ANNAPOLIS — Equal pay. Equal rights. Equality, period.
Several women passionately summarized those sentiments at a rally Monday near the House of Delegates building.
“We are here to improve conditions for working women and their children; improve conditions for incarcerated women,” said Del. Pam Queen (D-Montgomery County), who led to organize the rally. “We are here, so here us now.”
Dozens held signs, wore “Women’s Rally” stickers and braved the cold air outside the House of Delegates to hear about various pieces of legislation that called for increasing the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15, establishing a family and medical leave insurance program, and promoting gender diversity in corporate management.
A sparse crowd heard some of the speeches along with a handful of men.
“It is the responsibility of all men, particularly my fellow male legislators, that we are out here in solidarity with our fellow women legislators,” said Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County). “We [must be] committed to women’s liberation in the same way we’re committed to ending all forms of oppression of marginalized and vulnerable people. I’m calling out my fellow male legislators for not being here because they should’ve been.”
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23) of Bowie said several events and visitors descended upon Annapolis on Monday, which was also Presidents’ Day.
“It’s a very active night,” she said.
As for the voice of women in Annapolis, it’s become a major deal with 72 women in the General Assembly, the most ever. There’s been some changes on how to eliminate the “good ol’ boy” network and improve working conditions.
A report released in December outlined how 11 of 17 complaints were filed against state lawmakers since 2017. Although it offered no specific details, it classified five as harassment of “nonprotected groups.”
Last year, Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) was accused of misconduct. Although no evidence was found from a 2004 claim, an ethics committee determined Anderson made inappropriate sexual comments over the years, and House Speaker Michael Busch stripped him of a leadership position over the summer.
Last month, all lawmakers attended sexual harassment training.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael Busch announced Tuesday a company will conduct a “workplace climate survey” this month. Results from the survey will be presented to the Legislative Policy Committee later this year.
That’s why some lawmakers and advocates such as Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy with the National Women’s Law Center in northwest D.C., are pushing for legislation to ensure women receive equal rights.
“Maryland has at times been a leader on equal pay and pregnancy accommodations in the past, but I’m worried we’re starting to fall behind,” she said in regard to bills to prohibit employers to rely on person’s wage history and improvement of working conditions.
Near the end of the rally, Del. Wanika Fisher (D-District 47B) of Hyattsville read 27 names, including her own, of the newly elected women in the legislature.
“Reading their names is super important because there’s power in a name,” she said. “There’s a lot of male names, so it’s really important we recognize some female names.”