More than two months into a legislative session that’s seen a number bills aimed at improving the lives of women die on the floor or in committee, a group of legislators and advocates gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to speak up for women’s rights.
Cassandra Welchlin , director of the Women’s Economic Security Initiative, said the press conference was an opportunity to demonstrate women’s rights advocates would “continue to be a voice for what concerns women in this state.”
In February, a bill that would have made domestic violence grounds for divorce was killed. After pushback, an amendment was introduced to a separate bill that broadens the ability of domestic abuse victims to cite such abuse as grounds for divorce.
“Even though those bills have died, it’s still very important for us to lift these issues up,” Welchlin said. “We’re not going away, we’re not going to wait for them to get it right and to do it.”
Before the press conference, slices of pecan and sweet potato pie with stickers that read “Want more pie? So do Mississippi’s women” were delivered to legislators’ desks to symbolize the gender wage gap in Mississippi.
A December 2016 study published by the University Research Center at Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning states the gender pay gap in Mississippi is “approximately 27 percent,” compared to almost 19 percent nationally. After adjusting for education, experience, and industry, the Mississippi figure drops to about 18 percent according to the study’s author Sondra Collins.
“Wage inequality not only affects Mississippi’s women, it also has a negative impact on our state’s economy as a whole along with entire families,” said Rep. David Baria-D, Bay St. Louis, who authored an equal pay bill this year. “We owe it to our state’s hardworking women to make this happen.”
State Treasurer Lynn Fitch was not present at the event, but she has championed the issue of equal pay during the legislative session.
“It’s time to show Mississippi women that they are a valued part of our community. Mississippi was the very last state to ratify the women’s right to vote – in 1984,” Fitch said in a statement, acknowledging when the state officially ratified the 19th amendment. “We shouldn’t be the very last state to take steps to close the pay gap.”
Moving forward, Welchlin and legislators urged people to visit the Capitol and get in touch with their lawmakers to keep them aware of issues that are important to them.
“What happens in this building impacts what happens at your household and what happens in your household impacts what happens in your neighborhoods,” Welchlin said.
Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, acknowledged that the Legislature has “had a few problems” passing legislation involving women out of committee. She encouraged the public to get involved.
“You need to make sure that your legislator knows what those things are that you want to get passed,” she said.