Like countless women across the country and globe today, I’m wearing red. Adorning red in commemoration of International Women’s Day may seem like a simple or simplistic statement in support of women’s equality. But in this new era, wearing red is an important political act, carrying with it the demands of generations of women who came before us, millions of women fighting for their rights today, and of our daughters and granddaughters who have yet to grasp the full weight of living in an unequal world.
Front and center on my list of demands is for women to finally achieve economic freedom. We need to root out sexism, racism, discrimination and gender inequality across the board, but that’s not possible until women acquire real economic power. The women who make our country work ought to have a say in how that work gets done and who benefits from it. Our economic liberation requires freedom in our workplaces, in our healthcare decisions, in our homes, and our communities. It is vital that every woman, even if she is struggling financially, be able to consider all her options to lead a healthy and full life. To plan whether or not to marry or divorce, whether or when to have children, whether or when to achieve a higher education, whether or when to leave a job, whether or when to wear red.
Right now, too often women in our country are given false choices. Unreasonable choices. Unequal choices. Either put food on the table or care for your child. Find a new job or a second job to make ends meet. Grin and bear sexual harassment, unequal pay, and disrespect, or accept a reputation as a troublemaking bitch. Choose to be a good mom OR a good daughter OR a good employee.
This is not the life I signed up for. I doubt you did either. And yes, there are handfuls of women who have it all. They either came into this world with privilege, possess exceptional family supports, or won the boss lottery. But until all women can slay, none of us really can.
It’s easy to point out all the broken glass ceilings as evidence of our equality. But it’s not the full picture. Not by a long shot. Globally, women’s earnings are still 24 percent less than men’s, even though women work longer hours in nearly every country, and do nearly two and a half times as much unpaid care work.
Take the news last week that the parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC launched a generous paid parental leave program, which includes 18 weeks for moms to take care of a newborn, and eight weeks for dads and employees who adopt a child. Yet Yum Brands only extended the policy to corporate headquarters staff, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of people in its restaurant workforce who need this type of leave the most. Furthermore, the birth or adoption of a child is just an iota of the care supports that women need across their lifetime. Until we have achieved universal care so we can afford to take care of an aging parent, a seriously ill loved one, or a sick child we’re stuck in a powerless position of fear of losing our job or life savings while struggling through a stressful patchwork of band-aid fixes.
Building the long-term policy shifts and supports we need to advance our economic freedom won’t happen overnight. Structural fixes aren’t easy, aren’t sexy, and can’t be summed up in a hashtag or on a t-shirt. But there are signs of progress, as women band together to reclaim our power. We are uniting and winning demands for paid sick days, consistent and dependable schedules, higher wages, ending the sexist and racist tipped subminimum wage and the exclusion of domestic workers from basic wage and overtime protections. Through these wins, women are taking the first steps at earning a fair return on their work so they can make smart choices for themselves and those who follow.
And I’m wearing red today for women on the frontlines of these fights.
I wear red for Anabel, a tireless activist in Ohio who risks getting deported and separated from her three daughters for her bold work organizing her community to support compassionate immigration policies. Anabel courageously takes a stand so that immigrant women don’t have to live in shadows and accept shameless pay and workplace conditions.
I wear red for Kimberly, a passionate community leader, mom, and makeup artist in Washington, D.C. whose employer cut back her hours and issues her schedule with little to no notice. She’s pushing to pass new rules so that she and thousands of people working in restaurants and retail shops can achieve schedules that allow them to plan their lives and take care of their loved ones.
I wear red for Melissa, a firecracker from Colorado who is part of the Fight for $15 movement. Melissa takes great pride in her work as a homecare provider caring for her aging and disabled patients, but is paid so poorly she can’t make ends meet to take care of the basic needs of her own family.
I wear red for Everlyn who marched alongside thousands this weekend to demand a better workplace. She is joining together with her fellow autoworkers to earn vacation, sick time, and a fair shake at Nissan, where she’s worked for 10 plus years. Nissan negotiates with unions of working people in all of its plants around the globe, except for in plants with predominantly Black employees — Everlyn’s in Mississippi and one Tennessee.
And I wear red for my daughter Suraiya so that she can grow up to claim her own path to self-determination and thrive.
Women are speaking out today, uniting in the streets, and even withholding their labor to earn the right to lead the life we want to live. Today’s acts of resistance are building blocks for the profound changes we can achieve if we rewrite the rules so that women from all walks of life are in the drivers’ seat of their lives and in control of their economic well-being.