Patricia Arquette Stresses Wage Equality Urgency at UN Women's Rally: "This Is 2015, Not 1915!"

Patricia Arquette
AP Images

Best supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette took her Oscar for a victory lap at the Governors Ball.

"Let's get real here! This is about supporting families and giving women what they have already earned from their hard work. It's time that we stop forcing women to pay what is effectively a gender tax."

Among the world leaders and activists who united at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom for a UN Women's event for the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Tuesday night were Patricia Arquette and Hillary Clinton.

Arquette closed the three-hour rally — celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and entitled Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality — with a rousing speech that elaborated on the wage equality issue she stressed in her Oscars acceptance speech last month.

The actress told the audience that, beyond her job, "for which I am extremely grateful, I have other truths too. If I were to tell you as a child that there were times when I lived below the poverty line, literally not having shoes to wear that fit me, that would also be true. If I told you that I was a single mother at 20 and lived with my baby in a converted garage, and that I would worry about my baby's nutrition while nursing because I could only afford to eat macaroni and cheese mixed with water for a week so that I could afford diapers, that would also be true. But truer still is that my past hardships are irrelevant to why I'm here today. I'm not a lone-standing activist, I'm not an academic, but there's something I am that qualifies me to speak out, and it is not the fact that I'm an actor, or a woman. It's simply the fact that I am a human. I am an American, I see what is happening to women in America. That is reason enough.

"As we rightfully fight for women's rights everywhere, we need to remember those on our shores as well, so I'm focusing this speech on America — an undisputed superpower and a self-professed world leader, and in many ways, it is," she continued. "However, in a recent study analyzing wage equality in 142 countries, America ranked a 65th. Women make less than men for the same work in nearly every profession and industry, from entry-level positions to high-powered executives, no matter if you have a high-schools diploma or a PhD. It's insidious, it's devastating. ... We have limited an ineffective legislation that often varies from state to state, and federal laws have proven to be inadequate. And we know this because the pay gap has barely budged in the last decade, and if it continues at this snail's pace, we are gonna have to wait until 2058 in America to have wage equality."

The Boyhood actress also stressed that "women in the United States are being economically smothered," and "the fight is most oppressive" for women of color and the LGBT community, and contributes to the issue of domestic violence, since many abused women cannot be financially independent.

"[Marcia Dyson's] mother used to say she would have to figure out how to make fifteen cents look like a dollar. Hell no — she should've had the full dollar that she had earned," she told the audience, calling on everyone to join the Fair Pay Pledge. "Let's get real here! This is about supporting families and giving women what they have already earned from their hard work. It's time that we stop forcing women to pay what is effectively a gender tax. ... This is 2015, not 1915! Employers, be leaders of industry. Join us in bringing about change. Pay according to merit and be transparent about what guides your pay decisions. Lawmakers, equal pay is a non-partisan issue! ... We are citizens, we are voters, we are Americans, we are a movement, and we are making changes for our daughters. We matter. Surprise, America!"

Among musical performances by Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, Les Nubians, Melanie Fiona and Farhan Ahktar, the sequence of brief speeches kicked off with NYC mayor Bill de Blasio's greetings, and also included remarks from United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon —"Women's progress is the world's progress, these are basic facts," he said — as well as Melinda Gates, Liberia president Ellen Johnson, Cheryl Saban, transgender activist Geena Rocero, Coco Rocha, Rebecca Minkoff, Maysoon and Meghan Markle, among others. "It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision; may we empower each other to carry out such vision, because it isn't enough to just talk about equality," said Markle.

Many at the podium repeated Hillary Clinton's words from the Fourth World Conference on Women twenty years ago: "Women's rights are human rights." Upon taking the microphone herself (just hours after addressing the media on her private email controversy), Clinton — representing Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project and its part in the Not There campaign — said, "When I look at my granddaughter, it looks like those twenty years have gone by so fast, ... [looking at] the cultural transformation that's begun to take hold in so many places."

She continued that though "we know there are still too many women and girls deprived of opportunity and freedom, ... tonight, let's celebrate. We've proven that progress is possible and that is reason to face the future full of hope and confidence."

Twitter: @cashleelee