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What Does Full Equality for Women Really Look Like?

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Every year on August 26, we commemorate the day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed into law and women were finally granted the right to vote. Of course, it wouldn’t be until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that women of color in the south would finally be given that same right, roughly 51 years ago.

While we should certainly look back on the last 96 years and honor the gains made in favor of women’s suffrage and gender equality — as well as the sacrifices and grueling work it took women to get us here — it is important to recognize that women have yet to achieve full equality and acknowledge that we must continue to do better.

What exactly do we consider “equality” for women? The right to vote? Access to family planning resources? Equal pay in the workplace? Equal opportunities to work across industries? Perhaps we measure it in political representation, in the number of women who help to shape policy and write the laws that govern our everyday lives.

When you look at the number of women holding political office across the country, you can see we are severely lacking appropriate representation.

It isn’t just the Senate and the House of Representatives. Only six U.S. governors are women, and only two of them are women of color. Just 24.6% of state legislators are women, and 18.1% of cities with over 30,000 residents have a female mayor. The courts also have a deficiency of women judges.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when asked how many women on the bench would be enough, responded, “Nine.” That would certainly be a start.

At every level of government there are too few women, and even fewer women of color, LGBT women, immigrant women, and women of different faith traditions. In a nation so diverse, we have an issue of exclusivity in spaces where decisions that impact everyone are made.

The scarce presence of women in our city councils, statehouses, and all the way up to the Oval Office is a sign that we need to do more to ensure there are equal opportunities and resources for women to lead. 

Collectively, we need to encourage more women in our lives to run for office. We need to give our time, resources and support to women who are challenging the status quo. We need to show up and vote for the women in our communities who are fighting to ensure that the institutions which we grant so much power actually represent the people they intend to serve.