Women's Rights History
Did you know that the first proponent of a National Woman’s Day was a Soviet Jewish immigrant to New York City named Theresa Malkiel? A worker in a shirtwaist factory, she championed better conditions for women at these factories, but she was also far ahead of her time in understanding that the women’s suffrage and equality movements were in danger of being hijacked by affluent, upper class white women. Malkiel believed true equality could only be achieved if women of color had a seat at the table.
On that first National Women’s Day thousands of women met to sing songs of solidarity and demand the right to vote.
Progress on women’s rights since then has ebbed and flowed, though there is no denying that some progress has indeed been made. (White)women got the right to vote in 1920 (black women in 1965!) and the pay gap has gradually shrunk to 16 cents per dollar from 36 cents 40 years ago.
Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act was passed under President Clinton in 1994, but expired in 2018. Only 29 Republicans in the House supported the Violence Against Women Act in 2021 (It is set to be renewed as part of the Omnibus Spending Bill this year.) And while we advocate for equitable policies like access to better health and maternity care, pay equity, anti-discriminatory policies in work and play, we also have to be extraordinarily vigilant that the rights we already have aren’t in jeopardy.
Abortion Rights under attack
Unfortunately, one of the two main political parties in the US is in danger of being hijacked by its evangelical, reactionary, fundamentalist wing that advocates for a return to a “biblical” value system where women are inferior and subservient to men – a real life Handmaid’s Tale if you will. To that end, the Supreme Court of the United States is, unbelievably in 2022, going to hear a case to repeal Roe v. Wade, the landmark legislation from 1973 that gave women control over their own bodies.
It is astonishing that 50 years and two generations of women later, we are still having to fight a takeover of our most basic rights.
But while the highest court makes up its mind, GOP controlled states are going ahead with their own assaults on women’s rights.
- Texas abortion law: Bans abortion after six weeks (when many women don't even know they are pregnant!) and provides no exception even for rape or incest
- South Dakota abortion restrictions: Gov. Kristi Noem is considering a similar law and went a step further by issuing an executive order restricting telemedicine abortions and abortion medication
- Florida abortion law: Bans abortion after 15 weeks and became the first state to pass an anti-abortion law this year
- Pennsylvania House Republicans passed HB 118, which changes the definition of "fetal death" to “a product of conception” from any point in pregnancy and furtively mandates a death certificate—creating a public record that enables the government to track pregnancy outcomes, violates medical privacy, and compromises patient safety.
Rest assured that if other GOP controlled states believe that it is politically winning tactic, they will not hesitate to go ahead with it in the name of being "pro-life," while refusing common sense gun laws and denying access to early education and free school lunches. Remember that their philosophical leader is one Donald J. Trump, an avowed sexual predator whose comments about his treatment of women have become an unforgettable meme.
So instead of paying lip service to International Women’s Day with cute emojis and inspirational messages, let’s gird ourselves to resume the fight for our rights as envisioned by Malkiel and many of the brave women who put their lives on the line for all of us. Complacency is our enemy and if we want our daughters to live in a freer and more just world, we have to pay the price of eternal vigilance and constant action.