The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Women’s Equality Day: Still Seeking a Century’s Worth of Progress

Women suffrage picket line, courtesy of Library of CongressThe long march towards progress is often one that extends across generations. The U.S. woman suffrage movement, which resulted in women’s right to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920 – took 75 years to produce the desired result. That’s three generations of women, each playing a specific role in getting that policy objective to the finish line. Along the way, there were movements and side movements and countermovements, all of which shaped the ultimate contours of that social justice victory. We’ve now gone 99 years past the ratification of the 19th Amendment – that’s almost four generations – and women’s equality is still far from realized. Thus, on this Women’s Equality Day, it seems most fitting to me, as we stare into the century mark of this milestone, that we make a full-court press to fast-track some gender equality moves that would signal a bona fide century’s worth of progress.

Here are my suggestions:

First, we should revisit the Equal Rights Amendment. Its simple yet powerful text, originally crafted in 1923 right after women got the right to vote and revised in 1943, reads:

  • Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
  • Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
  • Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

In the late 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Carter, but failed narrowly during the state-by-state ratification process. That was 40 years ago. In 2019, the Equal Rights Amendment has regained attention, as theoretically only one more state needs to ratify the amendment to reach the majority needed. Do we have the political will to pass the Equal Rights Amendment now? Women’s equality was not a partisan issue then, nor is it one now; women in both parties desire equality and benefit from equality. Passing this constitutional amendment at long last would signal to America’s women and the world that women – and, in fact, people of all genders – are now truly included in “liberty and justice for all.”

Second, we should join the community of nations that has ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (known as CEDAW). This international instrument, which has already been ratified by every country in the world except for Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Pulau, Tonga, and the United States, is basically like a global Equal Rights Amendment. It addresses women’s human rights and commits nations to legally enshrining them. While the U.S. has made various arguments about why it has not ratified CEDAW, a more powerful statement for gender equality would be to just ratify it!

Other actions that would signal that we are truly in the 21st century when it comes to women’s equality would be stronger laws, policies, and legal procedures that address sexual violence in all its forms for all women (with a nod to the recent groundswell known as the #MeToo Movement), and laws, policies, and legal procedures that enshrine gender spectrum equality (because gender in the 21st century doesn’t mean what it meant 99 years ago).

Lest we think these legal moves towards equality are ends in themselves, we can also consider the fact that social scientists have found links between legal equality at the national level and human wellbeing. For example, a recent multi-national study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence showed that greater gender equality at the national level correlates with greater life satisfaction among both female and male adolescents, even with other potentially-influential factors controlled. Thus, there is something to the notion that gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing are all interrelated and interdependent.

As we look back at and celebrate the generations of women who fought for the right to vote, let us remember that progress doesn’t end there. Each generation must pick up the baton and push forward for increased recognition of gender equality in the law and in our everyday lives. Let’s hope that this time next year when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we will also be celebrating the ERA, CEDAW, and, all in all, a bona fide century’s worth of progress on gender equality!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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A Personal Story on International Migrants Day

Ninotska Love At Wellesley CollegeToday, it is almost impossible not to talk about immigration and what that represents to every single individual in our nation. As an immigrant transgender woman who was granted asylum during the Obama administration, it breaks my heart to see many people seeking help at the borders, but not getting it. My experience, perhaps, is very different from other immigrants, but we all share the same commonality—the hope to build a better future for ourselves and the future of our loved ones.

I left Ecuador based on the persecution of my gender identity. In Ecuador, I was kidnapped and told: “I deserved to die for being who I was.”  I still remember leaving my hometown, Guayaquil, in the middle of the night, saying goodbye to my brothers and my mom with tears in my eyes. I knew that I would not have the opportunity to see them anytime soon, perhaps never again! I took an airplane from Guayaquil to Mexico City.

Once in Mexico City, I was greeted and hosted by a beautiful family. Everyone there was so welcoming and supportive of my journey. We went to a small fair in the town so I could get familiarized with and introduced to their community and business. I walked around on my own and tried to order something from a store but realized that my Spanish was different from theirs. I remember crying non-stop. For a second, I regretted my decision, but I knew I could not go back. My life was at risk back home, so I continued with my journey. 

After a few weeks in Mexico City, I traveled to Aguas Calientes, then to Nuevo Laredo, located on the border between Mexico and the U.S.In Nuevo Laredo, I joined a group of people also seeking asylum and together we successfully crossed the border. Once in Laredo, Texas, we stayed in a hotel room—more than a dozen people in a space that was meant for two guests. We celebrated as if it was our own crossing every time we learned someone else was able to pass the checkpoint, because we knew that those people would eventually have a better future for themselves and their families.

Now, when I passed the immigration checkpoint, I thought I made it, but new challenges were about to start. I faced two barriers common among immigrants: I did not speak English nor did I have U.S. residency. Every story, however, differs from individual to individual. After a few weeks in the country, I started attending a local church that provided free classes in English. That improved my English, so I continued with the classes and started reading and watching English-language television shows.

Three years later, with the help of a pro-bono lawyer, Jhon Sanchez, I was able to apply and obtain asylum to stay in the U.S. When I gained legal status, I started my transition from male to female. Finally, I would become the woman that I always felt myself to be. After my transition, I decided to go back to school to start my life all over again. In 2015, I attended LaGuardia Community College in New York. There, I was treated and recognized as a woman, and no longer had to fear being sent back home. These have been the most rewarding experiences in my life.

For a while now, I have been able to work, study, and continue helping my family from afar. Currently, I am attending Wellesley College, as one of the first openly transgender woman ever accepted to the school. But none of this would have been possible without the vast amount of support I have received over the past few years, from my mom, brothers, family, friends, mentors, professors, and people who have provided their solidarity to me. I am just one example of what, with the support of others and one’s own will, someone can accomplish. I am hopeful that our government can move more positively for the future of many immigrants and their families seeking asylum, for a more inclusive and accepting society. We, as immigrants, matter and all we need are opportunities to demonstrate that we are capable of contributing and thriving, free of oppression and violence. We all should have equal opportunities to succeed!

Ninotska Love is a Women’s and Gender Studies major at Wellesley College. December 17th marks International Migrants Day.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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