A political movement is defined as a collective attempt by a group of persons to change society or government policy, mainly using political goals. Usually, political movements are in opposition to an element of the status quo and are associated with a particular ideology. The political movement may be local, national, or global. There are various kinds of political movements such as totalitarian movements, mass movements, reform movements, and violent movements such as insurgencies and guerillas. Historically, women have played crucial roles in political movements in pursuit of a broad range of goals ranging from early marriages, abortion, sexual violence, environmental rights, racial justice, and climate change among others. This paper will demonstrate that women have contributed immensely in political movements throughout the history of the nation.
For nearly half a century, the fight for equal pay for women has ranged among women. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act over 50 years ago but a significant gender-based wage gap persists. However, despite radical demonstrations and landmark legislation, women still earn about 80.7 cents for every dollar than a man working full-time earns, thereby significantly shrinking women's annual earnings (Dorman, 2013). It is no wonder that various women in the history of the country's social justice, entertainment, and politics have tried to influence the political process for better wages for women.
One of the women who contributed to the fight against equal pay is an activist and lawyer Florynce Kennedy. Kennedy became one of Columbia Law School's first black female graduates in 1951 after initial rejection in admission for simply being a woman (Randolph, 2018). One of her major contributions alongside Ti-Grace Atkinson was her efforts against want ads in the New York Times that was based on segregation between the sexes, thus blocking women from jobs that paid more.
The Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity acknowledged her movement in 1968 by concluding that separate want ads for women and men were a violation of Title seven of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex (Randolph, 2018). As Kennedy (2017) elaborates, her efforts were a strong initial development in regards to women empowerment especially for the women trying to enter the workplace. Her efforts were also an energizing force for the feminist movements of the 1960s in America.
Esther Peterson and Rosa DeLauro have played crucial roles in different historical periods towards equal pay. Peterson was the head of the Women’s Bureau during President John Kennedy's administration. She pushed and guided President Kennedy towards securing formal progress for the women of America through such initiatives such as the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (Dorman, 2013). Her years of data collection and organization of interest groups culminated in the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, setting the stage ready for a host of other anti-discrimination laws.
Peterson’s fight is today championed by Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic Representative from Connecticut. Since her election in 1990, DeLauro has fought for equal pay through different administrations. Her most important piece of legislation is the Paycheck Fairness Act that is posed to update the Fair Labor Standard Act and Equal Pay Act by introducing for increased pay transparency in the workplace (DeLauro, 2010). She has been introducing the bill since 1997.
DeLauro has stated that she will continue to introduce the bill session after session until the gender pay gap is dealt with completely. After the reintroduction of the bill by Democratic lawmakers in January 2019, DeLauro was quick to explain how difficult she had realized it has been to a breakthrough on what she terms as "simple, that women and men in the same job deserve the same pay" (Cranley, 2019).
The Right to Vote
Women were not allowed to vote in republican Rome and ancient Greece as well as in other democracies that emerged in Europe. As a result, women were not granted the right to vote in America and they had to fight for this right in what is referred to woman suffrage. For over 100 years, women and men had been fighting for the right to vote through marches, petitions, and speeches argued that like men, women deserved all the responsibilities and rights of citizenship.
Arguably, the most prominent women’s rights activist in history is Susan Anthony who was born to a Quaker family in 1820 in Massachusetts (Wallner, 2012). Raised to be outspoken and independent, she was quick to champion for men and women to study, work, and live as equals. From early on, she believed that drinking was a social problem as it brought poverty and violence to many families. However, very few politicians were taking her anti-liquor crusade seriously because she was advocating on behalf of women and because she was a woman herself.
As a result, to make sure that the government kept the interest of the women in its mind, Anthony began to campaign for the rights of the women to vote. Consequently, she started to campaign for property rights for married women as well as joined the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856 (Wallner, 2012). She helped in the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 and was its second president. Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony continued to champion women's right to vote until her death in 1906 (Wallner, 2012).
Another of the instrumental women in fighting for the rights of women to participate in the political front is Alice Paul. However, unlike Anthony, Paul was the leader of the militant front of the woman suffrage movement. She was well educated and determined to win the right to vote by all means necessary. Alice Paul was born in New Jersey in 1885 (Walton, 2016). She learned to use civil disobedience in London among other radical and militant tactics to draw attention to her cause.
To coincide with President Wilson's inauguration in March 1913, Paul organized for an enormous parade to distract the inauguration. She organized for more protests and marches in that year. In 1914, she founded the National Woman's Party (Walton, 2016). She was arrested and imprisoned for organizing a seven-month picket of the White House. She was placed under solitary confinement and force-fed, something that swung public opinion in favor of the imprisoned, leading to her release thereafter. Her efforts led to a constitutional amendment in 1918 that gave female citizens the right to vote
Lastly, Ida Wells, born in 1862 Mississippi fought for both women's political rights as well as racial equality in America in what she called double bind of sexism and racism. Writing for The Free Speech, Memphis black newspaper, she condemned and exposed the injustices and inequalities in the Jim Crow South (Cranley, 2019). In 1913, she helped found Chicago’s Alpha Suffrage Club that helped register thousands of the city’s black women to vote.
It is not just in the political and economic fronts that women have led political movements. Women have fought strongly in the social front, particularly concerning issues that are unique to women and girls. For example, throughout history, women have led to strong political and social movements for their reproductive rights. For decades, women were made to bear the burden of sexual relations with the woman being almost entirely responsible for the pregnancy while the man bragged about his sexual prowess.
As a result, women like Margaret Sanger fought for contraceptives so that women could control their births. Her fight led to the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 and the women, for the first time, could deter pregnancy by their own choice (Cranley, 2019). With this control, women could postpone having children or space births to pursue education or a career among other things that had not been possible before the introduction of the pill. However, many states were prohibiting the sale of the pill to women, especially those with strong religious beliefs.
In the fight against women's right to birth control, Sanger has put in jail many times for lawlessness for her clinics in New York City as well as her publications. However, she challenged the norms and laws and steadily, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the pill and later abortion, giving women more control over their bodies and births. For example, in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, the court ruled that any laws against the purchase of the pill violated the constitution (Fields, 2003). Later struggles against reproduction aimed at the laws that banned abortion. Today, the right to birth control is a right that is enjoyed by millions of women across the globe, thanks to women like Sanger who fought for this right when the status quo was against her.
Catherine Dexter McCormick also played an essential role in the fight for birth control for women. Using her own money, she provided the dollars required for the research and development of the oral contraceptive (Fields, 2003). Her help came when over thirty states still had laws that restricted the sale and use of the birth control pill. She was an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Just like the right to vote, Catherine believed that a women's right to control her body was important too. It was during her fight for the right of the women to vote that she met with birth control activist Margaret Sanger. The two became close friends. During her trips abroad, she would smuggle diaphragms into the country for the birth control clinics that Sanger owned. After the death of her husband in 1947, she began to commit more resources to research into birth control. It was partly due to her support that the contraceptive was introduced into the market in 1960 (Fields, 2003).
The paper sought to demonstrate that women have contributed immensely to the progress of the nation through political movements. As highlighted, throughout the history of the nation, women have made great contributions to society. As observed, women, from past to the present, have fought on all fronts- economic, political, and social. Besides, rewards of their hard work are visible in today's society in terms of better control of women's bodies and births and participation in political affairs beyond simply voting. However, the push for equal pay is still ongoing and is likely to continue for the next several decades.
Cranley, E. (2019, Nov 3). 12 surprising women from history who paved the road to equal pay. Business Insider. Retrieved from www.pulse.ng/bi/politics/12-surprising-women-from-history-who-paved-the-road-to-equal-pay/nq7fmfw
DeLauro, R. L. (2010). Successes and Further Goals for Women in the Workforce. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
Dorman, J. (2013). Are women paid fairly? Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
Fields, A. (2003). Katherine Dexter McCormick: Pioneer for women's rights. Westport, Conn: Praeger.
Kennedy, F. (2017). Color me Flo: My hard life and good times. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Randolph, S. (2018). Florynce Flo Kennedy: The life of a black feminist radical. Carolina: University of North Carolina PR.
Wallner, A. (2012). Susan B. Anthony. New York: Holiday House.
Walton, M. (2016). A woman's crusade: Alice Paul and the battle for the ballot. New York: St. Martin's Griffin
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