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Commentary: Ignite for change in 2017

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Louisiana consistently ranks at the bottom on women's issues — including pay disparity, medical access, health outcomes and job opportunities. A 2013 study of women's issues by the Center for American Progress put Louisiana last among the 50 states. Attempts to improve women's lot during the 2016 legislative session bore little fruit; even something as basic as equal-pay legislation failed. Despite comprising 53 percent of the state's population, Louisiana women make 68 cents or less on the dollar compared to Louisiana men.

  In response to those challenges — and to some good-old-boy "joking" on the House floor — state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, launched a social media awareness campaign called #ItsNoJoke. Now Moreno has founded a 501(c)4 group called Ignite Advocacy Network (www.igniteforchange.org), which she calls "phase two" of #ItsNoJoke. Ignite, she tells Gambit, will serve as a bipartisan movement for advancing women's issues in the 2017 legislative session.

  "When there is a policy issue, we can activate our network," Moreno says, whether that means rallying at the Capitol, sending letters to the editor or leading social media campaigns and fundraising. "It's men, women, all together under this umbrella — the army — to push women's issues forward," she adds. "It's been long enough. ... The women and girls of this state deserve this."

Women's issues are everyone's issues, and Louisiana women need your help.

  Within a week of Ignite's launch, more than 500 people signed up and raised $6,000. "Only by doing something as extreme as this are we going to move the needle," Moreno says.

  Ignite's four platform points target the wage gap and income disparities, employment opportunities, education, and violence prevention. Equal pay had the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards but failed in the Legislature last spring. It will be a top priority for Ignite in 2017. Moreno suggests salary negotiation training programs for women, which the state's Workforce Commission could launch, with the state's Human Rights Commission supporting a tip line for employees to file complaints. "All these little things ... work towards ending the gap, not just discrimination," she says.

  Moreno and Ignite will propose a larger, broader package aimed at systemic issues facing women in the workplace. That includes degree programs for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, along with resources to help women understand their rights on the job. Moreno also is working with Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) on a sexual assault survivor bill of rights. Because women comprise less than 20 percent of state legislators, they're counting on support from their male colleagues and Louisiana men in general. House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, is one of the first to sign on.

  Given state lawmakers' track record, it will take plenty of pressure to get even common sense measures approved. Ignite plans to issue "calls to action," which include contacting elected officials, writing letters, attending meetings and hearings to show strength in numbers, and helping spread relevant information through social media.

  Women's issues are everyone's issues, and Louisiana women need your help. To find out how you can get involved, visit www.igniteforchange.org.

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