Aug. 25, 2020
Throughout history, women have continued to step up in the face of uncertainty to lead society forward. Today is no different — We can do it. We have done it. We are doing it.
As American soldiers fought abroad during WWII, women on the U.S. Home Front joined the labor force, filling vacant jobs previously held by men. Women’s participation in the war effort was crucial to securing an Allied victory and dramatically altered how women entered the workforce, at least temporarily.
Fast forward to 2020, women once again make up the majority of the most essential workers in America, assuming the roles of cashiers, medical workers, and home health aids amidst the COVID-19 epidemic. In fact, one in three jobs held by women has been deemed essential, with non-white women being the most likely to hold these crucial, yet often undervalued and underpaid jobs.
Women leaders are also doing a disproportionately excellent job handling the pandemic. In women-led countries like Taiwan, Germany, and New Zealand, swift and aggressive containment measures have drastically limited the spread of COVID-19, starkly contrasting countries like the U.S. where coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket.
Once again, women are stepping up in significant ways, leading the charge in hospitals, households, and on a global political scale. In recognition of the women working on the frontlines, and in celebration of Women’s Equality Day 2020, we at ThirdLove are highlighting a few pivotal historic moments that have defined the Women’s Equality Movement.
July 19–20, 1851: The first U.S.–held women’s rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention. Drawing 300 attendees, it sparked the organized Women’s Rights Movement in the United States, asserting that women should have equality in every area of life including politics, family, education, and jobs. However, the Convention notably failed to address the racism and oppression Black women faced at the time.
May 29, 1851: Abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth, delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. With a message that still rings true today, Truth’s speech challenged the prevailing notion that women were weaker than men and refuted the social definition of womanhood which relied on ideas about white women’s perceived purity. Though most feminists at the time focused their efforts on addressing the lived experiences of white women, Sojourner Truth asserted that all women, black or white, deserved to be treated equally.
Aug. 18, 1920: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became ratified, declaring “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Though the amendment was meant to guarantee all women the right to vote, in practice, millions of women of color remained shut out of the polls. Though women of color were essential to the amendment’s passage, the rights they fought for would not be realized until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
July 2, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, a landmark achievement for Black Americans’ struggle for equality. Title VII of the law also opened up significant opportunities for women, barring employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion, and sex. Of course, these protected groups still face discrimination in the workplace today, such as wage discrimination and unconscious bias in hiring and promotions.
June 23, 1972: Title IX of the Education Amendments was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, protecting people from sex-based discrimination in education. In practice, Title IX offers a wide range of protections from athletics and admission to housing and sexual harassment, though there’s still a long way to go before we reach full gender equality in education. Today, college students and activists continue to assert the rights promised by Title IX, taking up the fight against sexual violence on university campuses and working on diversity initiatives to increase women’s participation in STEM.
Jan. 22, 1973: In its landmark 7-2 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Constitution protects a woman’s legal right to an abortion, affirming women’s right to choose what to do with their body. The case was brought by Norma McCorvey—known in her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”—who in 1969 became pregnant with her third child and wanted an abortion. Before abortions became widely legalized, the practice was so unsafe that about 17% of all deaths due to pregnancy were because of botched abortions, which most significantly affected women living in poverty. Today, it’s estimated that less than .3% of women in America experience serious complications due to abortion, and accessible abortions have made it possible for more women to pursue employment, educational, and personal opportunities that were previously impossible.
1981–2016: Moving towards the present day, women began to make up a larger percentage of high-ranking government officials. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981, and Janet Reno was sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States in 1993. In 1997, Madeleine Albright was sworn in as the nation’s first female secretary of state, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House in 2007, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party.