2020: The Centennial of Women's Right to Vote
From the CEO's desk...
Progress, Yet Work to be Done
2020 is a big year. It marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s right to vote. Women have the power to bring about gender equality. Yet, it seems that society is always tacking back and forth from anxiety to optimism about our place in the world. Real change will take a conviction among a strong majority of us to achieve equality under the law. But because we have come a long way, a kind of complacency has set in.
Years ago, when I was the Director of Public Policy for the National League of Nurses in Washington D.C., I’ll never forget what the wife of a well- known Congressman said to me. I was fervent about the need to pass the ERA at the time, and spoke passionately about our strategy, wanting to engage her.
“You don’t seem very enthused, “I offered. “You do support it, don’t you?” Her response felt like a cold shower: “If he decides to leave me, what would I do? What good is my equality then?” “I get it” I said. The economics and legal implications of what she was saying was debatable, but I had to accept what she really believed: I’m dependent on him, so I will relinquish my political will to support his. “What about your daughter?” I kept trying. No response.
It is almost inconceivable that, in the 21st century, we have still not passed The Equal Rights Amendment, women still do not receive equal pay, reproductive rights are threatened, and women make up 6.4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Real empowerment will only begin when women come together to insist that the social “norms” that keep them as second-class citizens must change.
Political Participation is Key
That includes coming together in elections. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of white women who voted for Trump was 47%, compared to 45% for Clinton. That’s a plurality, and still makes white women more Trump-positive than the overall electorate, which supported Clinton by a 48%-46% margin. Black and Latino women went for Clinton by a huge margin, 82% to 16%.
Given that Trump bragged about groping women, it’s surprising that the gender gap wasn’t larger. Trump’s standing among women voters was more or less in line with the GOP’s performance over the last 40 years. Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by 12 points to President Barack Obama, according to Gallup. That was only a slight improvement from 2008, when Senator John McCain lost the women’s vote by 14 points. Women have backed a Democratic presidential candidate over a Republican by an average of eight points since 1980, according to Pew.
If we are serious about women’s rights, we have to support candidates, legislation, policies and parties that guarantee sexual and reproductive rights, ensure fair pay, and prohibit sexual harassment and domestic violence.
The women’s movement needs to be supported as a political force, just the empowerment of individuals isn’t enough. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg pointed out during her first landmark gender equality case, “when public opinion changes, laws change.”
Women Are Breadwinners
To have meaning, empowerment must be rooted in a political process that rejects systemic subordination, and leads with the recognition that women are the primary breadwinners in over 40% of American households, according to Pew Research. Single parents as a share of the population have tripled since the 1960s; 25% of families with children are now headed by single mothers. And women’s labor-force-participation rate rose from approximately 50% in 1980 to a high of 60 percent in 2000, although it has dropped slightly since.
This has led to opportunities and breakthroughs for women. Women have achieved record levels of educational and professional success. But many challenges remain, such as the lack of affordable child care, lack of paid leave, low-paying jobs, and persistent poverty, which clamor for new public-policy solutions.