Update Your Calendar: Women’s Equality Day 2017
Have you heard of Women’s Equality Day? As important as this day is and what it stands for, I had not heard of it until only a few weeks ago. Women’s Equality Day is a United States day of observance. It is celebrated on August 26th in order to commemorate the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26th, 1920, which granted women the right to vote.
The observance day originated in 1971 with Bella Abzug, a member of the House of Representatives, who advocated for the adoption of Women’s Equality Day. Since then, every sitting U.S. President has made a proclamation of the day. In his proclamation of Women’s Equality Day in 2016, President Obama said, “Today, young women in America grow up knowing a historic truth -- that not only can they cast a vote, but they can also run for office and help shape the very democracy that once left them out.” In recognizing the historic efforts and achievements of women like Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought for women’s suffrage, we can push forward onto the next obstacles for gender equality.
Women’s Equality Day continues to recognize the years of fighting, hard work, and activism that led to women gaining their right to vote through the Nineteenth Amendment, and it also recognizes the continual fight for gender equality and women’s rights. Since the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, women’s rights have remained an important issue in American politics. Fifty years after the passing of the amendment, the Women’s Strike for Equality was held on the same day, becoming the largest protest for women’s rights in the U.S. at the time. The recent Women’s March following President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 is currently the largest protest for women’s rights in the U.S., which included 3 to 4 million participants.
However, in celebrating the work of women’s rights activists, it is important to recognize the issues that existed alongside the women’s rights movement throughout history. Though women were granted the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment, the history of women’s suffrage is much more complex. Minorities, especially minority women, faced discriminatory voting practices such as literacy tests, voting taxes, and outright violence which were enforced through Jim Crow laws. African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and other racial minorities were not fully secured their right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices. The Voting Rights Act was sparked by national attention to the discrimination and violence which African Americans endured in attempting to register to vote particularly in Selma, Alabama, which was expressed through the Selma to Montgomery March.
Women’s Equality Day reminds us of not only of the challenges that have been overcome as a result of women’s rights activists, but also of the many challenges that still exist. The Nineteenth Amendment secured women the right to vote– but not all women. In recognizing both the achievements and limitations of women’s rights activism of the past, we can adapt our understanding of gender inequality in the present to recognize the many different types of discrimination that women may face in conjunction with sexism– such as racism, classism, and homophobia. We should celebrate Women’s Equality Day as a recognition of the triumphs women have fought for in the U.S., but also as a clear reminder of the work that still needs to be done.