This Saturday, August 26, we will mark another Women’s Equality Day with a march and rally in Durham, NC. First commemorated in 1971, Women’s Equality Day marks the day – August 26, 1920 – that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, barring voting restrictions based on gender. As I wrote last year, though, the struggle for gender equality for all women did not begin or end with this suffragist movement. And as we look at the status of American women 97 years on from this historic moment, it’s imperative we examine what full gender equality and equity would look like in our world, and take careful note where we still fall short.
In this past year, we have seen vibrant economic, immigrant and racial justice movements being led by women of color, as the Fight for $15, DREAMers and Black Lives Matter movements continued to gain momentum across the country. We are also seeing the potential for extreme rollbacks in civil rights and racial equality at both the federal and state level, as well as a rise in racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic policies.
The Supreme Court, in its first abortion rights case in over a decade, reaffirmed in 2016 that abortion had to be available in practice, not just in theory. But with a federal administration and state lawmakers that have vowed to end access to safe and legal abortion, we are in danger of losing critical reproductive rights and health care access; including affordable access to contraception, pre- and post-natal care, maternity care, and cancer prevention services.
And last year at this time we were in the midst of a presidential election that included a woman running for the highest office. But we still live in a culture of gender pay gaps, pregnancy discrimination on the job, lack of paid sick and parental leave, and inadequate access to quality childcare.
This past year has also seen women publicly share their stories of sexual and domestic abuse at the hands of well-known men, and those same women – in a tactic as old as time – dismissed as liars and attention seekers. Whether it’s sexual or domestic violence, economic insecurity, transphobic and homophobic policies and attitudes, suppression of voting rights, undermining of civil rights, or lack of access to health care, we still have a ways to go before we achieve full gender equality for all.
The struggle for gender equality is ongoing and vital. It’s about more than isolating issues impacting women from the other problems in society. It’s about taking a lens to how one’s gender – as well as sexuality, race, age, disability, and immigration status – impact the common human experiences many of us have. It means that when we talk about an issue like the economic security, we can’t frame that as solely about men losing manufacturing jobs. We also have to address the economic anxiety that comes from not being able to plan your pregnancies; or from facing discrimination or sexual harassment on that job you can’t afford to lose; or from wondering how you are going to be able to support your family as a single mother who is also the main caretaker for elderly parents. Our event on Saturday will include speakers highlighting a number of issues impacting women directly and/or uniquely, because they know many North Carolina women are living multi-faceted lives with intersecting identities. And leaving out any of those identities means we will never achieve full equality for all; a fact evident in the history of this day.
While we mark the achievement of the 19th Amendment, we know that its impact was not inclusive of all those who struggled for it. While it’s true that one could no longer be barred from voting merely because of gender, one could still be barred from full citizenship based on one’s race, ethnicity, national origin, or – up until 1936 – the national origin of one’s spouse. Making progress at the expense of others is not true progress, nor does it address the root causes of the problem, making it unsustainable progress at best.
This Women’s Equality Day, we come together to challenge those root causes that ultimately hold us all back from achieving the true gender equality we seek. Misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia are all ways of separating people and justifying oppression and exploitation, and must be addressed as key parts of this struggle. We know we can honor history while also critiquing it, and use it to learn how to move forward in a way that liberates all of us. We hope you will join us.