Since my time as a student leader at a women's college, I have believed in the importance of equal rights for women, in America and abroad. As First Lady, I delivered a speech called "Women's Rights are Human Rights" at the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Today, in the U.S. Senate, I continue to press for equal rights for girls and women by fighting to protect Title IX, which provides equal opportunities for girls and women in sports, championing legislation that would ensure that women earn the same amount as men for equal work, and more. I have strongly opposed President Bush's move to deny critical health care services to women in developing countries and am continuing the work I began as First Lady to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, especially teen pregnancies.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
More than forty years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy, women still earn only $.76 cents for every dollar men earn for doing the same work. The pay disparity is even larger among African Americans and Latinos; it affects women at all levels of income and across a wide range of occupations; and the gap widens as women age. To address this problem, which costs families an average of $4,000 a year, I have championed the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation will help prevent pay discrimination in the first place and provide critical tools to resolve it if it occurs by, among other things:
* Prohibiting employers from punishing employees who share their salary information with their co-workers; (Sharing salary information is often essential for understanding that discrimination exists and addressing it.)
* Toughening the penalties associated with violating the Equal Pay Act;
* Teaching women and girls negotiation skills; (Women are 8 times less likely to negotiate their starting salaries then men and if a woman with a starting salary of $25,000 fails to negotiate for $5,000 more a year, she stands to lose more than $568,000 by age 60.)
* Rewarding model employers; and
* Strengthening the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to crackdown on equal pay violations.
Increasing Opportunities for Women to Obtain Non-Traditional Jobs
As another avenue to increasing women's earnings, I worked to expand opportunities for women to enter non-traditional occupations, such as carpenter, electrician, or police officer. Women are still significantly underrepresented in these fields, yet these jobs often pay very well and include benefits like health insurance and pensions. For instance, a journey-level electrician will make over $1,000,000 more than a typical cashier in a 30-year career. I worked to improve the federal vocational education program by providing incentives for states to help girls and women enter and succeed in non-traditional fields. I have also introduced a Senate Resolution honoring women in the trades.
Preventing Unintended Pregnancies
I strongly believe that every child should be wanted, cherished, and loved. For more than a decade I have worked to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, especially teen pregnancies, and to promote policies with the goal of making abortion safe, legal, and rare. As First Lady I helped found the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which contributed to a one-third decrease in the teen pregnancy rate between 1995 and 2005. As Senator I have fought to increase funding for Title X, the nation's only family planning program, expand states' ability to provide family planning services through Medicaid, increase awareness and access to Emergency Contraception, particularly for victims of sexual assault, and promote medically-accurate sex education that encourages young people to abstain from sexual activity. And I know that an investment in family planning is a fiscally responsible investment - for every $1 spent on family planning, the Medicaid program saves $3 in pregnancy and birth-related costs.
Honoring the Women's Movement
To honor New York's rich contribution to the women's suffrage movement, I introduced The Votes for Women's History Trail Act in 2003. This bill will create a National Park trail in upstate New York that will include the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls/Waterloo, the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, the Matilda Joslyn Gage House in Fayetteville, and more. In sum, almost 20 locations will be linked to create a fascinating tribute to the women's movement for visitors to the region.
Since serving as First Lady, I have recognized the importance of the Kate Mullany House in Troy, New York. When Kate Mullany arrived in the United States, she went to work washing, starching, and ironing clothes at the nation's first commercial laundry in Troy. Kate Mullany and the other workers were required to work 14 hours a day for only $2 a week under harsh conditions. In February of 1864, Kate Mullany and 200 of her fellow female laborers organized the first women's labor union in the U.S., the "Collar Laundry Union." Together, they were a formidable force and, after striking for a week, they were able to secure a $.25 wage increase. The Collar Laundry Union continued as an influential force in the Troy collar and cuff industry for five years beyond its formation, which was very unusual for women's labor organizations at the time. While First Lady, I visited the site in 1998 as part of the "Save America's Treasures" program. In June 2003, Congressman Mike McNulty and I introduced legislation to honor Kate Mullany's work and life. A revised version of our legislation was signed into law in 2004, designating the Kate Mullany House as a National Historic Site.
Violence Against Women
The last Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005, reauthorizing current VAWA programs, and creating many new ones. Since the original Act was enacted in 1994, our ability to serve victims through grants supporting effective law enforcement, counseling, and transitional housing has helped to address the many issues related to domestic violence. Our ability to increase public awareness of this issue has been another important result of this Act, allowing many to realize the horrors of this abuse. Nearly 25 percent of women in the U.S. reported having been physically assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, 1 in 6 have been the victims of rape or attempted rape, and the cost that results from all of these violent acts is $5.8 billion a year. As Senator I have fought to fully fund the Violence Against Women Act, so that we can continue to support the many women who have turned their lives around after enduring violence. I, along with many colleagues, have urged the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, to fully fund VAWA as these programs are critical to women being able to establish lives free from violence and the problems that result from this abuse.