Friday, August 26 marks the 91st anniversary of the vote for women in the US. On August 26, 1920, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution after a 72-year campaign which began in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.
The struggle for American women’s right to vote was long, difficult, and at times, divisive. The Suffrage movement split after the Civil War over whether to support adoption of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, or to insist that women be included before they would endorse it. One faction insisted on universal voting rights legislation at the federal level, while others approached the issue state by state.
Few of the original suffragists lived to see the successful results of the work they started. As a new generation of suffragists joined the movement, they used more active tactics, including mass marches and hunger strikes. As a result, they were arrested and sent to prison, where they were chained, beaten and force-fed. In 1971, Rep. Bella Abzug introduced a proposal to commemorate their struggle each year on August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.
Although American women now have the right to vote in all public elections, the struggle for equal rights for women in our country is not over. There is still no Equal Rights Amendment in the US Constitution, and one of our Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia, has stated that the protection from discrimination granted by the 14th Amendment does not apply to women, but only to discrimination on the basis of race.
In addition, the US is one of only seven countries in the world that has not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). One hundred eighty-seven countries have now ratified this international bill of rights for women, leaving the US in the company of Iran, Somalia, Sudan and three island countries in the South Pacific that have not yet done so. The United States is the only industrial and the only Western Hemisphere country that has not ratified CEDAW.
As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, we still have work to do! We should honor those who won our right to vote by finishing the work they started. We need to urge our Senators to ratify CEDAW and get on with the business of writing an Equal Rights Amendment into our Constitution. By guaranteeing full citizenship and freedom from discrimination for American women and girls, the United States would renew its proud tradition of promoting and protecting human rights around the world.