Are women finally reclaiming their time?

In a month that includes the centennial of the 19th Amendment, Women’s Equality Day, an unprecedented selection of a Black, South Asian, Jamaican American woman as vice president for a major political party, and the female Speaker of The House demanding the mostly male Congress come back to work, it may be simple and optimistic to say this culture at this time has reached a tipping point towards gender equity and racial fairness. 

Not so fast. 

The 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago on Aug. 18 has a complicated history that failed to address the advantage of white women who won the Constitutional right to vote, while downplaying the inability for Black women to vote until 45 years later. 

A most fitting metaphor for a stall in the quest for gender equity is the indefinite postponement of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, set for a dedication on Women’s Equality Day August 26. Due to the evaporation of funding, COVID-19 considerations and more, the memorial is on hold. 

What is missing and yet to be completed? The “19 Information Stations that will tell the 72- year history of the suffrage movement and the artisan elements for the Suffragist Commemorative Wall that features the Silent Sentinels jailed in 1917 for picketing the White House. Other major items for which funding is still needed include the Rotunda, Bridge, Irrigation System/Power, Landscaping Plants & Materials,  two White House replica gates, benches and miscellaneous items such as final site grading and seeding,” Pat Wirth, executive director and CEO of the memorial effort, writes on the site.  

In 1971, thanks to Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), Women’s Equality Day was introduced in Congress, but not passed until two years later on Aug. 26, 1973. The declaration states,” the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and…the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex.”

All women are still waiting for fair and equitable treatment across the board. The gender pay gap, exacerbated for BIPOC women, continues to hinder the economic progress of women. According to new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, COVID-19 has had more devastating effects on women than men. 

Bloomberg reports on the findings, “In a regular recession, the pay gap between men and women shrinks by two percentage points as men tend to get hit harder by job losses. But in a pandemic recession, that gap increases by five percentage points.”

Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Cal.) selection as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, was met with jubilant response, as well as racist, sexist and misogynist ridicule. Her role this week in the Democratic National Convention will indeed prompt more vile — and triumphant—discourse. 

Harris told Natasha Alford of The Grio in an interview, “We have to be heard and not let them stop us or prevent us or deter us from exercising our voices.” 

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults shows that 60% of women surveyed “said they have a favorable view of Harris, compared with 53% who felt the same way about Biden.” According to Reuters, “60% of Americans, including 87% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans, considered the selection of Harris – the first Black woman and Asian American nominated for vice presidency – to be a “major milestone.”

Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi’s recent call for all congressional members to return from summer break — not scheduled to end until Sept. 14 — in order to act on urgent matters concerning the U.S. Postal Service, can be seen as another example of women in politics taking control. The disruption to mail-in voting could be catastrophic, jeopardizing as many as 80 million ballots cast by mail. 

Yes, all of these reminders this month of the progress women are making in this country can be seen as forwarding momentum. 

The Center for American Women And Politics reports in its recent numbers that while women hold 23.7 percent of Congressional seats, 34.9 percent of lieutenant governors in this country are women and 30.3 percent of statehouse representatives are women. 

Certainly, going from zero to 34 percent in one category is progress. Applauding the enormous progress of the last century — and recent weeks — is necessary. But one-third representation is not the goal. Nor is pay, promotion and leadership at the top that are consistently and systematically skewed to exclude and hinder on the basis of gender and race. 

This month, all year and for every year moving forward, it is prudent to remember that half, or 50 percent, is equal. It’s not just time to enact fair pay and fair representation across gender and racial lines; it is way overdue. 

Michele Weldon is an author, journalist, emerita faculty at Northwestern University, senior leader with The OpEd Project, and editorial director of Take The Lead. Her latest book, “Act Like You’re Having A Good Time,” is out next month.

Tags Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi

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