On Aug. 26, 1920 the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, became part of the United States Constitution. The anniversary of this historic achievement deserves recognition, celebration, and a tremendous “thank you” to those brave women who faced ridicule, beatings, starvation, torture and false imprisonment so that women today could exercise their right to cast a ballot. Yet 95 years later, equality continues to elude many women.
The right to vote armed women with a critical weapon in the fight for equality. However, the persistence of economic policies that degrade the value of women’s work, damages the access to fair labor and cripple career promotion undermines that promise of equality. The litany of challenges is daunting: low wages, cuts in public services, pregnancy discrimination and access to health care remain substantial obstacles to women, particularly women of color and working class women.
We must work harder to ensure equality for all women. State legislatures are often the first line of access – for it was there that the women in the U.S. first received the right to vote. We must leverage these bodies of justice to ensure that women and their families continue to improve their opportunities.
We can pass real policies that will improve the lives of women and their families and make meaningful progress toward equality, but it won’t happen unless everybody — elected officials, voters, men and women, demand change. We need not debate whether one party or another has done more to help or harm women. If we work together, across party lines and towards a common good, we can take the actions necessary to advance policies that will make women’s lives better. By standing united to address the barriers in the areas of economic policy and women’s health, women across our country will benefit every day. Adopting paid leave policies, ending pregnancy discrimination and expanding Medicaid for the working poor reflect the core value of women’s contribution to our economy and to our success. We don’t have to wait for Congress to act. In legislatures everywhere, we can deliver our own victories.
Progress has been stalled for far too long. The millions of women who are working both inside and outside the home to support themselves and their families should demand action and not rest until changes are made. With their voices raised, women can show that they care much more about the concrete actions that legislators take than about fruitless political debates and restrictive policies that stand in the way of women making progress in our state, leaving families worse off than they are now.
When we talk to the women in our districts, the issues they care most about vary; but the message is loud and clear: they want to see an end to the partisan bickering and political bank shots. They want to see policies that reflect our values, an economy that works for all families, and real progress for everyone in our state.
It took 72 years of campaigning for women to win the right to vote. Since then, 95 years have passed. The new gender gap is not in voting. It lies in pay, promotions, healthcare, and retirement. Too few women hold leadership roles in elected offices, the courts, and boardrooms. We need to pick up the pace of change substantially, if we want to reach parity in the near future. We not only need leaders who will do the right thing, we need them to take action now to build a more equitable future.
Ultimately, fulfilling the promise of the 19th amendment will take more voices and votes from women and men, asking each elected official to stop focusing on wedge issues that divide us. It is time for us all to stand with women and demand that they take action on policies that will help ensure equality for all.
Representative Stacey Y. Abrams is the Georgia House Minority Leader, the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly, and the first African-American to lead in the House. Representative Kathy Hawken is a Republican member of the North Dakota House of Representatives, representing District 46. She was first elected to the chamber in 1996. Hawken has served as Chair of Women in Government and most recently was the recipient of the 2015 Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Barry Goldwater Award.