California Lawyers Association

Women’s History Month: Equality still in progress

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By Emilio Varanini and Ona Alston Dosunmu

From women’s rights champion Susan B. Anthony to historic athletes such as tennis great Serena Williams, the course of human history has been indelibly shaped by incredible women. Despite the long list of accomplishments by women, it seems unfathomable that in 2021, we’re still struggling with gender inequality.

When the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, women were only getting paid 59 cents for every dollar that men earned. Since then, that wage gap has shrunk to 82 cents, but at this rate, it’ll take another half-century before women are equal earners with men. Equal Pay Day is the date showing how far into a year women have to work to match what men earned the prior year. For all women combined, Equal Pay Day was Wednesday, March 24. When you disaggregate women by race, Equal Pay Day for Latinas and Black women is even later in the year.

Official celebration of women’s history started initially in 1981, when the U.S. Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 authorizing the president to proclaim the week starting March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” Congress then passed joint resolutions annually, designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week” until 1987, when Pub. L. 100-9 designated March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” That expanded through the years, and since 1995, presidents have issued annual proclamations declaring each March as “Women’s History Month.”

Sadly, we lost one of the greatest women leaders and advocates for gender equality, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Sept. 18, 2020. A pioneer for change, the ways in which Ginsburg made life and work better for women are numerous. She broke down barriers, setting the stage for women to make an impact in the legal field, but also in academia and other professions throughout the country.

Most should know Justice Ginsburg’s accomplishments, but for those who may need a refresher, she graduated first in her class form Columbia Law School. She was also only the second woman to become a law professor at Rutgers University, where she founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first legal journal centered on the rights of women. Ginsburg followed that up in 1972 by becoming the first tenured female Columbia Law School professor, fighting for equal retirement benefits with her male colleagues. Ginsburg co-wrote the first law school casebook on sex discrimination in 1974 and co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Projects.

As an attorney, Ginsburg argued six cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court—winning five of them. And let us not forget she was only the second woman (and first Jewish woman) to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the epitome of a “progressive,” writing lengthy, passionate dissents on opinions whenever she found the majority rule to be regressive. She was, in a nutshell, an inspiration to the generations of women who followed in her footsteps.

Losing Ginsburg was viewed by many as a blow to gender equality. The California Lawyers Association, however, was emboldened by the outpouring of strength shown worldwide following the tragedy of her passing. To that end, one of us endorsed a call by the Lawyers Club of San Diego and other sibling bar associations to create an RBG Day statewide holiday. Senator Susan Rubio’s SCR 21 — a resolution proclaiming March 15, 2021, “Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg Day” is a logical extension of that endorsement and one the authors support.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this month, we should be mindful that Ginsburg stood proud and fought for women’s rights every day of her adult life. She was a force for change and will continue to be for generations to come. Ginsburg once said that “real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” It’s up to us to take up the torch and light they way daily to reach gender equality and honor the example Ginsburg set for us all.

Emilio Varanini is president of the California Lawyers Association.

Ona Alston Dosunmu is CEO and executive director of the California Lawyers Association.

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