This is a fact: Women comprise approximately 51 percent of the United States population. These are also facts: Women hold just 18.5 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress, and only 21 percent of New York State Legislators are women. Currently, women hold a mere 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles. What that shows us, as we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, is while much progress has been made, full women’s equality is still something we must fight for.
Many brave New Yorkers jumpstarted the women’s equality movement and helped advance it over the years. They deserve our recognition. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two New Yorkers, were pivotal in securing equal voting rights for women. In July 1848, Stanton organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Thirty years later, Stanton and Anthony drafted the language that would ultimately secure women the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Were Stanton and Anthony alive today, they would no doubt be pushing for women to be more influential in government to strengthen that right to vote they helped secure.
At a time when women were denied the same rights as their male counterparts, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, a Brooklyn native, made history in 1870 by becoming the third African-American woman to earn a medical degree and the first to do so in New York State. Another Brooklyn native, Shirley Chisholm, was a New York State Assemblymember and became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She also ran for president in 1972, the first major-party black presidential nominee and also the first woman to do so. In 2001, Hillary Clinton became the first female U.S. Senator to represent New York State. She was a candidate for president in 2008 and was appointed U.S. Secretary of State in 2009. Sonia Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, becoming its first Hispanic justice and third female justice. In 2012, Grace Meng, a Queens, N.Y. native and former New York State Assemblymember, became the first Asian-American elected to Congress from New York.
These women represent only a small fraction of those who have shown great courage and determination to break down barriers; yet, “female firsts” and glass ceilings still exist. It’s been more than 150 years since the women’s rights movement began in Seneca Falls, N.Y., but the fight is far from over. That’s why I support the Women’s Equality Act which includes: protecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body; achieving equal pay for equal work; stopping sexual harassment in the workplace; strengthening human-trafficking laws; giving domestic violence victims better protections; ending family status and pregnancy discrimination; and stopping source-of-income discrimination. Today’s issues may be different, but the battle for women’s equality still goes on.
Please join me in taking time to reflect on the accomplishments of women this Women’s History Month – to not only honor them for what they have done but to recommit ourselves to achieving true equality for women.