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Women’s Equality Day: Are We There Yet?

Nearly a century after winning the right to vote, women are enjoying hard-fought strides but the battle for equality soldiers on.

Commemorating the day women won the right to vote August 26, 1920, Women’s Equality Day is not only an observance of hard-fought battles in the past, but a current call to arms.

It’s easy to forget the recent designation females held in society—that of second class citizens required by law to be obedient to their spouses and who were left out of decision-making processes entirely.

It wasn’t really so long ago a lack of representation in government, dismal labor conditions and social inequities drove suffragettes to withstand setback after discouraging setback before the realization of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Somehow, like many others, I squeaked through the school system without knowing much about the suffragette movement at all, aside from the fact that they ultimately won and that they had suffered in their pursuit (I’ve since learned suffrage refers to an ancient voting tablet.)

But like any other accomplishments by a minority group, it was an incredibly long and disheartening journey, with numerous jailed activists and failed attempts spanning a tumultuous time in America.

From when the women’s movement was first sparked at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 to when it finally culminated in the right to vote 72 years later, two of the country’s bloodiest wars had already erupted and concluded—the Civil War (1861–1865) and World War I (1914 -1918). 

The first amendment to the constitution granting women the right to vote was introduced in 1848 by California Sen. A.A. Sargeant, 42 long years before it happened.

Interestingly, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NFL and the ill-fated 18th Amendment enacting prohibition were all also established in 1920.

Three out of four of those are still going strong but lost in the mire of the Sexual Revolution and post-feminism, the need to answer why equality's still so important may seem irrelevant compared to all the rights some of us still apathetically fail to exercise.

But nearly a century later disparities remain, including a troubling correlation between the quality of female life and the number of women in public office. States with less female public servants typically have less educated, less healthy and poorer women.

Women now represent less than a third of the California’s legislature (28 percent), compared to 23 percent nationwide and just 17 percent in Virginia—home of the transvaginal ultrasound bill.

In a recent list of the five worst states for women to live in by ivillage.com, Mississippi scores dead last as one of four states that has yet to elect a woman to Congress, has never elected a female governor and which has a state legislature that's only 15 percent female.

Only two women have ever been elected to office in that state.

Mississippi also ranks highest in female poverty at 22 percent, lowest in median wages ($28,879) and has the lowest college graduation rate at 21 percent. Meanwhile, 24 percent of Mississippi women lack health insurance and 32 percent go without life-saving mammograms, according to ivillage.com

Amid turbulent times, on the heels of two wars, a recession and a foreclosure crisis, women are still fighting for their equality—and they’re still losing battles.

An unprecedented wave of legislation, more than 1000 bills, aimed at rolling back reproductive health care rights has justifiably earned the moniker “War on Women”.  

Held on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Florida, Women’s Equality Day events taking place around the country, including one on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street at 1 p.m. Sunday, will address affronts to women deciding their own fates.

That includes an appalling attempt to redefine rape as a means to curb abortion.  

Most people are aware that one in four women are raped, and those are just the ones that get reported. Instead of waging a war on women to save innocents, perhaps a campaign against the perpetrators to safeguard innocence would be more effective.

Rather than criminalizing a procedure and sending women back to the days of back-alley abortions and lack of decision-making power, pro-lifers could advocate for the lives of all by engaging in social services and providing aid, compassion, support and an alternative for mothers seeking abortion.

Whatever side you are on the abortion issue, the best avenue to solving the problem lies not in going after unwilling mothers, but in the root cause of unwanted pregnancies—men.

What if men who are caught with a prostitute are forced to register as sex offenders? As it stands right now, only 10 percent of all prostitution arrests are “Johns” soliciting services from individuals who are likely being victimized as they work in America’s most dangerous profession. 

Considering that the average age of entry into prostitution in this country is 12 to 14, according to the Department of Justice, many of these encounters are particularly atrocious.

Sexual assaults are a huge epidemic in this country but instead of introducing legislation to go after predators, address the reality of sexual violence women face or any other compassionate response, Republicans as a whole voted against renewing the Violence Against Women Act.

While hard-right Republicans claim to be focused on economy, they are undermining the ability of women to make good choices. While they say “let’s focus on jobs”, they ignore the lack of equality for women in the workforce.

And just like the original suffragette movement, the “they” standing in the way of womankind include women—often likely of some sort of privilege, those who have never stood in the shoes of sisters marginalized by poverty, race or as victims of brutal violence.

Distracted by all the rights we women do have, it can be easy to underestimate what's at stake. 

It never fails to amaze me when people choose to vote against their own self interest ...maybe that wouldn't happen as much if there were more women in government. 

For all the progress made that’s been made in the last century, immeasurable more remains. To acheive full equality we must first be aware that even in 2012, the fight for it is far from over.

How will you celebrate Women's Equality Day?

C. A. Kramer August 28, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Romney did not actually say that, according to Snopes, it's from a spoof article. Nevertheless, I agree that any woman who votes Republican this time is damning all of us to return to the dark ages for women.
Rita Z. August 28, 2012 at 02:55 AM
We'll have reached "equality" when a male legislator is banned from speaking at the legislature for saying "penis," when a female politician discusses sexual violence against males and declares that men can make it stop, and when a board of females gets to make decisions on male health, reproductive and insurance rights.

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