The Unfinished Work of Women's Political Equality

The recent New York Times Magazine feature on women's global rights did not include any mention of key women's organizations such as WEDO, MADRE, or AWID, underscoring the importance of raising the visibility of women's political work. As we all know, suffrage laws in the early 1900s resulted in a shift in legislative behavior with a particular new emphasis on social spending. Within a year of women gaining the right to vote, local public health spending increased by 35%, averting approximately 20,000 child deaths per year. And yet we find ourselves here, nearly nine decades later, far from political parity with less than 20% representation in Congress.

Today is Women's Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Looking around, I see in too many places the unfinished work of women's political emancipation and equal representation. But I am also optimistic. The current White House administration is open to women and women's concerns, evidenced by the number of executive level women, such as Melanne Verveer, and the creation of new positions, such as the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. So this is the moment to think big and push hard.

On this historic day, I turned to experts such as NOW President Terry O'Neill and University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women's Gloria Thomas to blog about women's political equality. I invited them to join me in spending less time looking back on how far we've come and more on where we want to arrive in the future. Gloria Thomas writes that equality will not be achieved until women are fairly and equally represented in executive roles through society, in the private as well as public industries. And Terry O'Neill calls for comparable worth legislation to close the wage gap.

As you'll see, Professor Karen O'Connor believes the key to addressing issues of concern to the women's rights communities is electing and promoting more women to positions of power and influence within government. Real Hot 100 Co-Founder Gwen Beetham, however, disputes this point, arguing instead that pushing for broader political participation for all groups is the key to undermining gender bias. She states that, "... the quest for 'political equality' should move beyond the push for greater numbers. The push should instead be for a politics that is inclusive of all races, genders, sexualities, and abilities... with such a shift in the political arena at large, a transformation in gender equality would surely follow."

Tonni Brodber notes that even within movements for greater female political participation, more needs to be done to live up to our commitment to equity and inclusion in the political arena. As Aviva from Fourth Wave Feminism points out, "We've come a long way but there's still a ways to go and almost equal is not good enough."

While we are celebrating the 89th anniversary of women's suffrage, we must also reevaluate what we mean by "political equality" and identify who has not traditionally been included in our present strategy. Additionally, the movement must take on the roadblocks of systemic disenfranchisement and recognize the power of the small steps of progress we have recently witnessed.