LANSING, Mich. — As challenges to women's rights in Michigan mount, leaders from more than 30 social and professional organizations announced today that their groups have joined together to form MI Lead, a nonpartisan coalition dedicated to empowering women and ensuring gender equality statewide.

“Protecting women’s rights and empowering women leads to stronger, more stable families and a more equal and more prosperous Michigan, which benefits everyone in the state,” said Kindra Speech of the Michigan Partners Project, one of the coalition members. “Yet every day, women must overcome major obstacles to maintain their health, safety and economic security.”

The coalition aims to restore Michigan as a model state for women’s rights by strengthening laws for women and families and addressing gender inequality across the state.

MI Lead has engaged more than 30 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, Business and Professional Women of Michigan, AFL-CIO, Michigan League for Public Policy, Right to Health, American Association of University Women and the Michigan National Organization for Women.

Although women are more than half of the state’s population, earn 56 percent of the college degrees and make up slightly less than half of its workforce, they face a myriad of challenges:

  • Michigan ranks 44th in the nation on the wage gap, with women making only 74 cents for every dollar a man makes and women of color making even less.

  • Michigan ranks 35th nationally on overall indicators of women’s and children’s health and well-being.

  • Michigan ranks 33rd nationally in the number of women in the state legislature, accounting for just 21 percent of the seats in the Michigan Legislature and 21 percent of the state’s congressional seats.

  • Michigan ranks 15th worst nationally on poverty rates for women, with more than 18 percent of women overall and 37 percent of women of color live in poverty.

“Equal economic opportunity and access to quality health care is an important matter for all citizens in Michigan,” said Lara Chelian, co-director of the coalition. “Given that there are 2.1 million women working in the state, our coalition believes that women will play an even bigger role in the future success of our state as we increase efforts to ensure their equal rights.”

Echoing Gov. Rick Snyder’s call last week in his State of the State address to create a “River of Opportunity” for all Michigan residents, coalition leaders said they hope to influence policymakers on issues such as pay equity, women’s access to quality health care and fair maternity leave policies.

“If Michigan is to prosper, it must ensure that policies being pushed by some lawmakers, policymakers and business leaders that restrict women’s economic parity and health care access are stopped in their tracks,” said Merissa Kovach, the coalition’s other co-director. “MI Lead will make sure that women’s voices are heard.”

MI Lead is encouraging other groups and individuals to join its effort.