March is Women’s History Month, and the 8th of March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. The designated day began early in the 20th century and related to labor movements in North America and Europe. Celebrations have included rallies demanding that women have the right to vote and to hold public office, rights to work, vocational training, the end of workplace discrimination, and protests to wars. It was not until 1975 that the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 to celebrate the achievements of women: socially, economically, culturally and politically.
Recently in the United States and especially since the #MeToo movement began, women have been advancing into the various arenas of life in greater numbers — including in the political arena. We have celebrated a record number of female Congressional representatives elected in 2018 — graphically displayed in their white suits at the State of the Union Address in February. And since the beginning of this year a record number of women have declared their candidacy for the Office of President of the United States in the upcoming election of 2020.
The campaign theme for this year’s event in the United States is #BalanceforBetter. Corporations and organizations have partnered to plan celebrations around the country. Implicit in the theme is the call for equality for women. The United Nations’ theme is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” The focus is to advance gender equality, empower women, improve social protection systems, access to public services, and sustainable infrastructure. Both campaigns focus on women’s continued struggle to advance in their lives.
Our United States is not the most advanced nation in the world relative to women’s rights and opportunities. When the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, in 1979, the United States did not vote for it. Our Constitution does not include equality on the basis of sex; however, nearly all developed countries include equality of the sexes in their constitutions or charters.
Regarding gender equality, Iceland and the Nordic countries have been rated the highest. Sweden even considers itself to be a feminist country where roles, expectations, and behaviors are similar for all genders. Countries in Africa and the Middle East have rated lowest in gender equality. The United States is not even in the top 20. Why? We finally allowed women to vote in 1920, noting that it was 50 years after men of all races were allowed to vote with passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. But the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), passed by Congress in 1972, still lacks just one state’s ratification before going back to Congress for inclusion in our Constitution. The Amendment states, ”Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” Just 23 words that matter a great deal in providing a consistent legal standard that protects women throughout the U.S.
California has ratified the ERA, but we are still short the 38 states’ ratifications we need for inclusion in our Constitution. As other states take up the amendment for a vote, we Californians can support its passage through encouraging voters in those states to urge their representatives to vote for the amendment’s passage.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this March 8, let us consider how a balance of rights for men and women can improve life for all of us.