Illinois officials say the state should be doing more to level the playing field for women and girls. A council working toward that goal released its first annual report today.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton is leading the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, which is working to provide women with more leadership roles, increase economic and academic opportunities, and address barriers such as gender-based violence and issues related to health and healthcare.
Stratton and other lawmakers said these barriers have been preventing women from reaching their full earning potential. The council also wants to empower women and girls to take on issues facing their communities.
State Rep. Anna Moeller, (D-Elgin) said organizations are more successful when they have women in power.
“We see that here in our own General Assembly, where women legislators are leading on the major issues facing our state from budget and revenue, to consumer protection, healthcare, veteran’s affairs, higher education, energy, and the environment,” Moeller said.
Although 51% of Illinoisans are women, Moeller said they make up just 36% of state legislators.
Health and healthcare is another primary focus of the council. Lawmakers spoke about what they count as previous victories in the General Assembly, such as making abortion a fundamental right for women, and putting a price cap on insulin for people with insurance.
The council is also trying to address the fact that non-Latina black women and their infants are more likely to die during childbirth than women from other demographic groups. Members are supporting legislation that would expand access to postpartum healthcare, and increase access to substance use and mental health services for pregnant women.
Stratton said while the state has made progress in equity and academic outcomes for girls, women are still not on equal footing with men in the workplace.
“In 2017, women in Illinois who worked full-time earned 78 cents on the dollar compared with similarly employed men,” Stratton said. “They’re not expected to see equal pay until the year 2065.”
Stratton said the disparity is even greater for black and Latina women, who respectively earn 63 and 49 cents on the dollar.
The council wants to encourage girls to enter higher-paying, STEAM fields — short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. They are also backing legislation aimed at increasing access to affordable childcare for women who work and go to school.
The women have also set priorities to reduce rape-kit backlogs, and fight against gender-based violence.