Across the nation, 2018 is labeled the “Year of the Woman,” given the high volume of women running for elected office. But here in Connecticut, we can’t wait until November to put “the Year of the Woman” to action.

Right now is our time to speak out and be heard.

Let’s look at the facts: women in Connecticut currently earn 79 cents to every dollar paid to men, slightly below the national average. The wage gap is greater for women of color: black women earn 58 cents and Latina women earn 47 cents to every dollar paid to white men. Women’s wages are critical to their families’ financial stability: 81 percent of black mothers, 66 percent of Latina mothers and 48 percent of white mothers are primary family breadwinners.

Thanks to #MeToo and #TimesUp, men and women across the country and here in our own state are standing up to say enough is enough to a culture and institutions that have undervalued women for centuries. The legislative session opened Feb. 7 with women’s economic security is at the forefront House and Senate Democrats, as well as Gov. Dannel Malloy, unveiled agendas with workplace policies that advance women.

Putting women first in policymaking isn’t just trendy or an act of resistance — it makes economic sense. Policies that advance the economic security of women in our state are critical to the well-being of our workforce, prosperity of our state’s economy, and retention of young workers in Connecticut. On average, women in our state lose a combined total of $5.5 billion due to the gender wage gap. Lost wages mean women have less money to spend on groceries and basic household items that support their families and contribute to the state’s economy.

That’s why we, too, are calling for a robust and comprehensive plan to prioritize women’s economic security.

This session, we need comprehensive pay equity legislation that removes a prospective employee’s already skewed salary history from the equation. According to AAUW, women just one year out of college with full-time employment earn 82 percent less than their male counterparts. The reliance on salary history to set future pay continues a cycle of lower earnings that disproportionately impacts women and workers of color, who earn less right from the beginning of their careers.

Lawmakers must also act boldly to protect women in the workplace from harassment and abuse that has pervaded workplaces for decades. For victims of sexual harassment, coming forward often means lost wages and lost jobs — serious financial consequences that are unacceptable in 2018. We need expanded training requirements in the private sector and a top-down business culture that respects workers and believes women. Change begins internally: state agencies must also continue to evaluate their own practices and make the appropriate improvements.

To truly advance the economic security of women in our state, lawmakers must also recognize the financial penalty women face when they need to care for a new baby or an ill loved one, or recover from a serious illness. Paid family and medical leave is essential to the financial well-being of women in Connecticut, who make up 47 percent of our state’s workforce and remain the primary caregiver in the majority of families. Paid leave also encourages and normalizes care-giving by men, a long-neglected but critical piece of the care-giving puzzle.

Women in Connecticut can’t wait until November for our elected leaders to prove that 2018 is the Year of the Woman. We won’t wait any longer for pay equity, for protections from sexual harassment at work, or for paid family and medical leave.

The Year of the Woman should mean that the needs, voices, and experiences of women are put first. The legislature has a chance until May 9th to prove it.

Kate Farrar is Executive Director and Madeline Granato is Policy Manager of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, a statewide, nonprofit that advocates for and empowers women and girls in Connecticut, especially those who are underserved or marginalized. 

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