Today, we join thousands of women across the country to commemorate the ratification in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Ending those restrictions created pathways for women to have a say in the decisions that shape our futures. A robust women’s movement moved Congress in 1971 to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The movement challenged Congress to make women’s equality a core American principle. It was the right thing to, not only for the sake of the equality, but for the good of our nation. The leadership and contributions of women were needed to enable, govern and secure the future.
Nearly 100 years later, we are still working towards democracy and equality for every woman—without restrictions based on race, class, age or experience. And we have some distance to travel.
Women remain underrepresented in positions of influence and power and over-represented in positions of abuse and vulnerability. Every 28 hours, a black woman in this country loses her child to police or vigilante violence. Unjust and outdated immigration policies separate unprecedented numbers of women and their families each and every day. Domestic work, the work that makes all other work possible, is still highly under-valued and under-regulated. Ninety-five percent of domestic workers are women of color and immigrant women, and they remain excluded from many federal labor laws. Our unsustainable economy is powered by women who too-often work for poverty wages, with the burden disproportionately borne by families of color.
Today, however, we celebrate because we believe that history is on our side and equality is our future. And the brand of equality we will create for the future will make us whole, because it won’t allow us to separate one form of equality from another. It will address the fact that more than two-thirds of the minimum-wage workforce is women. It will account for our global economic reality and connect us to women in Bangladesh who risk their lives to work in dangerous factories. It will acknowledge our right to love and marry who we choose, and every family’s right to come home to each other and share a healthy meal together at night. It will account for our needs, hopes and dreams as Americans living in 2014.
We celebrate today because the movement for women’s equality is growing and winning. We celebrate because domestic workers in Massachusetts, California, Hawaii and New York are hard at work implementing Bill of Rights legislation developed and won by domestic workers and the families who love them. We celebrate because home care workers are developing state and local policies to ensure that we have enough support for the vast number of families caring for their parents and their children at the same time. We celebrate because marriage equality has moved from an impossibility to an inevitability in states across the country. We celebrate because, despite congressional inaction, the President of the United States will be taking action to support immigrant families. We celebrate because mothers are on the front lines of building communities that are free of violence, whether in their own homes or in their communities.
Even as a mother buried her son yesterday in Ferguson, MO, a chorus of new voices has joined those in Ferguson to say enough is enough; women, communities of color, Americans will accept nothing less than full equality. From social media to social action, we are seeing people across the nation take a stand for a new brand of what women stood for in numbers so many years ago. Together we are building upon the work of our foremothers and redefining citizenship in 21st century America; we are creating a society that values all of our work and our families, and a democracy that embraces who we truly are as a nation.
This year, Women’s Equality Day coincides with an international day of action in support of the pursuit of justice for Mike Brown, his family, his communities and hundreds of thousands of families like his (for more information and to get involved, please visit www.handsupunited.org). We hope you’ll join us and those around the world in demanding that our nation stand firm in it’s commitment to liberty and justice for all. When black lives matter, women’s lives matter and all of our lives matter, we all win. Let us celebrate Women’s Equality Day by working toward our new democratic vision, and take our nation forward together.
Photo of the 19th Amendment from Wikimedia Commons