America’s Women’s Equality Day: How society was unfair to women

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra
Women’s Equality Day is commemorated on August 26 in the United States of America to honour the women  for gaining the constitutional right to vote. The day acknowledges the 1920 certification of the United States Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It also highlights the ongoing efforts of women to achieve complete equality. Many organizations across the nation commemorate this day and strive arduously to give women equal chances in both education and jobs.
By contrast, on July 4 America commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, 2022. But those who are not well versed in the history of America may never believe that after 144 years of the Declaration of Independence, women got the right to vote in 1920 . This shows how unfair society was to women and how rampant gender inequality was.
In 1920, the day signified 72 years of campaigning by a huge civil rights movement for women. Prior to movements like these, even respected thinkers such as Rousseau and Kant believed that women’s inferior status in society was completely logical and reasonable; women were ‘beautiful’ and ‘not fit’ for serious employment. Over the last century, great women have proved these views wrong as the world has witnessed just what women are capable of achieving.
Celebrating the day, American women pay tribute to the trailblazers and suffragists who moved them closer to a more just and prosperous future. They resolve to protect this constitutional right and pledge to continue fighting for equality for women and girls.
History of National Women’s Equality Day
National Women’s Equality Day on August 26 in America has been designed to commemorate adoption of the 19th Amendment in the 1920s in the United States. This act stopped the federal government and states from preventing voting rights of people based on their sex.
August 26 was chosen as the date for Women’s Equality Day as it was the anniversary date of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which stood as a symbol of the continued fight for equal rights. Women’s Equality Day calls for attention to the continuing efforts of women towards complete equality.
 The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution, prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote/suffrage to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.
It was first celebrated in 1971, designated by Congress in 1973, and is proclaimed each year by the United States’ President. The date was chosen to commemorate the day in 1920 when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation granting American women the constitutional right to vote.
In 1971, following the 1970 nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality and again in 1973, as the battles over the Equal Rights Amendment continued, Congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York introduced a resolution to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon issued Proclamation 4147, which designated August 26, 1972, as ‘Women’s Rights Day’ and was the first official proclamation of Women’s Equality Day. On August 16, 1973, Congress approved H.J. Res. 52, which stated that August 26 would be designated as Women’s Equality Day and that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in America were first guaranteed the right to vote.”
On the same day, President Nixon issued Proclamation 4236 for Women’s Equality Day, which began, in part: “The struggle for women’s suffrage, however, was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our nation’s life. In recent years, we have made other giant strides by attacking sex discrimination through our laws and by paving new avenues to equal economic opportunity for women.
Today, women’s equality has grown to mean much more than just sharing the right to vote in America. Organizations such as Equality Now and Womankind Worldwide continue to work to provide women across the globe with equal opportunities to education and employment, pushing against suppression and violence towards women and against the discrimination and stereotyping which still occur in every society. However, there exists a huge gender gap as reflected from various Global Gender Gap Indexes.
This year, the theme for Women’s Equality Day was ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. The day celebrated the progress towards achieving gender equality in the socio-economic system. It affirms women’s place in society and the advancement of the world as a result of the respect and opportunity attained by women.
The day is marked by many organizations, libraries, businesses, NGOs, women’s welfare societies, and other institutions planning activities and programs that honour women’s advancements toward equality.
The ongoing efforts of women to attain complete equality were highlighted on Women’s Equality Day. #EqualEverywhere means equality, equity, and access to basic human necessities for all, irrespective of gender, age, socio-economic status, place of birth, place of origin, or current place of residence.
Gender Equality
Gender equality, also known as sexual equality or equality of the sexes, is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviors, aspirations, and needs equally, regardless of gender.
Gender equality is the goal, while gender neutrality and gender equities are practices and ways of thinking that help in achieving the goal. Gender parity, which is used to measure gender balance in a given situation, can aid in achieving gender equality but is not the goal in and of itself.
Gender equality is more than just equal representation, it is strongly tied to women’s rights, and often requires policy changes. As of 2017, the global movement for gender equality has not incorporated the proposition of genders besides women and men, or gender identities outside of the gender binary.
UNICEF says gender equality means that women and men, and girls and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities, and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or that they be treated exactly alike.
On a global scale, achieving gender equality also requires eliminating harmful practices against women and girls, including sex trafficking, femicide, wartime sexual violence, gender wage gap and other oppression tactics.
 UNFPA stated, “despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They have less access to property ownership, credit, training, and employment.”
This partly stems from the archaic stereotypes of women being labelled as child-bearers and homemakers, rather than the breadwinners of the family. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
As of 2017, gender equality is the fifth of seventeen sustainable development goals (SDG 5) of the United Nations. It is measured annually by the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Reports.
Gender Inequality Index (GII) & India
This Gender Inequality Index (GII ) is part of the Human development report (HDR ). GII is a composite metric of gender inequality using three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market. A low GII value indicates low inequality between women and men, and vice-versa.
GII reflects gender-based disadvantage in three dimensions— reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market—for as many countries as data of reasonable quality allow. It shows the loss in potential human development due to inequality between female and male achievements in these dimensions.
 It ranges from zero, where women and men fare equally, to one, where one gender fares as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions. GII values are computed using the association-sensitive inequality measure suggested by Seth (2009), which implies that the index is based on the general mean of general means of different orders—the first aggregation is by a geometric mean across dimensions.  These means, calculated separately for women and men, are then aggregated using a harmonic mean across genders.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report, India is ranked 130 out of 155 countries on the Gender Inequality Index (GII) 2015. However, the HDR (2020) has calculated India’s GII to be of the order of .488, with 123rd place out of 162 countries. It means India is behind 122 countries out of 162 countries in regard to reducing gender inequality. In 2018, India was ranked 122.
A World Bank study in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) showed that 25 million Indian women quit their jobs between 2012 and 2021, of which, 68 percent never returned to work.
Imperative of fighting Gender Inequality
Hundreds of millions of women and girls are denied their rights to education and health. This effectively prevents their empowerment. For the sake of justice, we have to right this wrong. It is a requirement of fairness to make knowledge and information accessible to each and every woman, better today than tomorrow. Access to education and health  is a fundamental human right.
 The time is imperative to promote equality and equity. Actions should speak louder than words.  There is a famous quote, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” In the same way, we should advocate for equal rights for girls and women.
There is no scarcity of potential, commitment, determination, and dedication among girls and women across countries and cultures.  The government should make sure that girls and women are educated and also understand the importance of self-empowerment, independence, and self-respect.
Once girls and women learn these basic tenets, the sky is the limit, and they can help attain equality and equity for the coming generations.
Though Women’s Equality Day is largely linked to America, it carries a lot of significance for the entire world, especially in India where gender bias, discrimination, violence, and inequality are rampant and pervasive.
One of the best things to do on this date is to pay tribute to the astounding females that have made a massive contribution toward achieving gender parity. It is high time Indian women should demand the enactment of the women’s reservation bill.
*The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist, economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.
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