Friday marked Women’s Equality Day, celebrating the inception of women’s suffrage with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
How far have women come since? The better question is how far do women have left to go? Women’s rights have a substantial way to go in modern American society, and must overcome numerous obstacles before true equality is realized.
The gender pay gap still exists. A woman receives 80 cents for every dollar a male earns. Yes, we have come a long way from women being forced to lead carefully circumscribed housewife lives, but these advancements are dampened by unequal pay. Women have closed the pay gap by only 19 cents over the last century.
Bella Abzug, a champion of second-wave feminism, former Congresswomen, and creator of Women’s Equality Day once said, “This woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives.” Abzug died in 1998, and I would be embarrassed to have her witness what little progress has been made.
America currently ranks 70th on the list of nations for electing women into our legislature. We fall behind countries that have histories of severe human rights abuses like Rwanda, Haiti, and Afghanistan. Women only hold 17% of the seats in Congress. More recently, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will be the only woman sitting on the new 12-member “super committee.” It is frankly shameful to see that women are so under-represented in a country that prides itself on fairness.
We are still fighting for equality in the workforce, in our own homes, and even over our own bodies. Some 85% of counties in America do not have an abortion provider and even further, 46 states have health care providers that can refuse to provide abortion services. How can we ever expect gender equality when reproductive rights are becoming one of the defining issues of our generation?
There is also rampant imbalance in the business sector. The already small number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 shrunk this year from 15 to 12. Women now make up over 50% of the U.S. workforce, but it is disappointing that we only actually lead a small percentage of it. Our economy needs all the entrepreneurship it can get, and leaving women out will only impede its future success.
Women’s Equality Day on Friday did not feel like there was a lot of reason to celebrate. I watched HBO’s new documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words, in which American feminist and activist Gloria Steinem admitted, “We’re nowhere near where we need to be.” But, Steinem prompted the young women of my generation to “go forward,” and I encourage all women to continue on fighting gender disparity. By next year, I hope women will join me in my vow to push onward so that next year we really have something to celebrate.
Photo Credit: lynnfeatherstone