“Equality for women is progress for all.”
The above quote is the selected theme for International Women’s Day from the PBS Newshour website. Whether you agree with it or not, it still helps spread the word about inequality amongst women and how forming a sisterhood is a key component for solidarity and progression.
The issue of the Women’s Suffrage Movement itself predates the Civil War. It started back in 1848. The pioneers of women’s rights—Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as other Suffragettes—held a conference in Seneca, New York. They garnered support and educated women on the purpose of Women’s Suffrage.
While American women continued to make their voices heard over the next few decades, in 1897, the Women’s Suffrage Movement took way in England. Suffragette Millicent Fawcett founded the Nation Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1903. Fawcett believed that if women had to abide by laws created by men, women should help decide those laws too. Fawcett saw violence as worsening the problems and taking a logical, reasoned approach would be a more effective tactic. Women during this time were outraged at the British government. Men of the rich and poor classes were eligible to vote, but women of all classes, who worked, went to school, and had to pay taxes, were ineligible to vote.
Chris Trueman cites that Emmeline Parkhurst and her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia had a different approach for women’s equality—being militant and violent to get what they wanted. They and other Suffragettes burned churches and homes of politicians and chained themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace. The Suffragettes’ violent acts led them to being imprisoned and force fed. The British government kept the Suffragettes alive, because they didn’t want the women to be seen as martyrs. Keeping them alive was an attempt to disempower them and break their spirits.
The fight was far from over.
Protests, meetings, marches, and petitions were in vogue to persuade the government to allow women to vote—in Britain and in America. At the start of the 1920s was when the tenuous political upheaval of women’s voting rights came to an end and the 19th Amendment was passed.
In the mists of political chaos and turbulence, according to Jone Johnson Lewis’s article “Women’s History Month,” International Women’s Day was implemented in Europe on March 8, 1911. However, when it spread to the U.S., it got lost in the backdrops of history and time. The Great Depression, Prohibition, and the Dust Bowl had swept through and plagued American society in the 1920s and ‘30s. The Second World War hit in the 1940s, and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ‘60s. Women’s liberation and oppression were rebirthed.
According Nancy Sinks’ article “Women’s Liberation Movement,” in 1961 the FDA marketed the Pill; the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963; and Betty Friedan’s book La Femme Mystique was also written in 1963. It challenged the notion that women were content with being mothers and wives. And for those who were working, they had jobs like being nurses, secretaries, or teachers. Any upper-leveled profession was rare for its time, but throughout the decades it has slowly gotten better with women being able to be doctors and lawyers.
Although some of these issues seem like they are of the past, with abortion and unequal pay and job opportunities still going on, they illustrate how far women have come and how far women have to go. It hasn’t been 100 years on women’s voting or 50 years with Roe v. Wade, but they should be honored. The accomplishments of women in different parts of the world do create unity and hope worldwide. It is progress for all.
Opinion by Arika Elizenberry