Women’s Equality Day, celebrated in the United States every year on August 26th, is the country’s moment to acknowledge the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. On this day, we honor the courage and sacrifices of the suffragettes who led the way and inspired future generations of civic leaders. As the recent events in Charlottesville and the soul-searching that continues remind us, we can never take our hard-fought rights for granted.
While the 19th Amendment provided all women the right to vote, the reality was that efforts continued for decades to deny the right to some, based on ethnicity or socio-economic status. More recently, we have seen voter ID laws making it harder for some women to vote. The simple truth is that a federally enacted law in and of itself does not always result in change.
Here’s the good news. Women largely use their voting power to champion equality. A poll released last year by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that women placed a higher premium on equality than men when they went to the ballot box. 69% of registered female voters said that treatment of racial and ethnic minorities was “very important” to their vote, compared to 56% of registered male voters. On the issue of equal treatment for gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans, the gap between female and male voters was nearly 20 percentage points.
But here’s a cautionary note. Another Pew poll taken just this past April, based on a random sample representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, showed that there is a gender gap relating to how we view the future. American men are almost twice as likely as women to have “a lot of confidence” in the future of the U.S.—53% to 29%. That low figure is driven in significant part by female millennials since only 30% of American adults aged 18 to 29 express that same level confidence. So besides the major inequalities that still exist—the pay gap, the top leadership gap, the disproportionate number of women living in poverty—there is another risk we must address: that women, especially younger women, may feel discouraged and disengage from the issues of our day and civic leadership.
This is where a path forward for The Junior League emerges. We have an opportunity to empower a new generation of women leaders across the four countries in which we have Leagues, who will continue to blaze the trail for women’s equality—with confidence and optimism. We must join together as women to not only protect our rights, but to ensure equal rights for all.
History is a living and changing thing. It’s made up of the choices we make every day. With the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaching in the year 2020, we must ask ourselves how will we shape history and how we can finish the work started by the suffragettes—once and for all.