By Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty, ACLU
 

“You’ve come a long way, baby.” That was a slogan of my youth. It was a marketing campaign for Virginia Slims, a cigarette marketed to women. The ads featured sexist images of the past — “Give women the right to vote and, by heavens, next thing you know, she’ll want to smoke like a man” — to mark progress. 

Now, nearly two decades into the 21st century, I wonder how far we have really come. More than 20 states explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people; a Black woman is the candidate of a major party to be governor of Georgia; and sex discrimination is banned in employment, education, housing, and federally funded health care. 

But in America today, a woman makes on average 80 cents to a man’s dollar. A Black woman makes only 62 cents to a white man’s dollar. Federal law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation based on race, religion, and other categories, but not based on sex, including sexual orientation or transgender status. There are still police departments in this country that don’t make clear in policies or training materials that on-duty sexual misconduct against civilians is prohibited. 

Six of the nation’s 50 governors are women. Five are white. None is transgender or lesbian. Eighty-one percent of women report having been subject to sexual harassment. More than a third have experienced intimate partner violence. Those companies that provide paid family leave — still less than 40 percent — often offer significantly less leave for men, reinforcing the notion that raising children is women’s responsibility. Federal health plans, including Medicaid, ban coverage of abortion unless the pregnancy results from rape or incest or is life-threatening. 

This list could go on.

The following are some approaches other countries have taken to the combat gender inequity. This list does not constitute an endorsement of any country’s commitment to gender equality or to the effectiveness of the law in practice. We well appreciate that the countries below are not free of gender discrimination — some are arguably far more discriminatory than the United States — and the laws may be imperfect or more for show. But they nonetheless offer approaches that may merit our consideration. 

1. Argentina’s Gender Identity Law

Argentina’s law, adopted in 2012, allows for legal gender recognition based solely on an individual’s self-determination and makes sex-change surgery a legal right, covered by public and private insurance. 

2. Germany’s Wage Transparency Act

As of January 6, 2018, German law allows workers at companies with more than 200 employees to find out the median remuneration of a colleague of the opposite sex in the same or a comparable role. The median remuneration is based on that of at least six opposite-sex colleagues. 

3. Rwanda’s Political Representation

Rwanda’s Constitution, adopted in 2003, mandates that 30 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women. Today, 61.3 percent of the lower chamber and 38.5 percent of the upper chamber seats of the Rwandan parliament are held by women, the highest representation of women parliamentarians in the world. 

4. Pakistan’s Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act

Pakistan’s new law, adopted in 2018, prohibits discrimination against transgender people in schools, at work, on public modes of transit, and while receiving medical care. It also allows people to choose their gender and to have that identity recognized on official documents, including national IDs, passports, and driver's licenses. 

5. Iceland’s Equal Pay Law

Gender-based pay discrimination has been illegal in Iceland since 1961. But in the face of a gender wage gap of nearly 6 percent, Iceland adopted a new law in 2018 that requires companies to demonstrate that their wages are fair. By 2022, any public or private body in Iceland employing more than 25 people that has not been independently certified as paying equal wages for work of equal value will face daily fines. 

6. Sweden’s Parental Leave

Sweden provides 480 days of paid parental leave, to be used before a child is eight. Two-parent households get the full benefit only if each parent takes ninety, non-transferable days off, an effort to ensure that no one parent or gender is seen as the sole caregiver.  

7. Norway’s Board Membership Rule

Since 2008, Norway has required that women make up 40 percent of publicly listed company boards. Companies that fail to comply risk dissolution

8. New Zealand’s Sex Work Decriminalization

New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003 with the Prostitution Reform Act, which protects sex workers rights through employment and human rights legislation. 

9. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service

The U.K.’s National Health Service covers abortion and treatment for gender dysphoria

10. Canada’s End to Its Tampon Tax

In 2016, Canada eliminated its 5 percent tax on tampons and other menstrual products. 

11. Morocco’s Law on Domestic Workers

In 2016, Morocco passed a law that requires proper labor contracts for domestic workers, limits their daily working hours, guarantees days off and paid vacations, and sets a minimum wage. The law also provides financial penalties for employers who violate these provisions and even prison sentences for repeat offenders. 

12. Around the World: Women Leaders

In more than 70 countries women have served as president or prime minister. Those countries include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Liberia, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. The first woman to become a head of state was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who served as prime minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka beginning in 1960. 

Later this week, the ACLU will unveil a plan that calls out the ongoing problems of discrimination in the United States and pledges our commitment to achieving progress in each area over the next 12 months. To make progress, we need you. What policies do you think would advance gender justice in the United States? Please let us know in the comments section below. 

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