The following is written by Toni Zimmer, President, League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
“We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.” – Susan B. Anthony, Declaration of Rights for Women, July 1876
Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the historic anniversary of August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified giving American women the right to vote. But please, don’t pop those champagne corks just yet – there is no denying that there is still so much more to be done, as well as undone.
Once again, women find themselves in a position where their right to make personal health care choices is being severely compromised and, in some cases, absolutely denied. In a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the court stated that corporations with religious beliefs that condemn the use of contraceptives are exempt from covering the cost of contraceptives to employees under their health care plans. We must continue to stand up for our rights to have control over how we choose to manage our own personal health care needs.
One of the most egregious decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court came to us last year, when it struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision gave nine states, mostly in the South, the ability to change their election laws without advance federal clearance. Section 4 was created to determine which states would need approval from the Justice Department or a federal court to make major or minor changes to voting procedures, such as relocating polling places or redrawing electoral districts. We applaud the vigilance and efforts on the part of the U.S. Attorney General to protect the voting rights of citizens in these affected states. However, we must continue to implore Congress to pass a new bill to determine which states would be covered under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act once again.
A number of issues of inequality still cast an oppressive shadow over many women today. One of the most pressing is a quest to obtain equal pay for women. Today, women earn approximately 77 cents of one dollar that men earn. We know that two-thirds of households in the U.S. depend on a woman’s income to survive. In April, the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 failed to pass by six votes in the U.S. Senate. It was the third time in recent years that wage equality legislation failed to pass. The number of working women continues to grow, but the inequity does not change. We must continue to call on Congress to do the right thing and pass legislation that will help hard working women secure equal pay for equal work.
One of the most crucial solutions to resolving our ongoing quest to attain absolute equality, is for women to become more directly involved in government. Unfortunately, there has only been a slight increase in the number of women running for legislative office in New Jersey and collectively throughout the country. According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), there are significant advantages realized when women succeed in government: “The American public rates women above or equal to men in seven of eight traits considered crucial for leadership – women are perceived as outgoing, hardworking, honest, intelligent, creative, compassionate, and ambitious. Women are ranked higher in public polling than men in five of seven key policymaking areas, including working out compromises, keeping government honest, standing up for what they believe in, and representing constituents interests.”
Let’s remember that Women’s Equality Day is also a time to celebrate our successes. So, lean back and close your eyes. Let your mind wander to that historical day in 1920 when women received the right to vote. Feel the joy, the emotion, the hope that filled the hearts of so many. Take genuine pride in knowing that the League of Women Voters was there to usher them across a new terrain, and has been present ever since to help ensure democracy, and equality, for all. Then join us as we keep working toward a brighter future.