Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently expanded the number of women sitting on the Texas Commission for Women from seven to 15 and issued five key points for it to consider: women-owned businesses, STEM education, volunteerism, women and children’s health and female military members.
Dedicating a “women’s commission” to these issues has problematic implications. These are issues that anyone, male or female, who works at the Capitol should be willing to address. However, we need to focus on a more pressing issue: Abbott does not actually respect these gender equality issues.
On face, increasing the number of women on the commission appears to be a favorable step toward equal representation in the government. However, Abbott quickly proved this was a disingenuous act to gain political credit through his speech. When asked about equal pay for women, Abbott responded, “It’s essential that women get more involved in the business arena and that women be able to elevate pay in Texas. It’s going to be women who are going to be setting the pay and charting the course.”
Abbott’s rhetoric regarding the commission was largely focused on the “inspiration” these women will be for other women. He largely dissociated himself from the efforts and made it more about what the women will do for women than the actual political progress that will be made. “What I do know is that with the accomplishments and talents of the women who are behind me, they will be able to galvanize this effort and focus this effort,” Abbott said. What Abbott fails to realize is that, to achieve these expansive and necessary goals, he must act beyond the creation of a minor committee and meaningless speeches.
Women have been fighting tirelessly for equal pay. This harmful issue has been largely ignored for decades, and we need our leaders, both male and female, to be willing to address the issue head-on.
Patsy Woods Martin, executive director for the Austin-based Annie’s List, which aims to “achieve equality for women by changing the face of power in Texas politics,” said a perfect example of why women have yet to receive equal pay lies in Abbott’s response to the subject.
“He had the opportunity to address [equal pay] in the last legislative session, and he voted it down three times,” Woods Martin explained. “I think having … generally guys in leadership positions demagoguing on one hand about the issue, and not taking the opportunity to actually do something about it on the other hand, is a perfect example of what gets in the way of the movement [for equal pay].”
Women are not a special interest group. Our welfare and equality are just as important as that of men. To have the governor of our state refuse to recognize equal pay in his flagship committee for women’s rights is repulsive and unacceptable. Women in Texas deserve a leader who not only promotes equality but actively acts on it. When the next gubernatorial elections rolls around, let’s make this a priority.
Vernon is a PACE freshman from Houston. Follow her on Twitter @_emilyvernon_.