WASHINGTON -- US soccer star Megan Rapinoe brought her high-profile fight for women's equality to Washington Wednesday, testifying before Congress and joining President Joe Biden at a White House event urging an end to the gender pay gap.
The events occurred on Equal Pay Day, which marks the extra weeks and months which American women -- who currently average just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men -- must work to earn the same that their male counterparts made in the previous year.
"I know there are millions of people who are marginalized by gender in the world and experience the same thing in their jobs," Rapinoe said at the White House alongside Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and rising soccer star Margaret Purce. "And I and my teammates are here for them."
Rapinoe is a two-time World Cup champion who has been the face of American women's soccer for nearly a decade.
"Despite those wins, I've been devalued, disrespected and dismissed because I'm a woman," the pink-haired 35-year-old said. "Despite all the wins, I'm still paid less than men who do the same job that I do."
US Soccer reached a deal in December with members of its women's team on working conditions, but a lawsuit over equal pay claims remains outstanding.
But Rapinoe, mindful of the devastating toll that the coronavirus pandemic has had on women in the US work force, said she and other famous athlete-activists are "looking to carry this torch for so many other women" who toil out of the bright camera lights.
"One cannot simply outperform inequality, or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind," she told a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. "I'm here today because I know firsthand that this is true."
At the White House, Biden hailed the women's national soccer team as "heroes" and pledged his administration "is going to fight for equal pay (to) become a reality for all women."
"It's about justice. It's about fairness," he said.
"It doesn't matter if you're an electrician, an accountant, or part of the best damn soccer team in the world: The pay gap is real," Biden added. "And this team is living proof that you can be the very best at what you do, and still have to fight for equal pay."
Rapinoe's lobbying of Washington comes as Democrats propose a raft of comprehensive reforms to ensure full equity for working women, including the Paycheck Fairness Act and legislation that addresses child care for working families, medical and family leave, and fairness for pregnant workers.
When the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963, women were making just 59 cents on the dollar compared to men.
"Today is Equal Pay Day, but it is not a celebration," the House Oversight Committee's chair, Democrat Carolyn Maloney, said in opening remarks.
Pay inequity "is a disgrace, and it has long-term consequences for women and families."
- 'Glacial' change -
Gains have been made over the decades. But the glaring disparity remains, and change has occurred at a "glacial pace," particularly for women of color, said C Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
"If we do nothing, women (on average) will not reach economic parity with men until 2059," she testified. "For women of color it will take more than a century: 2130 for black women and 2224 for Hispanic women."
The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women workers. Nearly three million women have left the workforce since last year, Mason said, in part because of inability to find affordable and reliable child care as their children stayed home to attend school virtually.
Republicans pushed back on the claim that pay inequity was a massive problem, arguing that federal law already prohibits companies from paying employees differently based on gender.
Freshman Republican Nancy Mace, who broke a glass ceiling as the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college in South Carolina, did not deny that a gender wage gap exits.
"I'm just saying it's not because of widespread discrimination," Mace told the hearing, offering that "women in general are willing to trade higher pay for more flexibility."
But Mason, the policy expert, warned that the wage gap cannot be explained away in such fashion.
"It is not a hoax, or the result of women's individual choices," she said.
"It is a result of systemic undervaluing of women's contributions, skills and talents to the workforce and society. We can and should do better."
© Agence France-Presse