By Rachel Barr
Rachel Barr is currently a second-year law student at the University of Michigan. She holds a Master’s in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Diplomacy and Global Politics from Miami University. Prior to law school she worked as a consultant in Washington, DC.
In mid-September, I had the privilege of hearing June Zeitlin, Director of Human Rights Policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights speak at Congregation Beth Adam. As an attendee at her presentation, however, I was in a unique position; I’ve known June for over four years. I first met June as a recent college graduate when I interned at The Leadership Conference, and a year later, after finishing a master’s degree, June offered me a job as her research assistant. Working with June on international women’s rights issues deepened my passion for and commitment to women’s equality and women’s rights, and June encouraged and inspired me to pursue a law degree so that I could be an even more effective advocate for these issues. I am lucky to call June one of my mentors, and am delighted she agreed to speak to the Beth Adam community.
Two issues in June’s presentation stood out most prominently to me. First, I was struck by June’s statement that raising the minimum wage is one of best things our society could do for women’s equality. Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers and tipped workers. While some states have increased their minimum wages, the federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 and hour and has not been raised since 2009. At this rate, someone working full time only makes $14,500 per year; for a working parent with two kids, this is below the poverty line. Increasing the minimum wage to $12.00/hour would mean a raise for thirty percent of working women.
Tipped wage workers are even worse off, making only $2.13 per hour; a rate which has not changed since 1991. Two-thirds of tipped workers are women, and tipped workers are two times more likely to be in poverty than others in the workforce. An increase in the minimum wage is an often overlooked, but incredibly important, women’s issue in the United States. I’m glad June shed light on the need to raise the minimum wage in order to provide greater financial security for minimum wage workers, many of whom are women
Second, I was happy to hear June discuss the international treaty on women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and call for the United States to ratify the treaty. Despite being a comprehensive women’s rights treaty which the World Bank has said “has improved women’s literacy levels, labor force participation rates, and parliamentary representation—and in some cases has reduced absolute gender inequalities,” the United States, along with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga, has refused to ratify the treaty. June highlighted the importance of the United States, a world leader, ratifying the treaty so that we can advocate more effectively for women’s equality both at home and around the world. She also encouraged attendees to get involved in their local Cities for CEDAW campaign, a campaign to get cities to pass resolutions adopting the provisions of CEDAW, and implement measures to advance women’s equality at the local level.
These were just two of the many important issues that were highlighted during June’s presentation; her talk covered much more ground from violence against women and sexual assault on campus, to women’s political participation and the first female major party nominee. As a law student who hopes to spend my career advocating for women’s rights, I am hyper aware of the gender inequality that is pervasive in our society, and the many potential solutions that exist to begin to close the gender gap. I appreciated June shining a light on issues which are so important to me, and exposing members of my community, who may be less familiar with how pervasive and complicated gender inequality is, to the issues we both care so much about.