Women's History Month, I am committed to advancing legislation to raise the minimum wage, and ensure women are paid equally for equal work. Please join me in our commitment to every day women's success.