August 26 is Women's Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote 94 years ago. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from full equality for every woman. The mainstream conversation about women's rights over the last century has at best left behind, and at worst ignored, intersectional identities (women of color, transgender women, poor women, immigrant women, etc.). For example, we often see the data that women who work full time earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earned. But the figures are astoundingly worse for women of color. African American women earn only approximately 64 cents and Latinas only 54 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.
And transgender women face even more obstacles in employment. Low-income transgender women face barriers in employment for the simple fact of not being able to obtain ID documents with the correct name and gender marker. In fact, because of varying and arbitrary legal standards, it is not unusual for a transgender woman's license to reflect one sex and her passport another - imagine the employment nightmare that creates when it comes time to fill out initial paperwork for a job. As a result, many transgender women are outed during the hiring process, which often leads to more discrimination. Because of barriers to employment and other systems of inequality transgender women face high levels of homelessness and poverty.
In most states, including Maine, poor and rural women face special challenges accessing abortions. Because of the Hyde Amendment, in effect in various forms since 1977, Medicaid cannot be used to cover abortion services except in very narrow circumstances of rape or incest. That means that women who do not have private insurance and cannot afford to pay for an abortion out of pocket do not have access to the same range of reproductive choices that wealthier women have. Rural women often face the additional burden of undertaking travel expenses just to get to a clinic that performs abortions (for example, there are only three in the entire state of Maine).
The outlook is just as bleak in arenas not traditionally associated with women's rights, like the criminal justice system. Women are the fastest growing population behind bars. Two-thirds of women in prison are women of color. Transgender women experience extremely high rates of violence at the hands of the criminal justice system - both inside and outside of prison.
Hopefully next year we'll have more equality to celebrate.