Women's Equality Day in the US is celebrated every August 26th to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the right to vote in 1920. The women's suffrage movement had been nearly a century in the making, and its ultimate success was built on the backs of thousands of women who fought for equality, even when the promise of it seemed hopeless.
The 19th Amendment and women's right to vote
The 19th Amendment was first introduced in 1878, but it took until 1920 that the required two-thirds of the states -- 36 at the time -- would ratify the amendment. The effort gained considerable steam after World War I, when women's contributions to the economic and social fabric of American society became impossible to ignore and after the United States had fought for democracy in Europe. It seemed hypocritical that the democratic right to vote was just for men. Ultimately, Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. Six days later, on August 26, the US Secretary of State made it official.
In 1973, the US Congress designated August 26 as "Women's Equality Day" at a time when there was considerable energy behind an effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923, the logical next step in the campaign for women's equality. It would guarantee equal rights for all American citizens regardless of gender and would end legal inequalities between the sexes. Congress set a deadline of 1979, and while the number of states that ratified amendment during the 1970s ultimately reached 35 of the required 38 states, the deadline passed.
There is work still to do!
Today, there is a renewed interest in seeing the Equal Rights Amendment passed. A new wave of feminism owes itself to myriad factors, including the Me Too movement, basic rights of women being infringed around the globe, and the persistent women's wage gap.
In March 2021, the World Economic Forum Report released a new report on the Global Gender Gap. Women make just $0.82 for every dollar men earn for doing the same work, and the needle is moving in the wrong direction. Since the pandemic began, the report estimates that 5% of women lost their jobs, compared to 3.9% of men, and that the number of years to reach global gender parity increased a full generation, from 99.5 to 135.6 years.
Women have already been working for nearly a century on the Equal Rights Amendment. Will it take another constitutional amendment to finally realize women's equality, and will it ever again be possible to get two-thirds of the states to agree on anything? More likely, it will be the incremental staircase that we have been on for decades to close gender gaps. Women's Equality Day is a great time to start conversations, but those discussions need to persist throughout the weeks and years to achieve the equality that women rightly deserve.