Today is the anniversary of the establishment of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The new amendment, ratified August 18th but made official on August 26th of 1920, provided that the right to vote for white U.S. citizens “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” From years of sacrifice and effort by all involved in the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was declared and prohibited a range of discriminatory state voting practices. At least on the books (reality differs from the legal literature as felons cannot vote, gerrymandering is legal, and other voter restrictions interfere with a true democratic vote), everyone, despite race or gender, can now participate in the United States government. Because of these efforts and legislative changes, we take the time today to celebrate the work of suffragists.
While considering women’s equality, and the ability to vote and participate in government, it is valuable to discuss some of the work being done and what we as a whole could be focusing more on as far as policies that still limit gender equality. As discussed in our post at the end of World Breastfeeding Week 2019, there are several factors that limit a birth-person’s ability to breastfeed. In addition to unsafe working conditions and long commutes, there are an overwhelming number of jobs that do not provide maternal protections.
Unpaid maternity leave, or a lack of any freedom to take time off work, ends up punishing parents who “want to have it all.” Through pregnancy and postpartum, many parents find that the world is just not conducive for being able to have children, earn a living to financially support them, and make the healthiest choices for the family at the same time. This means that more often than not, birth-people have to sacrifice and make the compromise of not breastfeeding so that they can make enough money to put food on the table.
Other than blatant gender and racial discrimination, the wage gap is also due to this lack of maternity protections in most professions in the United States. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a very clear and well organized summary of the gender wage gap. We recommend referring to their fact sheet, as well, for more detailed information on the subject. Supporting and promoting efforts to expand maternity protections (maternity and paternity paid time off for example) would help reduce the wage gap.
Another aspect of gender equality and political participation has to do with who we elect. During the mid-term elections in 2018, more women, and women of color at that, were voted into governmental positions. However the Senate is comprised of only 25% women and the House of Representatives of 23.4% women. This ratio is way too low! There should be more representation across the gender spectrum, more work being done in legislation that protects and supports women, parents, and midwives alike.
According to MidwifeSchooling.com, only 25 states allow for Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM) to practice independently. That means that outside of those 25 states, CNMs cannot freely work or write prescriptions without the direct supervision or written collaborative agreement of a physician. In other words, many midwives legally do not have the autonomy to use their own education, training, and experience to provide quality healthcare.
The New York State Association of Licensed Midwives (NYSLAM) is an organization that takes full advantage of their right to participate in government in order to advocate for women’s rights and the expansion of the rights for midwives to practice. One of their main goals as an organization is, “To affect state-wide legislation and regulation”. They explain in their about section that they “wanted to create an organization that could speak with one voice to legislators, to managed care organizations, and to other professionals, dealing with the issues which are unique to midwives.” By reading through their annual reflection, you can learn about some of the accomplishments they recently have had, and what they have been focused on this year. You can also check out their advocacy page to see the specifics of the work NYSALM has done in the realm of legislation that supports midwives.
Women’s Equality Day is the perfect holiday to think about the history of the ability to vote regardless of gender in the United States. It is also a day to remember that there is a lot of work that remains unfinished, and to appreciate those who are currently involved in those crucial efforts. Happy U.S. Women’s Equality Day of 2019!
Written by Gabrielle Cappelletti, the intern.