When my great-grandmother arrived in Baltimore from Poland, she was 16 years old, here to marry a man she’d never met. She had no money in her pocket, but she had the American dream in her heart.
While she was able to build a home and a better future in Maryland, as a woman she couldn’t vote. But she believed in America, and 90 years ago this month, America said it believed in her.
The 19th Amendment became part of our Constitution on Aug. 26, 1920, giving women the right to vote. On the anniversary of that historic day, I want to honor all the courageous women who have made a difference. Women’s roles in history are often overlooked and undervalued. But we have shaped, and continue to shape, society – not only in terms of battles fought and won – but through great social movements.
Though I was the first Democratic woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in her own right, I never wanted to be the only. I wanted to be the first of many.
We still have so much work to do. Women make this country run – as business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, mothers and more. Yet we still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make. Women of color get paid even less.
I was proud to lead the fight on the Senate floor to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in the Senate, and even prouder to stand next to President Obama as he signed his first bill into law. This bill overturned a flawed Supreme Court decision that said if you are discriminated against in the workplace, you can sue for lost wages – but only within 180 days of the first discriminating paycheck. The law restarted the clock on the statute of limitations for filing complaints, making it the date of the last unequal paycheck.
The next step is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will end 20th century discrimination in our 21st century economy. This bill closes a loophole in employer defense, empowers women to negotiate for equal pay, creates incentives for businesses to follow the law – and not discriminate in the first place – and strengthens enforcement efforts to punish businesses that break the law.
Like voting rights, equal pay is not just a woman’s issue. It’s a family issue. It’s a fairness issue. It’s an American issue.
Marylanders can count on me to keep fighting for equal pay for equal work.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski represents Maryland in the United States Senate.