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Women’s Equality Day: Celebrate And Remember The Need For Intersectional Feminist Movements

You’ve likely seen mentions of Women’s Equality Day (WED) on your social media and in your email today. You’re not alone if you’ve wondered what WED is or why we are celebrating it. Or, like us, maybe you’re struggling with reconciling commemorating a day recognized as a feat in the women’s equality movement, with the fact that the movement excluded black, poor, and non-cis women. Let’s hash it out together:

“What Is Today Even About? I Thought We Celebrated Women’s Day In March??”

Today, August 26th, celebrates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to individuals on the basis of sex. “Women’s Equality Day” marks the day remembering the landmark achievement made possible after decades of unyielding advocacy efforts carried out by women activists and suffragettes including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Purvis, Alice Paul, and Carrie Chapman Catt. However, it’s important to recognize that this protection and advancement did not benefit all women equally.

“I Have Complicated Feelings About This—Obviously, It Was A Momentous Day In History For Women, But Didn’t It Only Apply To White Women?”

In our latest blog post we discuss how the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, which provided that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race, only applied to Black men, not Black women. Some suffragists abandoned the idea of universal suffrage, others supported suffrage for both women and black men—thereby including black women. The women’s rights movement splintered over these issues as well as the suffragist strategy—state by state or a sweeping federal protection.

When suffragettes gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848, no Black women attended—and none were invited. But three years later, African-American abolitionist Sojourner Truth spoke at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio. During her famous speech on the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights, Truth famously proclaimed, “Ain’t I a woman?” This speech signified a critical move towards what is now called “intersectionality” in pushing for the equality of all women with the recognition of inequities and oppression rooted in systemic racism and capitalism. After decades of advocacy, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally passed in 1920, it guaranteed all women the right to vote. This, of course, was followed by an era of severely suppressing Black people’s votes, including efforts such as poll taxes, ID requirements, and voter intimidation.

So Why Do We Still Care About It?

Next year will mark one hundred years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment and still:

  1. Women are paid less than men. 💵

2. The Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified! ⚖️

First proposed by the National Woman’s Party in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) would have ensured that women would be protected from discrimination under the U.S. Constitution. The ERA first passed Congress in 1972, and only becomes part of the Constitution when it is ratified by ¾ of the states (or, 38 states). Congress has had to extend the deadline for reaching full ratification, and today, we are still one state shy of full ratification. A Constitutional law that says individuals cannot be discriminated against because of their sex, drafted almost 100 years ago, still has not gained full support. Let that sink in and then learn more about it in our latest blog post.

3. Black Votes Continue to be Suppressed.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that state and local governments cannot pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that has helped combat racial discrimination in voting. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent that “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” This, along with other discriminatory tactics including many states’ requirements for voter IDs, voter intimidation, registration issues, inefficient voting sites, poll taxes, and gerrymandering, are among the tremendous obstacles Black men and women still face today.

For example, it is estimated that in the 2016 Presidential election, one million votes were lost, while fourteen states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in response to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, the black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012.

How Do We Move Forward?

One word: intersectionality.

Coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality should not just be used today to approach issues of oppression, but we must also use an intersectional framework to look back at historical narratives that might not represent experiences of all people and issues of inequalities. The commemoration of Women’s Equality Day is one such historical narrative to which we must apply an intersectional lens.

What We’re Doing Right Now:

This week, in honor of Women’s Equality Day, we will be celebrating all women who pushed for progressive legislation, rights, and protections for all women, including those that are still advocating for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the inclusion of black and trans women in our historical perspectives and legal protections.

Look out for our #truthinchange social media posts, blogs, and emails this week where we’ll share more interesting facts, historical narratives about the suffragette movements, and tributes to individuals who risked standing up in the name of radical change for all women.

Truth to power,

The GELC Team

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