March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1909 in the United States, and was officially designated as a worldwide holiday by the International Women’s Conference in 1910. The founders of this conference were socialists and communists who wanted equity for women’s contributions to the workforce, particularly in the garment industry, where women worked for 12 hours a day in hazardous conditions for very little pay.
Celebrate women who have fought winning battles for human rights.
International Women’s Day also praises women who have fought to gain voting rights around the world. Citizens of the United States are (or at least should be) aware of American suffragists like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, whose efforts culminated in the 19th amendment of the Constitution, giving American women the right to vote in 1919.
We should also honor the struggles of women in other countries to get the right to vote. For instance, Sylvia Pankhurst was a leader of the British suffrage movement, and was active in the labor movement as well. Many of us take the right to vote for granted, but let’s not forget that women in Saudi Arabia were unable to vote until 2015, and they weren’t even allowed to drive a car until the Saudi royalty decreed that women could start driving this year.
Past generations of women fought hard for the right to vote, and the current generation is an untapped source of power at the ballot box. For example, while only half of registered millennial voters cast a ballot in 2016, this level of voter participation was an increase from the previous election cycle. Collectively, more millennials and members of Generation X cast ballots than did members of older generations. That can be credited to the fact that members of younger generations outnumber members of the older generations, but it is also an indication of the potential young people have to create change when they exercise their right to vote.
Many of us in the United States take voting for granted. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who literally put their lives on the line to get their governments (here in the United States or elsewhere) to recognize that all citizens have the right to participate in the electoral process, especially in a political climate that seems to be moving backward, rather than forward, when it comes to basic human rights. Let’s look at just a few examples of women who are currently standing up for these rights.
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, stood on the floor of the Texas Senate for nearly 11 hours to fight against a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This law forced the closure of several reproductive health care clinics in the state of Texas and hindered access to reproductive health services, but was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
What about Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be speaker of the House, who stood in heels for more than eight hours to prevent the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? This law, introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama, prevents the deportation of children who were brought to the United States by their parents without proper documentation. Although DACA does not grant citizenship to these children, it does permit them to remain in the U.S., apply for work permits, and receive in-state tuition at state colleges.
Shirley Chisholm is another example of women’s strong leadership skills. In 1968, Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and in 1972 was the first African American from a major party to run for president of the United States. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her tireless work to represent the African-American community. Chisholm helped establish the Congressional Black Caucus, which focuses on equal access to education, health care, employment, voting, and justice, as well as providing African Americans a voice in foreign-policy decisions.
Dolores Huerta is another woman who deserves to be honored. She helped establish the United Farm Workers labor union, which advocates for pay equity and safe working conditions for agricultural workers. In addition to labor rights, Huerta is a strong advocate for women voters. Huerta was involved in the 21st Century Party, formed in 1992, whose political candidates were 52 percent women, in proportion with the overall population, and reflected the nation’s ethnic diversity as well.
If you’re tired of hearing news about how politicians are clamping down on women’s rights, do something about it. Register to vote. Educate yourself. Get involved in the community. You can even run for office!
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona fights for health care access, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, and other social justice issues right here in Arizona. For more information about how you can support the work of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, please contact us.