Structural and cultural barriers continue to hold women back today. Women have made great strides in the workforce, but inequality persists. A gender gap in access to opportunities and decision-making power between women and men still exists. . Specifically, in Rhode Island, 56% of minimum wage workers are women. 71% of families with children living in poverty are headed by women, 10% are headed by men, and 19% are headed by married couples. This wage gap has a significant impact on all women, particularly women of color and their families. Women in RI also face extreme housing costs. Of the 59% of women that rent houses or apartments, 44% live in poverty.1 One in three female-headed families who rent their home spend 50% or more of their income on housing expenses.2 Being a single mother is especially hard when women are faced with unfair wages and high housing expenses. Becoming more aware of the social, economic, and political inequalities women face in Rhode Island, I have become a stronger advocate for women in all aspects of their life. Through my research and relationships with other organizations and politicians that I have developed, I now fully understand the legislation in RI that affects RI women and their families. Through advocating for pregnancy accommodations, I have discovered that women are still discriminated in the workplace and work needs to be done to protect a woman’s economic security. I was able to help successfully pass legislation that will provide basic accommodations (i.e. bottle of water, extra bathroom breaks, a stool if needed) to pregnant women in the workplace.
The most important lesson that I have learned through working with the WFRI is that women’s issues are not strictly limited to women, they are societal issues. For example, if women are not provided pregnancy accommodations, then they may not be able to work. As a result, they will not have an income and their children and families will suffer. The business will also lose a valuable worker and may become less productive without this worker. They will also have to spend the cost of hiring and retraining a new worker. I do not think that all people realize that if women’s rights are undercut, then there is a ripple effect. Children, families, businesses, and the economy are all affected. Working at WFRI has opened my eyes to the many burdens that women are faced with in RI and how policies for women can affect them in a positive or negative way. Women need to be protected both socially and economically and in order to do this, new policies need to be created that reduce and/or remove the barriers women face in the workplace and in their homes. Learning how to communicate with legislators, deliver testimony, and prepare written materials for hearings have given me the skills to become a strong advocate for gender equality in all arenas of life and promote policies that create equitable social and institutional systems.