By Pat Reuss, Senior Policy Analyst
New faces, new leadership, and renewed hope for equality, fairness, peace and prosperity are on the horizon, and NOW has our "to do" list ready.
The voices, needs, hopes and fears of women were heard loud and clear in November's elections. Women voted in large numbers, and they cast their ballots for candidates who promised economic security, fairness and peace. In race after race, women, especially women of color, were the deciding factor in who won House and Senate seats in Congress. Their votes reinforce our mandate to continue working for equality, justice, health and safety for all.
With supporters of women's equality assuming Congressional leadership roles, we have the potential for promoting and passing legislation that will end discrimination, meet the economic needs of our struggling families, restore and increase civil and equal rights and ensure the health and wellbeing of every person in this country.
While NOW will continue to work on the full panoply of our multi-faceted, multi-issue agenda for equality, the new Congress gives us hope that there can be some early movement on legislation and policy initiatives that promote a healthy and equitable economy, equal and civil rights, workplace fairness and quality and accessible reproductive health care.
With our members and chapters in every state, NOW will join the new Congressional leaders in promoting an immediate increase in the federal minimum wage, and we will also push for automatic cost of living increases, which will move millions of working women out of poverty.
Crafting laws and policies that help ease the family/work balancing act is high on our agenda for the new Congress. We will be working with our allies and supporters in Congress to introduce an enhanced version of Representative Lynn Woolsey's Family and Workplace Balancing Act, which will address the needs of many struggling and stressed parents and caregivers — for example, expanding the availability of child care and paid sick leave, providing family and medical leave coverage for more workers, and expanding it to include other caregiving responsibilities.
We will also campaign for the timely passage of hate crimes legislation that expands the current law to include gender, disability, sexual orientation and sexual identity to the already protected classes of race, religion and national origin. Both the Senate and the House have previously passed versions of this legislation and it is at the top of the agenda for civil, equal and human rights groups.
Immigration reform will be a key issue, and has been used as a wedge by our opponents. Working with women's rights and women of color organizations, we must ensure that consideration of immigration reform is fair, comprehensive and reflects the social and economic forces affecting the lives of immigrant women.
NOW will continue our four-decade campaign to promote the reproductive rights of women, including universal and unfettered access to contraceptives, family planning and adolescent health services. Our advocacy for Emergency Contraception (EC) as a "purchase it off the shelf" product will make it available to more women, and we will promote universal and affordable access for young women to the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. And we join the bipartisan nationwide demand for federal support for research on embryonic stem cells.
Because peace is a feminist issue, NOW will continue our work as part of a world-wide call to end the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and to promote diplomatic negotiations for peace in the middle east, Africa, Korea and other areas where war, violence and turmoil are killing people and destroying families, communities and nations.
Of course our agenda for equality is long, including: pushing for a healthy human needs budget; supporting bills to promote fair pay, end the wage gap and stop workplace discrimination; monitoring judicial nominations; promoting real welfare reform and tax fairness; pursuing reproductive justice for all women; fully-funding and expanding the Violence Against Women Act in the areas of prevention and underserved communities; promoting retirement security through equitable reforms in pensions and Social Security; demanding equal rights with hearings on a Constitutional amendment, ratification of equality treaties and repeal of punitive policies; supporting fairness and equity in education and the media; opposing segregation in our schools, and promoting universal and affordable health care for all.
For more details on our forward-looking agenda, you can read it online and of course check the website regularly for updates and alerts on how you can help.
If you don't already receive NOW's Action Alerts, you can choose from several email options by entering your email address in the box on NOW's home page at www.now.org.
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