Whoa! Are you sitting down? Because this is a big day for American women.
First up: choice advocates are breathing a loud sigh of relief this week, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling knocking down a draconian Texas law that would have shuttered three quarters of the facilities providing abortion services in the Lone Star State.
Second: Justices also voted 6 to 2 that reckless domestic assaults can be considered misdemeanor crimes to restrict gun ownership by domestic abusers. These are both colossal wins for women in a year when we’ve taken a whole lot of hits.
But ladies, the SCOTUS rulings aren’t the only reasons to celebrate. There’s also quite a bit of lemonade being made from all of those lemons this year (thanks, Beyoncé), and we should pause for a moment and celebrate some of the achievements that have been made in women’s rights in the past few months alone.
Granted, we have a long way to go before all states provide free birth control to women. The idea that any government still considers itself responsible for deciding how and when a woman chooses to start a family, while often creating or enforcing laws that deny her and her family proper protection, is reprehensible. But these success stories remind us that it is possible for women to fight and win in their battle for equality. Now, if we can only keep up the momentum and end the year on an even more positive note.
Maryland makes Plan B free for everyone
In 2018, Maryland will become the first state to mandate coverage for Plan B, an over-the-counter emergency contraceptive otherwise known as the “morning after pill.” The pill generally costs between $25 and $65, according to Planned Parenthood. And that’s not the only way Maryland is proving its progressive attitude toward birth control. Women will be able to get up to six months of birth control pills in one trip to the pharmacy, all types of birth control pills will be free, and contraceptives like the IUD will no longer require preauthorization. Good news for men in Maryland, as well: Out-of-pocket costs for vasectomies will also be eliminated as part of the new plan.
California makes birth control free
Whether you rely on birth control pills, vaginal rings, patches or injections, a new California law covers all forms of contraception and makes it possible for women to obtain them from the pharmacist without visiting her doctor first (IUD’s and other devices that must be inserted into the body are the exception). A pharmacist will take your blood pressure, require that you fill out a questionnaire and then either give you the birth control of your choice or recommend one that could work for you. It’s unclear still whether the pharmacy could charge for its services, but if your health insurance plan covers contraceptives, these will be covered. This service is already offered in Oregon and Washington, and states like Hawaii and Tennessee have proposed similar legislation.
The Obama administration enforces new equal-pay rules
We already knew the stats were grim: Women working full-time jobs still make 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In January, President Barack Obama announced new equal-pay rules in the form of an executive action that requires companies that employ 100 or more workers to disclose to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission how much each employee makes and then break down those numbers further according to gender and race. An EEOC press release defended the changes by stating, “This new data will assist the agency in identifying possibly pay discrimination and assist employers in promoting equal pay in their workplaces.”
President Obama designates a national monument to honor women’s equality
On April 12, 2016 (Equal Pay Day), President Barack Obama designated a national monument called Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument at the historic Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Since 1929, this building has served as the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party and is an important site where hundreds of federal, state and local laws regarding women’s rights have been written. Will a monument help women earn as much money as men? Of course not. But this site and what it stands for deserves protection, and a monument erected in its honor serves to prove its legitimacy.
Michigan improves its domestic violence laws
The Michigan Senate stepped up big time this year by overhauling its domestic violence laws to better protect women. House Bill 4476, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in May, includes protections against online harassment, provides sentencing guidelines for the abuse of a pregnant woman, prevents (in certain cases) a parent from having custody or visitation rights if a child was conceived through sexual assault and protects pets from the person accused of domestic violence.
Georgia helps domestic violence victims by giving them more time to protect themselves
Before 2016, anyone arrested for domestic violence in Georgia was held by police for 12 hours. The law was amended this year to increase the time a suspect can be held to 24 hours, which gives victims more time to form a plan and meet with advocates who can help ensure their safety and the safety of their children. The next step in the state should involve protecting victims of domestic violence in the workplace so that they don’t lose their job if they have to take time off to deal with their situation — but this is a step in the right direction.
U.S. Treasury announces women will take over currency
It’s a symbolic gesture, but an important one. The U.S. Treasury announced in 2016 that new designs are in the works for some of history’s most influential female leaders to take over the $5, $10 and $20 bill. The front of the $5 bill will still feature Abraham Lincoln, but the back will have images of Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Can you think of a better man with whom to share the spotlight?) Likewise, the $10 bill will keep Alexander Hamilton on the front, but the back will feature Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The $20 bill is the one that has us all kinds of excited: Bye, bye, Andrew Jackson — Harriet Tubman is about to replace you.
First female West Point Commandment of Cadets is installed
For the first time in history, the Army installed a female officer at the commandment of cadets at West Point. Brig. Gen. Diana M. Holland assumed the position in January and is the 76th officer to ever hold the position. In this role, Holland is responsible for the “military, physical, character and social development of more than 4,400 cadets.” And her peers and higher ups can’t say enough about her “phenomenal reputation throughout the Army” and leadership qualities.
The Army approved 22 female officers for ground combat
In April, the Army announced female officers can serve in ground combat positions. Under these new rules, the first 22 women were commissioned as infantry and army officers, which opens the door for them to assume leadership roles that were previously unavailable to them. This is a huge win for women who are interested in pursuing careers in the military — and little girls now have even more female role models to look up to — a total win for everyone.