Women’s Equality Day: Where Would We Be Without the Vote? #WEmatter
Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, and the legislative and social changes that it spurred, women in the United States were unable to fully participate in society. Their rights were extraordinarily limited in all aspects of life, but especially in the workplace.
In the early 20th century, women who worked outside of the home were primarily low-income factory workers without recourse to oppose the inhumane treatment and serious discrimination they faced. In growing the suffrage movement, activists aligned themselves with the growing female labor force to promote the expansion of labor rights women’s suffrage would help to make a reality. By reaching out to some of the women most hurt by a lack of voice, the suffragist movement gained incredible power in its fights for the vote.
American women gained more than just the right to vote in 1920. After decades of fervent activism and organizing, suffrage finally gave women access to political involvement and the legislative process .The era following the 19th Amendment’s passage saw a dramatic increase in women’s participation in both the workforce. Though societal expectations certainly continued to limit women in many ways, this increase in workplace participation and access to political influence has helped them make amazing strides towards equality at work.
Though change was by no means immediate after the ratification, the tides did begin to turn. In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, the first legislative effort to eliminate the gender wage gap. The 1970s saw the 1972 passage of Title IX, protecting women from discrimination at school, followed by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibiting workplace discrimination based on pregnancy, in 1978. The women of Congress, in positions made possible by the 19th Amendment decades before, were frequently at the helm of these legislative victories for equality.
As we commemorate the hard-fought battles won by those who came before us, Women’s Equality Day should also remind us how far we have to go. The potential unlocked by the 19th Amendment and glimpsed in the decades that followed has by no means been reached.
The need for women to exercise their right to participate in the political process is as great as ever, especially considering recent legislative developments. House Democrats recently introduced a Women’s Economic Agenda that highlights the remaining need for equal pay, work and family balance, and affordable childcare. The possibilities unleashed by such an agenda and the public discussions that surround it are enormous.
As we move forward, we must keep in mind just how essential women workers, especially those who are marginalized and working low-wage jobs, are to the success of any women’s movement. In 2014, we must continue to focus on those of us who are ignored and hurt the most by a persistent lack of gender equality. At Equal Rights Advocates, we advocate for these women because we know just how important their rights are to the continued success of women across the country. To read more about our work this Women’s Equality Day, check out our blog.
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