By Cynthia Richie Terrell on August 23, 2019
After 304 votes in the House of Representatives, 56 votes in the Senate, 36 state endorsements and one more declaration to put it into effect, the 19th Amendment — the proclamation that gave American female citizens the right to vote in all elections — took its place in the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 26, 1920 — 99 years ago.
You’ve come a long way, ladies — and longer still if you consider what came before and after the passage of the amendment.
In a yearlong series in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of Amendment XIX in 2020, ASU Now is exploring the history of the women’s suffrage movement, its influences and its influencers, through the study and practice of scholars at Arizona State University. Follow along on Twitter — @asunews — all year as we share quotes, characters and historical tidbits from the long road to the vote.
In February, Nevada became the first state in the country with a female-majority legislature. By June, with the help of the state’s Democratic governor, there were stronger laws ensuring equal pay for women, tougher penalties for domestic violence, better protection for sexual-assault survivors, more money for family-planning services, an end to a requirement that forced doctors to ask women their marital status before performing an abortion and an increased minimum wage. If anyone needed proof that having more female lawmakers benefits women, Nevada certainly makes a compelling case.
And yet female voters have often rejected the idea that women should vote with gender in mind. In 2016, Nancy Pelosi told Politico podcasters, “I don’t think that any woman should be asked to vote for someone because she’s a woman.” Of course it would be ridiculous to suggest that someone hop party lines to vote along gender ones, or support a candidate who fails to prioritize what she sees as a key issue. But in primaries where contenders have similar ideologies, there’s a strong argument to be made for backing a woman.
In their book Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay in Office, political scientists Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt found that women in Congress are generally more effective than their male colleagues. They point to the fact that Congresswomen tend to have more staff in their district offices, serve on committees for issues that are of most interest to their constituents and are more likely to co-sponsor legislation that helps their voters. Separate research shows that female lawmakers bring more federal money back to their districts.
Women are more likely to run for elective office for the right reasons too. In her book Women Transforming Congress, political science professor Cindy Simon Rosenthal describes surveying lawmakers about why they got into politics. Most male legislators said it was something they’d always wanted to do. Female legislators, on the other hand, said they hoped to create social change and become more involved in their communities. In many instances, men run for office to be something while women run to do something.
Perhaps most significant, female lawmakers better represent women’s interests, pushing laws in areas frequently prioritized by female voters, including health care, civil rights and issues affecting families. One major roadblock in getting such legislation passed, however, could be that there simply aren’t enough women in office to usher it through; a 2018 Political Science Research and Methods study found that women’s proposals “are systematically dismissed and disregarded throughout the legislative process, relative to those of men.” It’s impossible to say for sure whether equal representation would change that–women still make up only about a quarter of Congress and 29% of state legislatures–but it’s reasonable to conclude that without more women in office, the issues women care about most will continue to be brushed aside.
Here’s what we do know: white men account for about a third of the U.S. population but dominate our political system. It’s not because they’re more “authentic” or “electable” or any of the other vague terms thrown around when candidates are discussed, but rather because white men run for office more than anyone else. In the 2018 election cycle, women and people of color were just as likely as white men to win their races once they were on the ballot, according to a report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign. And with Democratic women running in record numbers, it was women–and, importantly, diverse women–who flipped the House from red to blue.
Imagine, in Washington and in state legislatures across the country, women being represented by people who innately understand their experiences because they have lived them. The only way to get there is to vote more women into office–and not only that, but women of color; LGBTQ women; immigrant women; women with young kids; women with no kids; women from different economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds. There are gains even in the trying. Having multiple women in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has already changed the discourse of the election. In the first two debates, candidates talked about abortion access, the Equal Rights Amendment and the wage gap–with women onstage addressing those issues, the men have been forced to do so as well. The female candidates have also led the way on proposals for paid leave and affordable-child-care policies.
So go ahead, vote for her–and her, and her, and her–right down the ballot. If someone asks why, don’t hesitate to give the short answer: Because she’s a woman. It’s as good a reason as any.
Moscatello is the author of See Jane Win: The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics
The Advisory Council has identified 79 good practices in gender equality laws in 4 sectors (violence, economic empowerment, education and health, discrimination) and in all regions of the world. It calls on the leaders of the G7 and other countries to commit themselves, through the "Biarritz Partnership", to adopt and implement progressive legislative frameworks for gender equality, drawing on its recommendations. In particular, it calls on the leaders to:
- End gender-based violence;
- Ensure equitable and quality education and health;
- Promote economic empowerment;
- Ensure full equality between women and men in public policies.
It calls on States to ensure the necessary funding for the implementation of laws and to monitor them on a regular basis, as well as to abolish any discriminatory measures against women that may persist.
More than 2.5 billion girls and women worldwide are affected by discriminatory laws and lack of legal protection. The actions of many brave girls and women have broken the silence and highlighted the urgent need for strong and determined action. The Council urges the leaders of the G7 to be as courageous and courageous as girls and women are every day.
The Advisory Council will present its recommendations to French President Emmanuel Macron on 23 August at the Elysée Palace. The two co-Presidents of the Council, Nobel Prize Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, will then travel to Biarritz to present this document to G7 leaders during a session on inequalities and officially launch the Biarritz Partnership.