Aug. 26 is Women’s Equality Day, which this year celebrates the 94th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. American women won this right in 1920 after a decades’ long struggle that began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention in our country’s history. More than 300 women and men came to Seneca Falls, New York to protest the mistreatment of women in social, economic, political and religious life. In the following decades thousands of people participated in marches through cities like New York and Washington DC, wrote editorials and pamphlets, gave speeches all over the nation, lobbied political organizations, held demonstrations, picketed the White House, went on hunger strikes and spent time in jail for their activism. Our foremothers realized they had a critical role to play in the political, social, and economic life of their society, and it was time for their voices to be heard.
Similar movements are still alive around the world. Women continue to raise their voices to bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large. Empowering women to help reduce poverty, build economic growth, improve nutrition, and engage politically are vital to the security of our communities.
However, at home and abroad, women still face challenges. For women in the U.S., a more equal future still means securing equal access to quality and affordable health care; equal pay with men, who still earn on average 33 cents more to the dollar than women; personal security and safety from gender-based violence; and full inclusion in public and political life.
Although New Hampshire made history in 2012 by making us the first state to send an all-female congressional delegation to Washington, D.C., and in the last elections we celebrated the historically highest number of women in Congress, women still hold less than 19 percent of the seats, lagging far behind many other developed and developing nations.
Women both in the U.S. and around the world have been at the forefront of peace building — advocating for diplomacy rather than war, reaching across political, ethnic and religious divides to bring communities together and addressing the root social causes that often lead to today’s conflicts. We know that women play a crucial role in creating and implementing sustainable solutions to conflict.
On this Women’s Equality Day, with continuing violence in countries such as the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan, concerns over the rights of women in Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws, and renewed violence in Iraq, just to name a few, it is more important than ever to make sure that women’s voices are heard.
Women around the world today are still carrying the torch that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton lit 166 years ago. This year, in recognition of Women’s Equality Day, join with me to urge our Members of Congress to pursue inclusive diplomacy over war and pass the Women, Peace and Security Act, which would ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in all of our diplomatic, development and defense efforts at home and abroad. Let us make sure that women’s voices are heard on the most important issue of all — peace.
Representative Terie Norelli is the Speaker of the House in New Hampshire and an active member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL) a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).