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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Op-ed: Women legislators are working together to support women across the Commonwealth

The Caucus of Women Legislators are focusing on legislation that advances women's health, economic stability.

The Massachusetts State House is pictured on Feb. 11, 2022.

We are facing many challenges in Massachusetts. I continually hear from families and individuals around Somerville and Medford who are having trouble affording basic needs, worrying about health care and fearing their rights for themselves or their children.  

One of the ways that I focus on solutions to the urgent needs of our communities is by serving in the leadership of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. By working with other women leaders in the House and Senate, the Women’s Caucus provides a place in the State House where we support each other and find new ways to work together to solve problems.

As Vice Chair of the Caucus of Women Legislators this session, I work with a group of 63 state representatives and senators who identify as women from both parties. We set priorities together to support women as we navigate out of the pandemic and seek to meet needs, including elevating women’s economic opportunity and eliminating barriers; addressing racial and gender disparities in health care; and empowering women in government. While we do not always agree, as a group we find common ground to work on each of these larger issues to address the major challenges we face in Massachusetts.

Women continue to face limitations in economic stability, and we know the pandemic disproportionately affected women’s economic well-being and ability to remain in the workforce. Our priority of elevating women’s economic opportunity and eliminating barriers builds on the Caucus’s work of last session that mainly focused on child care, particularly ensuring that the childcare workforce — primarily women — has wages and the support to remain and grow in that career. This legislative session, the Women’s Caucus is supporting a bill to increase rates for human service workers, who care for elders and people with disabilities, critical workforces often staffed by BIPOC women, who are in need of better pay and greater protections. These jobs employ mainly women and also help women to work outside of the home.

Despite work in this area, women continue to earn less than men for the same positions. The Women’s Caucus has endorsed a bill I filed on pay equity, H.1940: “An Act relative to transparency in the workplace.” This bill requires certain employers to submit wage data reports to the state Office of Labor and Workforce Development that include information on employees’ job title, ethnicity, gender identity and compensation — with the ultimate goal of advancing transparency in pay in the workplace. This is an important step in addressing pay inequity in Massachusetts.

Women of color continue to face disparities in access to affordable health care, which is the focus of the Women’s Caucus priority to address racial and gender disparities in health care. For example, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is over three times higher than for white women. The Caucus is prioritizing a number of bills to support maternal health, including one enhancing post-pregnancy mental health care and one providing Medicaid coverage for doula services.

In addition, one of the Women’s Caucus top bills is one I filed, H.534: “An Act to increase access to disposable menstrual products in prisons, homeless shelters, and public schools” to provide equitable access to menstrual products. Inspired by organizing by Somerville and Medford students to push for free menstrual products in their schools, this bill would ensure menstrual products are free and accessible in all schools, prisons and jails and homeless shelters.  

Finally, we have made historic gains in electing women in Massachusetts, electing the first female governor and lieutenant governor in the country. But despite these wins, women remain a minority in elected office nationally, in Massachusetts and at the local level. Our priority of empowering women in government seeks to continue to build support for women’s leadership opportunities and ability to run for office at all levels of government. Last session, we passed a Caucus bill to create a Women’s Rights History Trail to highlight women across the Commonwealth who have contributed to our shared history through women’s rights and suffrage, and continue to inspire new leaders. This year, we continue to prioritize a bill that would enable people running for office to use their campaign funds to pay for child care.  

Women have made gains, but there is still much more to do. The Caucus of Women Legislators was founded in 1975 by the 14 women who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. I was the 188th woman ever elected to the legislature in Massachusetts. There have now been a total of 234 women elected, as we have continued to make gains over the last decade. But when you consider that over 20,000 men have served in the Massachusetts State House over the years, it illustrates the slow trajectory of our progress.

When the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade threatened women’s health access and economic opportunity last year, women in the State House loudly pushed back to ensure that Massachusetts continues to provide access to needed health care and reproductive freedoms. Even as we comprise just over 31% of members of the House and Senate, we are continuing to lead on the most critical issues facing our communities.  

Despite the challenges we face, we continue to make progress — both in electing more women and seeing women in leadership positions, and also in tackling major issues in economic equality and health care. Working together alongside other members of the Caucus of Women Legislators, I am hopeful we can make the strides necessary to continue enhancing the lives of women and girls in our Commonwealth.