Using the Right to Vote to Drive Gender Parity

Image Cannot Be Displayed

43,106,850 women identify as democrats.

40,776,750 women identify as independents.

26,796,150 women identify as republicans.

They are all able to exercise their right to vote thanks to the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution which states that “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.” The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, 97 years ago.

It was the culmination of generations of work, catalyzed by the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and the echoes of which still reverberate in the modern-day women’s movement. Each year, more and more women take on the mantle of the suffragettes and equal rights amendment crusaders. They continue to demand equal recognition in the land of the free and home of the brave.

While constitutionally women are granted the same basic right to vote and right to hold elected office as men, the fundamental reason behind the push for suffrage and the subject of today’s celebration still hasn’t been met: equality.

Women fought for the right to vote in order to have a politically empowered voice. They wanted a say in policies and programs that affected their lives and futures: education, contraception, equal pay, and property rights. After ratification, they all seemed more on the table than ever. 97 years later, we’re still having the same conversations. In 1920 suffragette Crystal Eastman wrote an essay about what the fight for equality looked like after the 19th amendment was ratified:

Freedom of choice in occupation and individual economic independence for women: How shall we approach this next feminist objective? First, by breaking down all remaining barriers, actual as well as legal, which make it difficult for women to enter or succeed in the various professions, to go into and get on in business, to learn trades and practice them, to join trades unions.

There are still significant gaps in leadership, pay, and opportunity across every sector in society, which makes sense given that in the United States men have had a 144 year head start in being politically enfranchised and economically empowered.

Women are 50.8% of the population and 47% of the workforce. We earn 60% of all undergraduate and master’s degrees and have 52% of all professional level jobs. However, women are only 14.6% of executive officers, 8/1% of top earners, and 6.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs. On average, women earn about 80 cents to the man’s dollar. The gap widens once you take race into account: Black women make about 63 cents and Hispanic women make around 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Only 20% of Congress is female, and only 38 women have ever served as governors.

One solution to these problems lies in a massive cultural revolution that convinces the country that men and women are equal, and should be treated as such in everything from household chores, to computer coding, to governance. Another way, and perhaps a more realistic way to address these continuing inequalities is going back to the basics:

The right to vote.

Women have the power to elect Representatives, Senators, and Presidents who promise to break down the systematic barriers in the way of equality, and to vote out the politicians who contribute to them. Better yet, women have the power to vote other women into office that understand the issues, their causes, and their potential solutions on a more intimate level. In addition, women are often the beneficiaries of many government services; they should lead in policymaking to ensure that these services are tailored and accessible to women.

Statistically, that holds true - women introduce legislation on education, health, and housing more frequently than men but ironically are less likely to see those reforms become law than if a man had proposed it. Some studies suggest that women lawmakers are more open to compromise, and Senate leadership acknowledged that it was the power of women that got the country out of the 2013 government shutdown.

A 2001 study of American members of Congress found that for women, the number one reason they chose to run for office was because they would have the ability to effect change in society. For men, on the other hand, it was because they had always wanted to be a politician. Who do you want in charge?

On this National Equality Day we should celebrate the progress gained and the women that fought for it. But the celebration shouldn’t overshadow the gaps where women are still missing from decision making positions from operating theatres to Silicon Valley to the Oval Office. The work has been started, the foundation laid-- it’s time to build. Or as Crystal Eastman would put it, “now at last we can begin” (again).

 

Photo: Library of Congress