Women still struggling for equality

Ninety-three years ago this week, on Aug. 26, 1920, American women secured the right to vote. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became the law of the land following the dramatic ratification vote by the Tennessee Legislature. Though the amendment was expected to fail, one young legislator, Harry T. Burn, heeded his mother’s last-minute appeal and voted yes. We remain grateful to Harry and his mother.

Winning the vote simply provided women the right to participate in the democratic process. Voting should have been a birthright. The constitutional right to vote is the first, and the only, right that addresses equality for women and men. Recognizing that the 19th Amendment had a very limited scope, Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923 to expand that affirmation to all the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

In 1971, when U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug designated Women Equality Day, the resolution poignantly expressed the long road ahead to achieve true equality. Declaring American women “have not been entitled to the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States,” the resolution reiterated the need for further legislative action.

So what has 93 years of voting gotten us? Clearly, equality has not been achieved. The need for specific language in the Constitution affirming the principle of equal rights on the basis of sex is still needed. Although women continue to make progress (acceptance at military academies and greater representation in certain professions), a prevalent assumption remains that males hold rights by birth and females must prove they deserve equality .

Since the right to vote is the only equal right constitutionally guaranteed for women, we must exercise the vote to effectuate changes toward full equality. Electing women to political office is one way to achieve this goal. The current 113th Congress has the largest number of women (98) ever elected. Though a record-setting number, it is by no means an accurate representation of the American people. And that’s what matters in our democracy. Electing more women has proven to be not just good for women, but good for America.

Our vote is an undisputed power and it should be used wisely. The fact that women cast 53 percent of the votes in the 2012 election was noticed. Many “women friendly” laws and policies have been implemented as a result. The “gender gap” occupied more hours of campaign conversation than any other issue.

As we witness voting laws change, and as we commemorate another anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we must remain vigilant to defend historic gains. We must always be prepared to exercise our vote to advance the cause of equality. To continue the long march toward equality, we must not allow our power as voters to be eroded or undermined.

Events in recent months have proven that voting rights and protection are fragile. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 25 laws and two executive actions designed to make voting harder were passed in 19 states between 2011 and 2012. And the shocking decision of the Supreme Court regarding the Voting Rights Act will have unprecedented consequences on voting rights. The courts declared that “current conditions require a new coverage formula.” Current conditions for women require a new formula for achieving full and equal protection under the Constitution.

We have to figure out the best way to collectively “lean in” at the polls and be the change for the future generations. We need to once and for all guarantee equality of women under the law. Passing the Equal Rights Amendment is the duty of this generation. We need only echo the words of Alice Paul: “We should not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”

Maribel Balbin is president of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County. Michelle Dunaj Lucking is chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category