Each year, on this date, the United States celebrates the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was passed in 1920, between the births of my mother and her older three older sisters. For those of you who have forgotten, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote by prohibiting the federal and state governments from denying the right on the basis of sex. It took us another 53 years to makes this an annual event acknowledged by the President, and it passes for most of us without any recognition. I was guilty of this until I began working with the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (“ICERM”) and aligned with the non-governmental organizations (“NGO”) supporting the Commission on the Status of Women (“CSW”) at the United Nations.
Recently, I was asked why National Women’s Equality Day is still important. My response was “because women in the US are still at greater risk than men of:
- Homelessness due to domestic violence – One in four homeless women in the US are without shelter due to domestic violence. Families led by single mothers of minority races and with at least two children are especially vulnerable.
- Poverty – US women remain at greater risk of poverty due to violence, discrimination, wage disparity, and higher employment in low-wage jobs or participation in unpaid caregiving work.
- Employment in low-wage jobs – We are not expecting wage parity—for white women—until 2058. There are no clear projections for minority women.
- Unpaid caregiving work – The United States is one of only seven of the world’s economies that fail to provide any paid maternity leave.
- Sexual violence – One third of US women have been victims of sexual violence.
- Limitations on reproductive rights – The US continues to cut programs that offer women similar reproductive freedom to that enjoyed by men.
- Sexual harassment at work – Women are at greater risk of sexual harassment in the workplace.”
What can you do about this? Whether you identify as a man or woman, and regardless of your economic or social status, you can contribute to more equality before the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020. Below are just a few ideas to inspire you. It is not an exhaustive list and does not necessarily represent my personal list.
- Provide shelter for a woman who needs to escape a violent home, and help her connect with social services to rebuild herself and her life as she deserves.
- Explore your implicit biases surrounding gender and challenge yourself to take new actions or chances in hiring or collaborating.
- Explore your implicit biases regarding minority women and either create opportunities for them or help find them.
- Help the women in your life with caregiving duties around the house, with children, and with older adults.
- Ask the women around you if they’ve ever been victims of sexual violence–and listen to their answers, regardless of how uncomfortable they make you.
- Share responsibility for birth control, including abstinence and planned parenting.
- Pay attention in your anti-sexual harassment training courses, learn more about what it is and isn’t, and report it promptly to the appropriate people.
Some say this is the Year of the Woman, and we have definitely seen some remarkable achievements this year. I am proud to be a woman–most of the time. (Sometimes I still let pop culture beauty standards or patriarchic institutions delay my healing and test my confidence.) I cheer those who have achieved, are achieving, or who are embarking on the path. Yet I invite men to join us. Let’s make this the Year of the Human, regardless of gender or gender identity!