At this time of the 2021 legislative session’s transmittal of bills in the Montana House and Senate, it is fair to claim — and Montana NOW does — that to “protect” and “defend” Montana women and girls is the most prominent of the many dangerous, disastrous and disingenuous themes in any legislative session that we can remember. Under this banner, many bills promote an anti-woman, anti-human rights and punitive agenda which does more harm than good for women, families and those most marginalized in Montana.
Montana National Organization for Women (NOW) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan women’s human rights organization comprised of diverse statewide members whose purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination and violence to achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in every aspect of social, economic and political life.
Most 2021 bills aim to shame, blame and punish people for who they are and circumstances over which they have little, or no, control. And all this in the middle of a health pandemic and economic crisis! Women in Montana and specifically Indigenous, women of color and those with low incomes are hardest impacted. Women's minimum wage jobs without benefits, business closures and realities of pay disparities that rank Montana 46th nationally, the Triple Day — prevent people from affording child care or having paid sick or family leave, or require leaving their underpaid jobs — thus creating additional burdens on people already struggling.
So how does the vast majority of the Legislature address the extraordinary demands of the current health and economic crisis? By endlessly passing bills to: 1) expand gun rights, including conceal-carry everywhere when intimate partner violence is rising (over 40 bills); 2) curtail women’s reproductive health care and our right to abortion (32 bills introduced); 3) suppress sexual education in schools (Senate Bill 99); 4) discriminate against transgender youth in health care (House Bill 427) and in school team sports (HB 112); 5) criminalize mostly women heads-of-impoverished households for the 0.0017% of alleged welfare “fraud” (SB 100); 6) exponentially increase government overreach with a “personhood” constitutional amendment that gives fertilized eggs more rights than women (HB 337); and religious “freedom to discriminate” against anyone (SB 215). The list goes on.
Instead, bills that would actually protect and advance the human rights of all women and girls amidst the COVID and economic crises were defeated, such as: raising the minimum wage (HB 284); advancing paid family and medical leave (HB 228); and providing tax credit for secure firearm storage or other gun safety measures (HB 409).
These disingenuous “social protections” for women and girls are sometimes hard to ferret out when innocuous language is used to describe their discriminatory policies. HB 112 will “Save Women’s Sports.” Gun rights in HB 102 are justified by insisting women can now arm themselves to kill their attackers (many they know)! And “protection” for women from alleged “unsafe and uninformed” telemedical abortion procedures (HB 171) can harm our mental and physical health, threaten privacy in rural, remote small towns and require long-distance expensive travel.
We must ask, what is the real agenda for this legislative session? Where are the highly paid jobs, economic growth and opportunity for all Montanans who are suffering? Where are the real social protections that address an economic and health pandemic and make a measurable difference in the lives of Montana’s women, families and most marginalized?
What is to be done? Persist, resist and be heard by showing up virtually at leg.mt.gov.
Support remaining bills that provide social protections of women’s and girls’ human rights (HB 35, HB 36, HB 98, HB 221, HB 235, HB 310, HB 613 and SB 4, SB 250, SB 357 and others), and continue to oppose bills that threaten them. Then hold elected Montana representatives accountable now and after the session.
Follow timely legislative alerts on Montana NOW’s Facebook page and join us at now.org.
Advance local women’s human rights resolutions and ordinances.
Look ahead for 2022: consider running for the Legislature and support women’s human rights champion candidates.
Lives are at stake! Trust and believe women.
Jan Strout is president and Lauren Gette-King is vice president of Montana NOW. Both are former Montana State University professors and have years of organizing for women’s human rights locally and globally. Gette-King is a University of Montana graduate student in public health and Strout is co-leading campaigns for Pay Equity and CEDAW (Cities for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and girls).