While women are still disadvantaged in numerous ways, we’ve come a long way in the past 100-plus years. Although there’s more work to do, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge the progress brave women have fought for. Imagine how different your life would be without these five rights you enjoy today. Without them, you — and the world — would be in a much different place.
1. The Right to Vote
Until the 20th century, women did not have the right to vote. With little say in the political system, women had to live with electoral decisions made exclusively by men. Worse yet, women were unable to run for political office. This inequality left womens’ voices and ideas in the dark.
In 1920, women’s suffragists were successful in gaining the right to vote for women. But the victory was incomplete. The 19th Amendment only gave white women the ability to vote. Women of color did not receive their voting rights until the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965. This inequality left a 45-year gap in the total voting-age population having a voice in the political system.
2. Reproductive Rights
For much of recorded history, women’s husbands controlled their wives’ childbearing schedules, regardless of the latter’s personal preferences or desires. The advent of the birth control pill in the 1950s and its greater availability in the 1960s brought on change.
Yet the law trailed scientific advancements when it came to women’s reproductive rights. It wasn’t until 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled married women had the right to use birth control. Unmarried women didn’t gain the same right until 1972.
Today, women can access birth control easily, even through online providers, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic status.
Having control over their reproductive lives gives women more options. Reliable contraception can help them make self-directed decisions about whether or when to have children. Access to birth control can also help women plan and prepare for a pregnancy. With preparation, the child and the family have a better chance to thrive both financially and emotionally.
3. Financial Autonomy
Today, you can go to practically any bank or credit union and open an account. But that wasn’t necessarily the case until 1974 and the enactment of the Equal Credit Act. To open a bank account before then, women were required to have a male vouch for their financial stability. Some institutions refused entirely to offer accounts for single women. This was true even for single women who worked and lived on their own.
Thanks to the Equal Credit Act of 1974, women can now control their finances and have access to lending opportunities. No person is required to have a co-signer or joint account holder on the basis of sex. When women have financial autonomy, they have more ownership of their future.
4. Equal(ish) Pay
There was a time when it was standard practice for women to be paid less than men. Even when both sexes were doing the same work, society’s leaders deemed it OK to pay women less. In the early 1960s, women’s groups — with the support of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt — fought for change. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, making equal pay for equal work the law.
While there are still debates on equal pay in the workforce today, women have come a long way. Pay transparency and anonymous reporting websites are commonplace. This technological advance gives women and people of color more access to data. When a discrepancy is suspected, people have more confidence to stand up and ask questions about pay across genders. If a discrepancy is discovered, women have the right to pursue fair pay.
5. Discrimination on the Basis of Sex
When most of us were young, it was common to play schoolyard games of boys versus girls. Unfortunately, that mindset was transferred through generations and leaked into the workforce and social circles. But thanks to Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972, discrimination on the basis of sex was on its way out.
This act protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Subsequent case law and legislation made discrimination on the basis of sex illegal generally, and women have the same rights as any man. While there are some old-school mentalities and prejudices to overcome, the world is better off thanks to Title IX. The law is on the side of fairness and equality regardless of gender.
The Work Isn’t Over
Today, many conversations about gender roles focus on the mental load often taken on by women at work and home. While men and women are different in some respects, it’s individuals who have different skill sets, not genders. For our world to truly thrive, there needs to be a mindset shift around gender roles.
It’s time to establish equality in all areas of life: work, social circles, and home. Do your part to stand up for us for what’s right and speak out against discrimination. If you are facing potential discrimination in the workplace, contact the human resources department. If there is an issue, your voice is needed to bring lasting change to your organization and the world. After all, we are all better off when our voices are heard.