On August 26th, 1920, the 19th amendment became the law of the land, giving women the right to vote after 70 years of struggle. Today, we celebrate the suffragettes’ hard-fought victory by observing National Women’s Equality Day.
But in 2015, almost a century later, women are still far from equal participants in politics. While we certainly vote (consistently and at higher rates than men), we are vastly underrepresented in political office. As a result, politicians pass laws that don’t reflect our needs, priorities, and perspectives.
Let’s break it down into some cold, hard facts. In 2015, women hold fewer than 20 percent of US Congressional seats. Less than a quarter of statewide and state legislative seats are held by women, women lead only 12 of our country’s 100 most populous cities, and only six governors are women.
For young women, queer women, and women of color, the statistics are even more grim. Just four percent of members of Congress are women of color, and there are only two openly queer women of all 535 members of the House and Senate.
Women make up more than half of our country’s population, yet we are not represented in the bodies that make decisions about our lives. There’s an old Washington saying: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Right now, in Washington and in state capitals and legislative bodies around the country, women are not just on the menu--we’re the main course.
Just a few examples:
In 2011, 89% of all US counties lacked an abortion clinic, making it extremely difficult for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
The United States is one of only three countries that does not guarantee paid maternity leave--the others being Oman and Papua New Guinea--hurting the economic chances of women who choose to become mothers.
Women in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat, and those that are assaulted face significant personal and career consequences for speaking up.
These are, of course, just a few ways that laws made largely without our participation can hurt us in a very real way.
While Women’s Equality Day celebrates our right to vote, federal, state, and local policies clearly don’t take our needs into account. To have truly equal political power, we need to be in elected office.
That’s why LaunchProgress Political Action Committee works to provide young progressive leaders, particularly women and people of color, with the resources they need to get elected into state and local office. We have already helped to elect a number of young progressive women, including Christie Bryant in Ohio and Stephanie Chang and Kristy Pagan in Michigan. Just this week, we announced our endorsement of Jillian Johnson for city council in Durham, North Carolina. These candidates and elected officials are champions for women’s voices.
Women’s Equality Day celebrates the day we gained the ability to vote. But voting is not enough. If we want laws that truly reflect our needs and perspectives, we need to elect women--and we need to run. Ladies, let’s get to the table.