Evolution of Women’s Rights

The fight for women’s rights is a continuous battle. It is a constant effort to create equal representation and status for women in political, social, and economic fields and creating a legislation where discrimination against women must be penalised. It has been 200 years coming.

It began wih the first feminist publication, in 1792, entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by British writer Mary Wollstonecraft.

However, words began to translate into action much later when the British women decided to stand tall beginning militant political action in 1903 with the formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) for the right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst led this organisation and all women old and young, ‘upper class’ or ‘lower class’ demonstrated on a huge scale. They were jailed, locked out of their meeting places, and thrown down the steps of Parliament.This ended with a truce after the outbreak of World War I (1914) with the WSPU’s decision to support the war effort. The right to vote was granted in 1918; it was confined to women age 30 and above. In 1928 the voting age was lowered to 21.

In 1848, the United States saw the first definitive position on women’s rights at the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., lead by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This, however, was mingled with antislavery issues. In 1850, Lucy Stone led the National Women’s Rights Convention. Both institutions merged in 1863 to make the Women’s National Loyal League, under Susan B. Anthony. Anthony proposed an amendment to the constitution in 1878 for the right-to-vote for women.

In 1890, Wyoming became the first state with women’s suffrage. Women’s suffrage means the right of women to vote in political elections. This happened through the formation of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and the election of Carrie Chapman Catt as president. Many educated, wealthy, and influential women were drawn to the cause, with resultant political professionalism, increased funding, and the development of massive parades and demonstrations in the major cities. The Anthony amendment, as written in 1878, was ratified as the 19th Amendment and became law in 1920.

Lot’s of women political groups that supported liberal reforms regarding equal rights started forming soon after like the League of Women Voters (1920) and the National Council of Negro Women (1935).

Internationally, the preamble to the United Nations (UN) Charter (1945) referred to equal rights for women; in 1948 the UN Commission on the Status of Women was established; in 1952 the UN General Assembly held a convention on the political rights of women. Four related conferences, in Mexico City (1975); Copenhagen (1980); and Nairobi, Kenya (1985), Beijing (1955) were hosted.

A militant feminist trend started emerging in the 1960s that was encouraged by significant feminist studies, such as The Second Sex (1953) by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan that are studied by students till date (including me).

More significantly, many feminist political organizations arose that developed into a full feminist movements.

Since the 1980s the women’s movement has focused on diverse issues. These include reproductive rights, that is, preserving a woman’s right of choice to have an abortion against the fervent pro-life movement, a continuous fight till date, sexual harassment with movements like the #metoo movement, the lack of equal pay, pink tax, lack of representation in politics and more.

However, women are continuously making advancements in politics and otherwise. In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton made a historic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female Democrat to be nominated for the vice-presidency. Sarah Palin followed her as the first female Republican nominee for that office in 2008. With rising leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elise Stefanik, Anna Valencia and many many others, change is imminent.



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