March is Women’s History Month. The cause of feminism has advanced substantially since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, but there is still a long way to go to guarantee equal rights for women.
There is, however, cause for renewed optimism during this Women’s History Month with record numbers of women now running for office. Women are speaking out about abuse at the hands of predatory men and many of those men have faced long overdue consequences. These developments are to be celebrated and are necessary—but they are not powerful enough to bring change now.
How can the lives of women be immediately improved while we engage in the necessary (but long) process to improve our laws? The answer is in the workplace. It's where we spend much of our waking lives, where we earn the money we need to support ourselves and our families, and where we get health insurance that (hopefully) provides us access to the health care we need.
The immediate remedy is to organize workers together to use their power as a group to bargain for improvements. Our legal and economic system promotes exploitation, but the same system also treats contracts as untouchable. Thus, what a boss wants to take away can be protected and guaranteed. While we wait for our state legislatures to guarantee equal pay for women, workers themselves can bargain for a contract that ensures equal pay for women with an enforcement that the workers can review and confirm everyone's pay information.
While we fight for laws to guarantee access to reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion services, workers can bargain for a contact that ensures those services are included in their health insurance plans. Power concedes nothing without demand, and no single worker has adequate leverage. It’s imperative for workers to band together to demand improvements in their working conditions.
Workers banding together would represent a return to the work done by the founders of that first International Women's Day. Rose Schneiderman was a member of the Women’s Trade Union League who once famously declared, "What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply to exist - right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art... The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." So, this Women's History Month, consider banding together in your workplace to bring change now.
A powerful Women's History Month to all,
Arjun (AJ) Sinha, M.D., M.S.