August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, marking 98 years since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
The path to suffrage – a woman’s right to vote – was not easy. Similar to modern movements like the 2017 Women’s March and #MeToo, the amendment passed after tenacious women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton courageously stood up against the inequality they experienced.
Susan B. Anthony joined the fledgling women’s movement in 1852 and dedicated her life to not only suffrage, but also the abolition of slavery. She was instrumental in persuading the University of Rochester to admit its first woman in 1900.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 about women’s rights, which some consider the beginning of the gender equality movement. In her speech, she declared:
We are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty.
Both women died before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, but their perseverance laid the groundwork for the rights women have gained in the years since – for example, to serve on a jury, to work in jobs previously restricted to men, and to use contraception.
It may seem impossible to imagine that women did not have basic rights such as these, but take a look around you. Despite extraordinary progress over the last 100 years, women still face inequality every day.
In the United States:
- Women hold just 5% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies.
- Women hold a little over one-fifth of board seats in the Fortune 1000.
- Women make 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.
- African-American women earn 63 cents and Latina women earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by men.
- The US is the only country among 41 developed nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.
- Women comprise less than 20 percent of Congressional seats.
At the global level, gender inequality extends beyond differences in economic opportunities; there is also significant disparity among fundamental needs such as safety, education, and health.
- The estimated annual value of women’s unpaid work totals $10 trillion, or 13 % of global GDP.
- Approximately one quarter of girls in the developing world do not attend school.
- 15 million girls roughly between the ages of 6 and 10 will never set foot in a classroom compared to about 10 million boys.
- Though women comprise more than 50% of the world’s population, they only own 1% of the world’s wealth.
- In 2016, adolescent girls accounted for two-thirds of all new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15-19. In sub-Saharan Africa, they accounted for three in four newly infected adolescents.
- In 2015, maternal health conditions – such as hemorrhage, sepsis or obstructed labor – were the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19.
- On average, 30 % of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partners.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, around 4 in 10 young women are married before age 18, followed by South Asia, where 3 in 10 are married before age 18.
As long as gender disparity like this remains, there will be a need for courageous women – and men – to use their voices to change the status quo.
Who is the next Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton among you who will make a difference?