Women’s marches started the movement of changing cultural norms by fighting for an equal seat at the table then shifted the focus to creating seats for others.
A Look Back at the Women’s Movement
The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the US stemmed from the Abolitionist movement when women were encouraged to speak and organize against slavery to promote freedom and liberty for all rather than just some. Women became passionate voices of enslaved peoples that didn’t have a voice of their own in the society they had been forced to become part of.
In 1840 in London, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention and were isolated in a pen with other women when they had been treated almost as equals previously in their efforts while men were free to roam around as they pleased at the same event. This started an internal fire in these women that later started the Women’s Movement and a fight for equality.
Women fought for the right to vote, equal employment and education opportunities, marriage equality, the ability to own property and manage her own money, to maintain custody of her children, and to make choices for her own body.
What started as small groups of women banding together to vote illegally knowing they could be arrested and tried in court turned to shedding traditional hoop skirts in favor of “scandalous” pantaloons and bloomers which then turned to organized protests where women faced being beaten or committed to psychiatric hospitals.
Australia was the second nation in the world to grant women the right to vote (after New Zealand) and has become well known globally for protecting and establishing women’s rights like the right to vote, freedom to act independently from their husbands, protection from exploitation, availability of abortion resources, and equal pay.
Mary Lee was an outspoken voice for women’s rights in the 1880’s and worked to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 for young girls, founded The Working Woman’s Trade Union, and was co-founder for the South Australian Women’s Suffragete League. Edith Cowan was the first woman elected to Parliament in 1920.
WWII led to many women joining the workforce where they fought against sexual harassment in the workplace, discrimination, and equal pay.
What Is the Importance of Women’s History Month?
Women’s History Month is time intentionally set aside to celebrate the achievements of women and to reflect on the courage of previous generations that have allowed women to have the freedoms of today. Teaching the next generation of young girls and women how much has been achieved already while providing emphasis on how many changes still need to be made will encourage self-respect and growth opportunities.
By putting women’s rights in the public eye consistently, a culture of promoting women in positions of leadership and as role models is created. Female representation matters in all areas from consciously choosing to stay home to raise children to starting businesses to earning a corner office in the C-suite, gender equality should be recognized and celebrated.
How Has the Women’s Movement Changed?
Seven generations of women have fought tirelessly to shift cultural and societal norms that were long held beliefs and had become normal by using peaceful protests, lobbying, petitions, marches, public speeches, and by raising their families to believe in equality for all. What started as small groups of people (not just women) that questioned why certain groups of people had their lives restricted while others were able to live as they pleased has turned into an unstoppable force that cannot be slowed.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960’s and focused on discrimination against women, emotional and intellectual oppression, and limited life options. Rape crisis hotlines, battered women’s shelters, and child daycare centers were started to support women in efforts to care for victims of domestic violence and give options to pursue employment outside of the home. Women’s clinics were built that provided family planning services like birth control options.
The Women’s Rights Movement has changed the stigma that previously surrounded the premise of women in leadership roles. Women had long been conditioned to think that other women could never be great politicians or successful business leaders. Now, women are working towards closing the gender pay gap and supporting more females in influential positions in society on a global scale.
One major step forward came when women were allowed to open bank accounts, take out credit cards, and own property without needing to rely on a husband or male relative. Women can choose to remain single or have families outside of the traditional nuclear family environment without fear of public ridicule or the possibility of being jailed.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Many advancements have been made but more huge hurdles still exist as gender bias continues to create barriers to further growth. Women and girls around the world are still married off as children. Wages for women will not reach that of men for another 267 years if change isn’t prioritized. Many women still aren’t offered paid maternity leave from their jobs and are expected to use vacation or sick days to care for newborn children which impacts the mother’s mental health and interrupts the bonding process between mother and infant. Women still have to prove themselves in order to get a fair and stable seat at the table of most boardrooms unless they create their own companies with their own seats that they have made specifically for them and others like them.
Even today and after hundreds of years of fighting for equality, women’s rights are considered women only issues and swept under the rug worldwide. Women’s rights impact all of society because by focusing on the talents of only half (or less than half) of a population, creativity, productivity, leadership, innovation, and ideas are limited which stifles what that society could become by focusing solely on what it is at this point in time.
By encouraging a continuous shift in mindset that involves women in decisions rather than expecting them to sit in a corner and say nothing, the world can evolve to great heights with a focus on building the greatest advancements the world has ever known. Celebrate women for all that they have done and will continue to do because it is recognition that is well-deserved.