Smile Politely

For women in C-U, it could be worse

Left: The exterior of The Literary in Downtown Champaign. A neon pink sign that says "lit" hangs in a window. There are black awnings over the windows, and planter boxes on the bottom of the windows. Center: Illinois Pole Vaulter Tori Thomas during the Illini Open at the Illinois Armory in Champaign, IL.She is mid air after vaulting over a bar. She wears a blue jersey with an orange I and orange shorts. Right: Equity Clinic is an abortion provider in Champaign. The brick building has stone detailing and covered entrance extending to the driveway. The sign is blue, white, and bright green, and says Equity Clinic.
L-R: Mackenzie Schabowski; Kevin Snyder; Julie Laut

March is International Women’s Month and an excellent opportunity to do a temperature check of how women are faring in C-U. Spoiler alert: We have a long way to go in dismantling the patriarchy and achieving equity for women. But we do have a few things to be proud of in our state and specifically in our community. Let’s take a look at a few indicators and celebrate how far we’ve come while noting all the work we still have ahead. In acknowledging the areas where we fall short, we will be better positioned to address them moving forward. And it never hurts to give praise where it’s due. 

Jobs and Pay

March 12th is All Women’s Equal Pay Day, a day intended to raise awareness about the ongoing gender pay gap started by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996. Seven other pay day holidays highlight pay gap inequities for specific communities, such as moms, LGTBQIA+ women, and women of color. 

All 50 states have a pay gap. Illinois is smack in the middle of the rankings, with women making $0.74 for every dollar compared to men in our state. To make it even more local, Champaign County data, which is current through 2022, show that women make on average 20% less than men in our community. 

And let us not forget that on top of making less money for equal work in the workplace, many women still carry the lion’s share of household work and childcare, working the so-called “second shift.” Affordable childcare is an ongoing issue in our community and has been greatly impacted by C-U’s labor shortage, which to bring it full circle, could alternatively be framed as a “good jobs” shortage.  

Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare

Context is everything, and in the context of a post-Trump United States, Illinois is comparatively kicking ass when it comes to women having the legal right to make decisions about their bodies.  Contrast this with Alabama, where the state Supreme Court recently decided that a frozen embryo is considered a person, bringing the state one step closer to becoming Gilead. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Illinois has been proactively taking a lot of steps to protect women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy. Indeed, Illinois has come to be known as an “oasis” for abortion care from neighboring states, all of which have banned or drastically restricted access to abortion. 

Since 2021, when we took a deep dive looking into abortion access in C-U, there have been several positive developments enhancing abortion access in our community. In 2021 Planned Parenthood in Champaign expanded their services to begin offering surgical abortions, and in 2023 a new abortion clinic, Equity Clinic, run by OB/GYN Dr. Keith Reisinger-Kindle, opened offering abortion services through 23 weeks and 6 days. Women’s healthcare includes more than access to abortion, reproductive healthcare still has a long way to go in our community.

Illinois has also become something of an oasis for trans people seeking gender-affirming care (or parents of trans children). On the legislative front, we were thrilled when Governor Pritzker signed HB4664, a reproductive rights and gender-affirming care omnibus bill in 2023. One of the key provisions in the bill is that gender-affirming care be covered by insurers at no extra cost to consumers and a requirement that local government employers offer insurance plans that provide coverage for these treatments, as well as for birth control. 

In Champaign County, gender-affirming care is still lacking, though there are organizations working to elevate, educate, and encourage action

Domestic and Sexual Violence

Domestic violence and abuse continue to be a problem nationally and locally. In the most recent published statistics from the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, covering the period of June 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, there were 68 incidents of domestic violence in the state of Illinois that led to 78 deaths. One of those deaths was in Champaign County. While the pandemic era saw a noticeable uptick in domestic violence, these problems persist even in the post-pandemic period. Of course, men can be the victims of domestic violence too, as was the case in the tragic stabbing in 2023, but overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence are women. C-U only has a single shelter, Courage Connection, for women seeking to escape domestic violence and abuse.

Women are also more commonly the victims of sexual assault and rape – nine out of every ten  victims of rape are women. For victims of rape and sexual assault, there is C-U Rape Advocacy, Counseling, & Educational Services (RACES). Per their website, “RACES is the community-based rape crisis center serving East-Central Illinois. We provide free, confidential services to anyone who has been affected by sexual assault, abuse, or harassment.” Like many such organizations, C-U RACES is underfunded and relies on volunteers and donations to stay afloat so in honor of Women’s History Month, consider supporting their vital work

Governance and Administration

On a state level, women are still underrepresented in Congress proportional to the population, though Illinois is performing better than the national trend. There are seven women from Illinois serving in Congress, representing 36.8% of available seats. Of these seven women, six are Democrats and Mary “Hitler was right on one thing” Miller is the lone female Republican. 

We can do better. Not simply by electing women — because again Mary Miller — but by electing women who are thoughtful and support good policies that build stronger communities. As we always say, it’s important to vote in local elections, and you may even consider running for office yourself.

And yes, both Champaign and Urbana still have women as mayors. 

In terms of administration, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign seems to be doing better in terms of the representation of women in positions of leadership on campus. But they also still have a ways to go, and the recent news about the U of I not renewing the contract of the first vice chancellor of Native affairs, Jacki Rand, who is on record as feeling very disrespected by that decision, has us raising our eyebrows. 


Women play sports. Female athletes may have achieved more financial equity in terms of support for training facilities and equipment at the U of I, but inequality in benefits persists, mostly in terms of support from fans. For example, the Illini Women’s Track and Field team won the Big Ten Indoor Championships in 2024, marking the first time they have taken the title since 2013. Jessica McDowell, Darja Sopova, Bara Sajdokova, and Azariyah Bryant each scored ten or more individual points for the team and we think it’s worth knowing their names, celebrating them, and maybe cheering for them at one of their final two home meets in the outdoor season. We hear far less about that huge victory than literally anything relating to the men’s football team, which hasn’t claimed a Big Ten championship since 2001. 

Parkland College’s women’s softball team is currently ranked number one in their division, and with a handful of home games in the next few weeks, you can check them out in person. 

And look: We’re not saying you shouldn’t enjoy men’s football and basketball or whatever other sport you like, but we have some talented female athletes taking titles and we should be celebrating their hard work and victories too! Many of both Parkland’s and the U of I’s women’s sporting event tickets are free or really affordable; go check out a game/match. 


We’d like to end by saying one way to support women is to support women-owned businesses, and we have some great ones in C-U. Experience Champaign-Urbana put together a shopping directory that lets you search for women-owned businesses. A few of our favorite women-owned businesses in C-U include The Literary, a bookstore bar that we think might be one of the best first date spots in town, Walnut Street Tea Company for all your tea needs, CBPB popcorn for snacks, and the Gilbert Gallery to buy gorgeous local art. Of course, there are many more women-owned businesses worth supporting in our community. Let us know your favorites! 

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the status of women in our community. Illinois is doing a lot better than many states but we still have a ways to go, especially in terms of pay equity and providing support for victims of domestic and sexual violence. As we celebrate our successes, let’s not forget to vote with our dollars by supporting women-owned businesses, and vote with our actual votes and not elect people who aren’t supporting policies that support women to government, no matter the level. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

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