2020 marks a momentous year in politics not only because of the upcoming presidential election but also as a reflective point in history for women’s rights. The first leaders of the women’s rights movement were dedicated human rights advocates; among them, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Martha Coffin Wright.
These women organized the first formal meeting to discuss women’s rights in Seneca Fall, New York, in 1848. Out of this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Sentiments drew exact parallels between the struggle women faced to attain equal rights as America’s Founding Father’s right for independence from the British.
Examples offered in the Declaration of Sentiments of how men oppressed women included:
- preventing them from owning land or from earning wages
- preventing them from voting
- compelling them to submit to laws created without their representation
- preventing them from gaining a college education
- subjecting them to different oral code than men
- aiming to make them dependent and submissive to men
These extraordinary women had lofty and ambitious gender equality goals. It took 172 years from that first meeting in Seneca Falls, NY, to pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving white women the right to vote in the United States. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half-century later, on August 6, 1965, that women of color were officially allowed to exercise their right to vote.
Looking at recent history, we have made some gains in critical areas of gender equality called out in the declaration:
- Single women accounted for 22.8% of home purchases in 2017
- 57% of all Bachelor level degrees were awarded to women in 2018
- In 2019 women accounted for 51% of the workforce in the US
- Women made up 55% of voter turnout in the 2018 mid-term elections
- Women hold 21% of US Congress and 23% of State House Seats
Even with the progress made towards gender equality, there is still work to be done. Today the wage gap between women and men in the US is still 23% for White women and significantly higher for women of color. The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020 estimates that it will take 257 years to reach economic parity globally. The most worrying fact sighted in the 2020 report is that progress towards wage parity in America has stalled in the past two years.
Across four core measures that the World Economic Forum Gender report tracks, Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, Western Europe leads the world with an estimated 54 years until gender parity is achieved. In North America, the picture is not nearly as bright. The estimate is that it will take 151 years to reach parity in the US and Canada across the four key measures just ahead of the Middle East, where the estimate stands at 163 years.
The leaders of the first women’s rights movement and the authors of the Declaration of Sentiments should serve as an inspiration and a model for a modern gender equality manifesto. Achieving equality is a long game that requires unweaving dedication and energy from all of us. I hope you will join in as we rewrite our future together.