It’s been 96 years since the passing of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. The women who fought for suffrage, and those who lost their lives in the struggle, were very clear about what they were fighting for — equality. We continue the fight for equality today in memory of all those courageous women.
From the valiant commentary by Abigail Adams in 1776, to the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments in 1848, to the constitutional amendment securing the right to vote for women in 1920, the road has been steep and the journey treacherous. With enfranchisement, women were granted new power, and the power of the women’s vote has made an impact on elections ever since.
As of late, the distinct power of the women’s vote has been questioned. Many women voters seem curious that gender would be an issue in electoral politics. For the younger generation, there is a belief that the battle for women’s equality was fought and won during the last century. Having the right to vote and equality are not the same thing. The constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women still has not passed.
On this day that we celebrate women’s suffrage; the day we celebrate women’s equality has not yet arrived. Surveys have found that 96 percent of the American public believes that the Equal Rights Amendment is already in our Constitution. Not true. Just like the fight for the right to vote, a struggle that started before the Civil War and went all the way until just after the First World War, the long journey to an Equal Rights Amendment seems to have taken the same steep road.
Alice Paul, a leader of the Suffrage Movement, saw the need for an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1923, the ERA was first introduced in Congress. The bill calling for a constitutional amendment was filed every year after that until it was finally approved by the Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. As of today, 35 of the 38 States needed have ratified the ERA. Approval by the legislatures of three more states is needed.
Florida (surprise!) is one of the states that has not ratified the ERA. A ratification bill has been filed during every legislative session since 2003. In this historic electoral year, when for the first time in the history of our country a woman is on the ticket for president of the United States, hopefully there will be momentum to win passage of the ERA in three more states. We can start here in Florida by having the state legislation commit to make Florida the 36th state to ratify the ERA in the coming session.
The League of Women Voters was founded the same year that women got the right to vote, by the same women who fought for it. We’re empowered by their vision today as we work at the national, state and local level to protect the rights of voters and assure elections are free, fair and accessible. Our motto is “Make Democracy Work.” Our democracy would surely work better if equality for women was guaranteed in the United States Constitution.
I encourage everyone to vote, and I remind women that our struggle for equality remains in the hands of those we elect. Before casting your ballot, take a moment to ask the candidates for the Florida Legislature if they would like to see the 28th Amendment to the Constitution approved: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Maribel Balbin is a national board member and trustee of the League of Women Voters of the United States.