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Capitol Comments: Women have come a long way throughout state and nation

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

It might be difficult for many of our daughters and granddaughters to believe, but most of the opportunities that girls and women have today did not exist more than 50 to 100 years ago.

Peggy Bennett

Some examples: women couldn’t vote; they could be fired from their job if they became pregnant; they couldn’t have a career in the military; couldn’t serve on a jury; couldn’t work at night; and if they did work, in some cases had to hand over their earnings to their husbands!

A lot has changed for women in our country over the last century!

This last week, we celebrated International Women’s Day, where we recognized the contributions of women around the world. This year’s theme is Women in Leadership.

We have many amazing women serving in our state Legislature. The first four women to serve in the Minnesota House did so in 1922. Today, 51 of the 134 members of the Minnesota House of Representatives are female. These are incredible women who lead in their communities and were elected by those communities to serve as state leaders. They live in all corners of our state and have backgrounds in many differing professions: from business owners and doctors to teachers and farmers.

I believe there are great advantages to having a balance of men and women in the leadership. Each brings important perspectives and life stories to the table. As a Legislature and as a state, we are stronger when both men and women are leading.

Women have come a long way in our state and country. I am greatly concerned, however, that these long fought for gains will be jeopardized with legislation that is moving in both the Minnesota House and in Congress.

The Equality Act, a proposition being pushed forward by Democrats, would make changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the same way that it does for race. The supporters of this proposed constitutional amendment call for all human beings to be treated with respect and dignity — something I think we can all agree upon.  But in reality, this legislation would reverse those very things for women. The Equality Act would be far from “equal” for women.

Women’s sports would be changed forever. Among other requirements, this law would mandate that biological boys and men who identify as women must be allowed to compete in girls’ and women’s sports, sleep in the same rooms for sports overnighters, and shower and dress alongside girls.

There is a reason why women fought hard to have their own sports in high school, college and beyond, and for the scholarships and advantages that come with those sports. There are very real physical and biological differences that give males a distinct physical advantage over females. Placing male and female bodies together in physical competition often creates an unequal disadvantage for women.

We witnessed a good example of this a few years ago in Connecticut where two males who identified as female easily won first and second place in the girls’ track and field state championship. The girls competing in those races not only lost out on all of the hard work they put into their sport, but may have very well lost out on college scholarship opportunities as well.

Not only women’s sports would be impacted by the Equality Act. Women in battered women shelters would be forced to sleep, dress and shower alongside biological males and women’s prisons would be required to do the same. Basically, if this bill passes, it would make it illegal to provide any private or exclusive spaces for only women.

Where are the rights for girls and women in all this? When one group is given a right it sometimes takes away another group’s rights. Government has to be very careful where it treads here. I fully support that ALL people be treated respectfully and with dignity, including our LGBTQ neighbors, but this law goes too far and tramples on the rights, dignity and uniqueness of women.

As a woman in the Legislature, I have always felt welcomed and empowered by both the men and women who work at the Capitol. It has been an honor to serve my area, first as a teacher and now as a lawmaker. Women have come a long way over the past 100 years, and it is important as legislators that we ensure any proposals we consider help women continue to move forward, and not force them to take steps backward.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.