Today, August 26, marks the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution being signed into law. The 19th Amendment granted women in the right to vote for the first time in the nation’s history.
In 1971, Congress designated August 26 Women’s Equality Day.
Women’s rights activists say today is bittersweet. Although progress has been made over the years, looking ahead there is much to be done.
In 2010, women make up half the U.S. workforce, but only earn 78 percent as much as men. Women earn the majority of college degrees, but are still more likely to serve as the primary parent and housekeeper.
Studies show that women are 51 percent of management and professional workers, yet in the largest companies in the U.S. only 3 percent have female CEOs and only 16 percent of board members are women.
Women only hold 17 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress – well below Europe’s 22 percent and far behind the Nordic countries’ 42 percent.
Despite shortcomings, women’s rights leaders say there is much to celebrate, including President Obama signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act last year, enacted to overcome a bad decision by the Supreme Court.
In recent years, the U.S. has seen Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., become the first woman elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Also Hillary Clinton came closer to winning a major political party nomination for U.S. president than any woman before her. And for the first time ever there are three sitting female U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Despite some historic milestones, the National Organization of Women says women are still denied the one thing that would make them truly equal to men – equal protection of the law, which all men receive thanks to the 14th Amendment.
“When history books and the media celebrate women’s successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality,” said NOW President Terry O’Neil.
“The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statutes prohibiting it have no constitutional foundation,” she adds. “It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”
The ERA was drafted by suffragist leader Alice Paul and introduced in Congress in 1923 to correct the deficiency of the 14th Amendment by providing the constitutional foundation that women have equal protection under the law. The measure passed Congress in 1972 but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Every year since 1982 the ERA has been reintroduced and repeatedly shot down in Congress.
“Women can do their part by voting in 2010,” says NOW. “We must vote for candidates who believe that equality is a basic human right – candidates who believe in reproductive freedoms, who support equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people, who are dedicated to eliminating racism and violence, who promote economic justice, and who believe that women must be included in the U.S. Constitution.”
The American Civil Liberties Union says it’s time for the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would finally close the wage gap between men and women. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last year and it currently has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Photo: Suffrage hay wagon campaigns for women’s rights to vote, circ. 1910. (LOC)