With the US celebration of Women’s History Month in March and International Women’s Day on March 8th, it’s a good time to look at the progress we’ve made as well as where we still face equality hurdles. Do women actually have equal rights? How has momentum from the early part of the 20th century stalled, and how do we finish the job our suffragette sisters started 100 years ago?
What Are Equality Challenges Faced by Women Today?
If you are a financially comfortable white woman in the Western world today, you may believe that women are finally equal to men. The Me Too movement shook things up over the last decade, right? Isn’t there more sexual harassment training, social media call-outs for misogynists, and affirmative action when it comes to job opportunities, scholarships, and the entertainment industry?
In reality, however, the facts tell a different story, especially when you talk to women of colour or women who live in poverty. Even women who look from the outside like they’re thriving–earning well and rising in the workplace–will say equal rights for women are still not guaranteed. While there has been an improvement, there is still a long way to go when it comes to issues like:
Equal pay for women
Career advancement and hiring of females at the management and C suite levels
Workplace environment, from “good old boys” clubs to harassment
Childcare and maternal health protection (both financially and related to career advancement)
Men doing their share of homemaking tasks
Violence against women
Financial opportunities for women (home ownership, loans, etc.)
It might surprise you to learn that the gender pay gap–the difference between what men earn and what women earn–has been the same for the last 15 years in the United States. Overall, women only earn 84 percent of what men earn, representing a whopping 42 days of work to reach the same pay levels. In Canada, for every dollar men make, women only earn 76.8 cents.
The recent pandemic has only made the job situation worse for many women. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, women were disproportionately affected by declining industries and childcare quandaries.
Are There Equal Rights for Women Around the World?
The concerns raised above aren’t just experienced by women in the USA, Canada, and Europe. Equal rights are in jeopardy across the globe, particularly in poorer nations and countries with oppressive governments.
The pandemic has been harmful to females working around the world, says UN Women, and they have faced further disruptions to healthcare, including sex and reproductive care. Furthermore, women are still passed over for leadership and government roles.
Some alarming global statistics include:
In the past 10 years, poverty has been on the rise again, particularly in war-afflicted regions and specifically from the effects of Covid-19 measures. According to the United Nations, in 2021, an estimated 435 million women and girls lived in extreme poverty.
In 2020, women’s food insecurity was 10 percent higher than men’s, up 4 percent from the previous year. Support for women small-scale producers, funding, training, and land rights reforms could reverse this.
In lower and middle-income countries in 2020, there were an estimated 1.4 million additional unintended pregnancies, primarily due to the lack of reproductive health services.
Other disturbing trends include:
Increased violence against women
More school closures
Reduced access to hygiene and safe drinking water
Women underrepresented in renewable energy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs
Increased female unemployment
Double difficulties for females who are also discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, disability, or migration status
These patterns are hurting the global economy too. Based on research, both national GDP and company profits are raised with a policy of anti-discrimination and diversity.
What Was the Status of the Equal Rights Amendment in 2021?
If you thought the Equal Rights Amendment and other legislation were supposed to protect women from these inequalities, think again. While there have been attempts to codify rights for women over the years, few have been successful since women earned the right to vote (and there are still countries where women may not vote).
In many ways, the equal rights cause had more fire under it in generations past. The Women’s Club Movement began in the 19th century as social and literary get-togethers. Eventually, the clubs evolved to include advocacy for child labour, legal reform, literacy, and women’s suffrage. The African-American Club Movement, which was a part of this, led to further championing of issues such as race relations and lynching.
Founded in 1864, the National Equal Rights League goes back even further. It was dedicated to the liberation of Black people in the United States, with origins in the movement for emancipation of slaves in the former British West Indies.
The women’s movement of the 1960s and ‘70s in the West reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a way to incorporate women’s rights into the United States Constitution, first developed in the 1920s. The proposed amendment states:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Although inclusion of the amendment was passed by both houses of Congress way back in 1972, it was not immediately ratified by enough states by the approved deadline to join other amendments in the Constitution. Over subsequent decades, the ERA became a political football, and some states even revoked their previous ratification. Other states, seeing the lack of progress for the ERA in Washington, created their own versions of the amendment, valid only within the state.
A new argument arose in 2020, out of a lawsuit saying that critical language was left out of the ERA text sent to the state to ratify. Even though the states missed the deadline, the amendment’s recent ratification by Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia should be sufficient for the ERA’s inclusion in the Constitution.
It became up to the United States archivist David S. Ferriero to decide if the amendment should be added to the Constitution. Congress rallied support to move past the deadline, but a federal judge ruled that the deadline was still expired. The upshot is that the ERA is still not officially part of the US Constitution, and it is once more up for debate–a metaphor for the lack of real progress in women’s rights that we’ve discussed here.
So, Do Women Have the Same Rights as Men?
No, and we have a long way to go with gender bias and other types of discrimination. If you’re frustrated by the inequality faced by women around the world every day, a good starting point for discussion is examining your own biases and talking about these issues with coworkers and other people with whom you spend time. Often discussions about race and discrimination can be an entry point, as they bring men into the conversation more readily. Like every other movement we analyse, progress is made when both the oppressor and oppressed come together for the benefit of the group. It is crucial men become proponents and accomplices in this work.
Tough Convos is here to assist you in getting the discussion going. We provide diversity training, facilitation, and similar services so you can get past bias and intolerance to create a better workplace and society for all. Call us at 1(858) 876-8176 to learn more, or reach out online to set up a session with your group.