Their footsteps echo in the corridors of history, but we rarely hear them.
As a woman living in the 21st century, I don’t often think about the sacrifices of those who came before me. I take it for granted that I can vote, achieve my goals, make my own money, choose whether or not to start a family. I can dress how I please, I can voice my opinion, I can file for divorce. And on the occasion that I do feel discriminated against – like when people assume someone in my position is a man – I brush it off because it feels irrelevant to me. There will always be ignorant people in this world. It is my choice to internalize it or move on to something else.
But when I pause to consider history, I feel an earnest and intense kinship with the women who pioneered my rights decades ago. They took the real risks. They were strong in the face of challenging deep social traditions. And the shocking part – and this is true for Civil Rights as well – is that it wasn’t very long ago that our cultural fabric was based on severe restrictions to human rights.
Through the efforts of suffragist Kate Sheppard, New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1893. It took the United States several decades to follow suit. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed into law, giving women the right to vote. That wasn’t even 100 years ago.
The women’s movement has roots in the aftermath of World War II, when the lives of women in developed countries changed dramatically. Household technology eased the burdens of homemaking and the growth of the service sector created jobs not dependent on physical strength.
Despite these socioeconomic transformations, cultural attitudes and legal barriers still reinforced sexual inequalities. It wasn’t until 1965, with the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that women gained access to all the same jobs as men, and employers with long histories of discrimination were held accountable. In the coming years, divorce laws were liberalized; employers were barred from firing pregnant women; and record numbers of women started winning seats in political offices.
But the gains for women in the 1960s and 70s only went so far. Today, just one in five members of congress is a woman. In 2015, women working full time in the United States were paid 80 percent of what men were paid, according to the American Association of University Women.
There is a current of misogyny still running through this country – as evidenced by the name-calling and body-shaming that has defined the 2016 presidential election. A female running for president is profoundly significant for the women’s movement. It is completely unprecedented, and regardless of Hillary Clinton’s platform, I feel pride in seeing how far she has come in an arena dominated by men.
As we salute our modern business women in the annual special section in this edition, we also pay tribute to those who laid the way for our success. We have come so very far, but still have a way to go.