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High schoolers urge Washington lawmakers to eliminate gender price discrimination | Local News | Spoken | The Pacific Northwest Inlander

click to enlarge High schoolers are calling on Washington lawmakers to eliminate gender price discrimination

Different pricing of products for men and women could soon be illegal.

WAshington could stop companies refrain from pricing products differently just because they’re marketed for gender — like these pink razors, which are basically the same as their blue counterparts but cost more.

Senate Bill 5171 would do that, says Senator Manka Dhingra, the bill’s lead sponsor. Dhingra, a Democrat representing Redmond, says women are often faced with unfair prices for everything from personal care products to toys.

“If you really think about how much money women spend on these products over a lifetime, it’s a lot,” says Dhingra. “Given the lifetime tax impact on women and women of color, this is a very important justice bill.”

The bill is the latest Dhingra has introduced after working with high school students who submit bills each year as part of their coursework in advanced government classes.

Seniors at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland brought forward the Gender Discrimination Act as part of TVW’s Capitol Classroom program. (TVW is the Washington Legislature’s version of C-SPAN.) Instructors Michael Dawson and Bethany Shoda helped their students research the idea and present it to legislators in their area.

“This one really caught my attention because I think a lot of us women, especially older women, have seen this price discrimination for so long, and I feel like the older generation kind of accepted it,” says Dhingra. “I loved how passionate these kids were and how unwilling they were to continue this trend.”

Dawson says he and Shoda don’t dictate which bills students have to work on.

“These are all entirely student-created,” says Dawson. “I want the kids to work on a topic that’s close to their hearts.”

Previous student-driven legislation included the successful 2021 effort to require public high schools and universities to provide free menstrual products in their bathrooms.

“We see these as small laboratories of democracy,” says Shoda. “We give children a chance to see that they can make a difference.”

Mahi Nemania Lake Washington senior says her group liked the structure of similar bills passed in New York and California.

“Although people may not realize they are being discriminated against, or we are privileged not to realize it, there are people who are really affected by it, single mothers in particular [and] women of color,” says Nemani.

The students looked at a 2015 New York study on price differentials. A blue toddler helmet with a stuffed shark on top was $14.99, while a pink toddler helmet with a unicorn on top was $27.99. Adult bladder control pads both cost $11.99, but the women’s pack only contained 39 pads while the men’s pack had 52.

These examples caught Dhingra’s attention as health and safety products are important.

After the bill was introduced, the students drove themselves to Olympia to testify before the Senate Law & Justice Committee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Benjamine Howard, a Lake Washington senior, pointed out for the committee that gender pay gaps exacerbate the problem: For every dollar a white man makes, white women earn 83 cents, black women 64 cents, Native American women 60 cents and Hispanic women women 57 cents.

“I really value gender equality, and it seemed like a great way to take action,” says Howard. “It’s not fair that I have to pay more just because I’m a girl, and that’s really what it boils down to.”

The original bill included thousands of dollars in civil penalties, which drew criticism from the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents independent grocers and convenience stores.

“We wholeheartedly agree that products in our stores should not be priced differently based on gender,” Katie Beeson, the association’s head of government affairs, told the committee. “Unfortunately, this bill would unfairly penalize local grocers for the pricing set by manufacturers.”

However, Dhingra notes that the bill exempts “gender-neutral” price differentials, such as B. Uniform surcharges for products in a certain category.

Dhingra amended the law to abolish the fines, but the Attorney General will continue to enforce the rule. Manufacturers would either have to explain how labor and shipping costs differ for substantially similar products, or adjust prices accordingly, or submit to a possible injunction and pay compensation.

“It helps us figure out what’s happening at what level,” says Dhingra. “Because everyone is pointing fingers at each other.” ♦

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