Today, the United States Senate voted to prevent the Paycheck Fairness Act from going to debate, which has killed it for the time being. In essence, this legislation was drafted to address descrepencies in the lower wages paid to women compared to men for the same jobs. How does this affect the freelancer/temp/contractor? Probably not much.
Why? If, as various census and state figures indicate, women with similar education make 20 to 30 cents less than men with similar education in similar positions, the ability to seek compensation for gender-based discrimination would be extremely difficult for temporary and freelance employees. In setting your freelance rates, working through temp agencies, and accepting fixed-term 1099 contracts, one isn't really able to clarify what the other gender would make for the gig. This legislation would really be more useful for long-term/permanent positions in which a female employee could show a loss of income compared to the male employees holding the same position over a period of time.
As freelancers (whether through temp agencies, 1099 independent contracts, or freelance gigs), only you have the ability to determine what your own fair and acceptable wages are, regardless of gender, and to bargain for them. For instance, freelancers can use a formula of anticipated costs, number of billable hours and desired profit, along with education and skill level. Temps work within a range set by agencies, which likely get a set range from the employer clients - the same as-low-as-possible range regardless of gender. In negotiating wages for a 1099 contract with an employer, a freelancer might later learn of gender-wage discrimination, but most likely would not and, as a form of temp employee, wouldn't have any recourse if s/he did.
Essentially, the wage game is one area where savvy freelancers actually have more control than the average long-term job employee. Freelancers set the timeframe for a contract, their own wage requirements, and their own methods of negotiating for fees and contract benefits. Here are a few resources to help:
Freelance Switch Hourly Calculator: http://freelanceswitch.com/rates/.
Freelance Contracts: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/06/freelance-contracts-dos-and-donts/
Negotiation Tips: http://www.negotiations.com/articles/geeks-earning-more/