Women spotlight economic disparity, health care on International Women’s Day

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/7/19- A coalition of women's groups march to the Capitol as part of International Women's Day in Tallahassee. Photo by Colin Hackley

The symbolism was impossible to ignore for the activists and Democratic state lawmakers who kicked off a celebration of International Women’s Day at the Capitol on Thursday.

As a group of (mostly) men continued to talk on the opposite of the Capitol Rotunda in anticipation of a press conference they were holding, state Rep. Cindy Polo, a Democrat from South Florida, said she wouldn’t be deterred.

“We as women are used to being spoken over. We are used to being dismissed. We are used to being put to the side,” she said to loud cheers from the activists standing behind her. “But what today is about is celebrating the fact that we can speak louder for those in the back who can’t hear us. We can fight harder if our voices aren’t being heard!”

The United Nations began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day starting back in 1975.

Polo cited the economic disparities of how much (or how little) American women make compared to every dollar a man makes., A black women working full-time make just 63 cents to each dollar earned by a white man, while Latinas make just 54 cents to the dollar, she said.

“Women are under attack. We are, we have been, and we will continue to be, but the difference is that we will continue to fight…so that our children and grandchildren will have better rights,” said state Rep. Amy Mercado, a Democrat from Orange County.

Mercado is co-sponsoring legislation called the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” in the House, which would require correctional facilities to provide free health care products for jailed women.

“Women who are incarcerated in women’s facilities have unique needs that require attention. People who menstruate do not have a choice on that menstruation, or control over their menstrual cycles, and should not be required to pay for menstrual products to ensure their health and their dignity,” she said.

Milagros Jimenez, a domestic worker and immigrant from Miami, lamented the high cost of living that requires that she and  other family members  work two and sometimes three jobs.

“We are vulnerable, and we are shining a light on all of these issues,” she said in Spanish, with an interpreter translating to English. “We are the heart of the family, and we are the heart of the nation.”

Other speakers say they  support a bill sponsored in the House by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, that’s been dubbed  a “renter’s bill of rights.”

“The rent’s too damn high!” cracked Trenice Bryant, a formerly incarcerated black woman from Miami, who said that her past limits her from finding affordable housing. She added that lawmakers have taken  more  than $2 billion over the past decade from a state fund that’s supposed to provide affordable housing. Lamwkers have used the money for other things instead. (Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated that he will not support taking money from the affordable housing fund this year.)

“Over the past two decades, more than 911,000 very low-income Floridians pay more than 70 percent of their income on housing,”  Bryant said. “They are one missed paycheck away from being homeless.”

Basma Allawee is a former refugee from Iraq who came to the U.S. with her daughter in 2010.

She lamented the fact that refugee women from other parts of the world have never had more difficulty entering  the U.S. than under the Trump administration. And she called on the public to urge their  state legislators to oppose Senate bill 168, which calls for all law enforcement agencies to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in detaining undocumented immigrants. The measure sponsored by state Republican Party of Florida chair Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota,

Another concern flagged by women who assembled at the Capitol this week: Florida women dying in childbirth. State Rep. Kamia Brown, a Democrat from Orange County, introduced a bill that would create  a “Maternal Mortality Prevention Task Force” to advise the Florida Department of Health on how to reduce maternal deaths. According to her bill, the maternal mortality rate for black women is nearly four times higher than for white women.

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