Today we recognize a significant promise made in United States history. Exactly 100 years ago, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, which protected a woman’s right to vote. But it’s important to caveat this milestone. The 19th Amendment did not guarantee women’s right to vote so much as it stated that women could not be barred from voting because of their gender. The fight would continue for universal suffrage that included women of color.
Tomorrow we expect to witness another historic moment of promise. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris will be nominated for Vice President of the United States by the Democratic Party. Senator Harris is just the fourth woman to be nominated by a major party for national executive elected office and as an African-American and Indian-American woman, she is the first woman of color.
Senator Harris’ presumptive nomination is personal for me. Not only because she identifies as a woman of color, but also because she is my representative.
She represents my hometown of San Francisco and has represented my community as its District Attorney, then expanded her purview to Attorney General of California, then United States Senator.
Senator Harris’ accomplishments highlight both the gains achieved in the fight for gender equity, and the promises yet to be realized. Women’s right to vote has not led to women holding elected office in anywhere near equal proportion to women’s percentage of the electorate. There remains a big disconnect, with just 23% of U.S. House seats and 26% of U.S. Senate seats held by women. Yet in the United States, women outnumber men, and significantly more women vote than men.
The promise of democracy cannot be fully realized until women and diverse viewpoints and lived experiences are represented. To achieve gender equity, including that of women of color, the occasion of this anniversary asks that we both learn from our history and contemplate our future. I’ve been reflecting on how many women from all different backgrounds, classes, races, and ethnicities across the country came together in the struggle for universal suffrage.
These women included Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet and Dr. Susan Maria McKinney Steward, organizers of the Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn; Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, the first Chinese-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University; Lola Armijo, the first woman to hold a statewide post in the state of New Mexico; and Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, who also helped bring to fruition the Native American Citizen Act of 1924. Women of color continued to fight for an equal right to vote (and many other rights) long after the 19th Amendment’s passage, through the 20th century, and even today. Vanguard by Martha Jones, tells the history of Black women’s long-standing fight for universal suffrage. Stacey Abrams’ book Our Time is Now explains how today we can and must expand access to the vote to preserve our democracy.
What can we do together now? As a first step, we can all work together to greater realize our democracy, respecting our differences and recognizing our common interests.
That’s why United Way is launching a national gender equity campaign, as part of our civic engagement initiative, United We Count, United We Vote.
We are activating our Women United leaders across the country to spotlight the challenges faced by women and rally women leaders to make their voices heard and be politically engaged in their communities. This campaign comes at a time when women are losing jobs in greater number than men and doing most of the homeschooling and child rearing in the wake of COVID-19. Fighting for gender equity is more important now than ever.
Starting today, we will kick off the campaign with a Share Your Story call to action to collect powerful stories from women about the challenges and barriers they are facing. These stories will be spotlighted in a livestreamed event on September 17 entitled “A Century After Women’s Suffrage: Our Fight for Equity Continues.” The event will be a robust conversation with women leaders and advocates about how to continue the fight for equity and empowerment.
Join us and RSVP here for the livestreamed event on September 17 at 2 pm ET. Together, we will create lasting change to lift up entire communities. Join the fight.