Every August 26th, Women's Equality Day is celebrated in the U.S. to commemorate the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. The holiday was first formally celebrated in 1971.
In 2021, however, the U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality overall. For starters, the United States currently ranks 27th on the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index.
The Global Gender Gap Index provides a structure for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress. The criteria of the Index are based on national gender gaps within economics, politics, education and health. It tracks data from 149 countries annually, and scores are based on the level of access women have to the same resources and opportunities available to men. There's no better day to examine these disparities than Women's Equality Day.
Even wider gender disparities exist for Americans of color, however, particularly when it comes to voting rights. Let's not forget—the 19th Amendment didn't fully afford Black women, Asian American women, and Native American women the right to vote. To this day, voting barriers exist for people of color all across the U.S., so much so that the House just passed an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, titled the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in honor of the late senator and his lifelong dedication to civil rights. The update seeks to restore a provision of the landmark civil rights law that requires places with a history of voting discrimination to be under federal supervision.
During the 2020 election, we saw voting suppression take place in poor communities and Black communities all over the country. Voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, mass purges of voter rolls, armed militias intentionally patrolling predominantly Black polling locations, extremely long voting lines, felony voting disenfranchisement, and more.
How can we bridge the divide between gender pay inequity? How can we bridge the divides in place at the intersections of class and race when it comes to the vote? These things are so closely intertwined, after all. We cannot have gender equality if everyone can't vote for it fairly and without discrimination.
In a proclamation released by the White House in honor of Women's Equality Day in 2021, President Biden addressed each of these issues, with promises of a better, more equal future.
"We celebrate their extraordinary courage and resolve, and rededicate ourselves to the work we still have ahead of us to protect voting rights across our country," Biden's proclamation reads.
In his proclamation, Biden revisited the strides taken during the past 101 years, from the 19th Amendment to the Voting Rights Act and the current battle for voter protections.
"My administration is committed to bearing out the promise of the suffragists, who understood that for women to attain true equality in our country, they must have an equal place at the ballot box," Biden said. He also acknowledged the history that was made through the 2020 election, despite the many barriers in place for voters across the country.
"Efforts to improve voting access have paid off; in 2020, we witnessed the greatest number of votes ever cast in American history," he said. "And one barrier that had stood for more than two centuries was finally dismantled with the inauguration of America's first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris."
One way to secure gender equality across the board—through marriage, divorce, property ownership, employment, and other interections—is through the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. If passed by Congress, which President Biden has urged the governing body to do, equal Constitutional rights would be guaranteed to all American citizens regardless of sex.
"It is long past time we pass the Equal Rights Amendment, to enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution, because no one's rights should be denied on account of sex," President Biden stated. "On Women's Equality Day, we recognize the unique challenges and barriers women face, and the rights that need defending and strengthening."
The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress on March 22, 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. In order to be added to the Constitution, it needs approval by legislatures in three-fourths (38) of the 50 states. As of 2020, it has been ratified by 38 states, but has not been added to the Constitution due to deliberation over the 38th state, Virginia, and its validity.
"These rights include a woman's constitutional right to reproductive freedom and access to health care, regardless of zip code or income — and the right of every woman and girl to live free from violence, whether online, in the home, at school, or in the workplace," President Biden concluded. "To ensure that women are treated fairly in our economy and in the workforce, we are also committed to fighting for pay equity, combating discrimination in the workplace, and passing family-friendly policies that help women and all of us manage caregiving and career responsibilities."
The strides made toward equality are notable but inadequate. On the global stage, the United States sorely lags behind other industrialized nations in terms of gender equality, and we must continue the intersectional fight for it until we no longer have to.
Like Maya Angelou said, "No one of us can be free until everybody is free."