During the winter of 1916–1917, suffragists took their long-fought battle for women's right to vote to the nation's capital. Picketing outside of the White House, they urged President Woodrow Wilson to take a stand and support their cause. During a time when the United States was fighting to uphold the ideals of democracy abroad during World War I, these women dared to ask of their democratic rights at home: "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"
On August 26, 1920, with the support of the president, Congress, and 36 state legislatures, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution became law, barring the federal and any state government from denying the right to vote of any citizen based on sex. Women finally had the right to vote.
On the heels of this victory, activists continued the fight to advance women's rights. Crystal Eastman and Jane Addams, two prominent leaders of the women's suffrage movement, were founding members of the ACLU, which also celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Eastman, Addams and other early ACLU leaders understood that the struggle for gender equality is interconnected with the struggles of other groups to achieve equal rights and freedom from discrimination. They were also committed to a fight for gender equality that went far beyond the right to vote — it meant ensuring that women and girls are able to participate in all arenas of society and lead lives of dignity.
Today, on Women's Equality Day, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of this historic milestone and the power and resilience of the women's rights movement in the United States, recognizing how far we have come, and how much further we can go.
There continue to exist many obstacles to women's and girls' full equality in the United States. Each day, an average of 630 women are raped or sexually assaulted, and an average of three women are murdered by an intimate partner. Maternal mortality rates have doubled since 1987, putting women in the U.S. at higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries. Women continue to lag behind men in income, earning on average only 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes.
Like the suffragists in 1920, we are standing at another critical crossroads in the women's rights movement, as we face the best opportunity we've had in years — maybe ever — to get the U.S. to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a landmark international treaty that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world and provides a practical blueprint for translating those principles into reality. Nearly every country in the world has ratified CEDAW; the United States is one of only seven that have not, together with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.
That could change this year. It takes the votes of 67 senators to ratify a treaty, and President Obama, key senators, and more than 140 organizations nationwide have expressed their support for the treaty's ratification.
U.S. ratification of CEDAW would lead to greater opportunity and access for women and girls in the United States and around the world, and would send a strong signal to other governments that protecting women's human rights is a global priority.
We have come a long way in the last 90 years, especially in terms of getting laws on the books to prevent discrimination. But achieving full equality requires more. Ratifying CEDAW would give the U.S. another powerful tool to work towards women's equality and would take us to the next level of realizing women's human rights.
So as we celebrate the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage today, we call on all women and mento exercise the power of your votes in this election year to tell your senators to demonstrate their commitment to women's rights and ratify CEDAW.
Like the suffragists before us, whose voices did not go unheard, we ask President Obama and the Senate, how long must women wait for equality?
A vote for CEDAW is a vote for women.