Fewer than 100 years ago, women were not guaranteed the right to vote in the United States. That didn’t happen until the passage of the 19th Amendment, which was signed into law on August 26, 1920. This came after a long, hard-won battle in which suffragists fought and risked everything they had to change the status quo, beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention, a women’s rights convention that took place in 1848.
Today, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day across the United States to commemorate this important victory and pave the way for the future.
History of Women’s Equality Day
In 1971, Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a resolution to declare August 26, the anniversary of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signing of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, Women’s Equality Day.
This came on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which occurred on August 26, 1970. On that day, the National Organization for Women (NOW) called for a strike for equality, drawing more than 100,000 women to participate in rallies, protests and other demonstrations across the United States — the largest gender-equality protest in the history of the U.S. Some protesters even hung 40-foot banners from the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Congresswoman Abzug, Betty Friedan, and others called for women’s equality at a march in New York City.
The roots of Women’s Equality Day, of course, can be traced back even further than 1970 — to the suffrage movement that began with the Seneca Falls Convention.
H.J. Res. 52 was approved by Congress on August 16, 1973, including a statement that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in American were first guaranteed the right to vote."
When is it?
Women’s Equality Day always takes place on August 26th to commemorate the date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In 2019, that falls on a Monday. In the next six years, the days of the week on which Women’s Equality Day will take place are:
Why it matters
Despite some significant strides in gender equality in the U.S., women still face significant obstacles at work and beyond. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 49 percent of employed women in the U.S. are working, according to them, because they are their families’ primary breadwinner. However, six in 10 working women say that men do not treat them as equals in the workplace, the same poll revealed.
2019 saw a record number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies — 33 CEOs. However, this “record-breaking” number constitutes just 6.6 percent of the names on the list. The 102 women serving in the 116th U.S. Congress also breaks the record, but the percentage remains under a quarter at 23.4 percent. The Senate, similarly, has 25 women occupying seats, or 25 percent.
Women still face a gender pay gap, currently earning 85 percent of what men earn, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center analysis. It has remained around this level for about 15 years, with even wider disparities among certain ethnicities.
The U.S. is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t offer paid parental leave, a measure that would benefit both men and women, although women, who, if they have given birth to their children, also need medical recovery time in addition to time spent bonding with their new children. In fact, the U.S. provides no mandated paid caregiver leave. This impacts women; a 2015 AARP study found that six in 10 caregivers are women.
Finally, of course, the Equal Rights Amendment, despite decades of fervor and advocacy, has never been ratified. This law, if passed, would guarantee women equal rights across the U.S.
How to celebrate Women’s Equality Day
Women’s Equality is not a public holiday, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still find ways to celebrate. Here are some of our ideas:
1. Make sure you’re registered to vote. And if not, register now! (Also, be sure to mark your calendar for the next election, and that includes local ones.)
2. Be inclusive — celebrate all women, including LGBTQ+ women, women of color, women who have different beliefs, women with disabilities and others.
3. Make sure your local library is well-stocked with reading material about women’s rights. (It doesn’t hurt to ask if they can book some items on display to celebrate the day, either).
4. Shop at local women-owned businesses (and make sure to wish the women who work there a happy Women’s Equality Day).
5. Thank a positive female role model in your life for her impact on you. (Handwritten notes are a nice touch.)
6. Donate to a nonprofit that supports women’s rights, such as Planned Parenthood.
7. Educate a young person in your life about an important woman in history — and the history of Women’s Equality Day.
8. Do something selfless for another woman. It could be as small as letting someone who’s juggling her kids on top of too many groceries at the supermarket cut in front of you at checkout.
9. Use social media for good: post and Tweet about positive female figures and why women’s equality matters to you.
10. Have a party to celebrate the women you appreciate.
11. Educate yourself: read books and watch movies about the history of the equal rights movement.
12. Become a mentor to a woman or girl in your work or personal life.
13. Write a letter to your representatives about an issue that’s important to you, such as supporting reproductive rights or the ERA.
14. Get the word out at work: send out an email reminding your colleagues that it’s Women’s Equality Day, and as for ideas about how to celebrate as a team — or suggest some of your own. (Women’s karaoke, anyone?)