In 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment, the U.S. government finally recognized a woman’s right to vote. It was an extraordinary accomplishment. The work of the suffragists began 72 years prior and would become one of the most successful nonviolent civil rights efforts the world has ever known.
And so, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day each year on August 26, the day the 19th Amendment was certified. We remember that just before that extraordinary event, women had virtually no rights and were considered the property of their fathers or their husbands. Their opinions were considered irrelevant and unnecessary, as they related to things outside the home.
So, on this special day each year, we honor the women who stood up to oppression, ridicule, assaults, and imprisonment so that all women would have the right to cast their vote, shape their future, and the lives of their children.
Bitter and Sweet
This annual celebration, however, is always a bit bitter-sweet. Sweet, as we appreciate all those before us whose lives paved the way for our own. Thank goodness for them all as we go to school, work, vote, lead, and legislate. And the country and world are better for it.
Women’s Equality Day is also a bit bitter as we think of what remains to be done to bring full equality to the women of this country and to the world. As we move through a pandemic, we see clearly that those who have the least, are the most impacted by a crisis. The pandemic has impacted the lives of women, particularly women of color, with even greater hardships placed upon them.
Today, we continue the journey to equality as we work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Almost 100 years ago, in 1923, Alice Paul introduced the ERA because she understood that women had only one constitutional right; the right to vote. The ERA would finally give women all the same constitutional rights that men have.
The ERA will make it very clear that discrimination on account of sex is prohibited. Laws, which change with newly elected officials, will not be able to chip away women’s rights once the Constitution is amended to include the ERA and therefore its passage is crucial.
Where is the ERA today?
Well, even though it has been passed by the required 38 states, it sits on the desk of politicians, wielding power at the expense of American women. After decades, and generations of women and men working to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on gender once and for all, there are still obstacles in the way.
At this time, we are also witnessing a very troubling situation in Afghanistan. We watch with great concern, as the Afghan women have lost all their rights, literally overnight. For the last twenty years, Afghan girls attended school, moving beyond roles of servitude and childhood marriage. Women have become journalists, doctors, and leaders in their communities.
In just days, with the takeover of the Taliban, women’s lives have been totally upended. Most are fearful to even leave their homes. They are forced to cover their entire bodies, with only small openings in their garments for their eyes. At the hands of men with guns seeking power at their expense, they have few options for themselves and their children.
The work continues
And so, we must continue the work at home and abroad until women have full equality everywhere in the world. We cannot stop until women are paid equally, represented equally, treated fairly, are safe, educated, choosing their own path, free of unjust laws, bias, and discrimination. It is quite clear that when women lead, legislate, and negotiate the world is a better place.
So, let’s celebrate Women’s Equality Day and all that has been accomplished. Let us also remember that when any of us are held back, we all are.
Equality is the work of a lifetime. Our efforts are crucial right now and will send a powerful message at home and to all corners of the world—women’s rights are human rights and an essential component of a just and peaceful world.
Laurie Levin is an author, speaker, and coach. Her book, Call Me A Woman: On Our Way to Equality and Peace was released April 2021. www.callmeawomanbook.com. #healthyhappyequal
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