It has been 50 years since the women’s movement galvanized a new generation and elevated both the conversation and the status of women. New laws protecting against discrimination in education, employment, and financial credit had a profound impact on changing the role of women in society.
Ever since, the course for gender equality has been a zigzag line rather than an upward trajectory. For many, the progress since those early days has been characterized as two steps forward, one step back: There are far more women in the workplace and in positions of leadership, but pay inequities stubbornly remain. Despite revolutionary advances in health care, aspects of women’s health, especially reproductive rights, are still often seen through a 50-year-old lens. While young women are raised to perceive unlimited potential, real social, economic, and political inequities remain.
Today, there is a renewed emphasis on those inequities and those rights. The #MeToo hashtag that went viral around the issue of sexual harassment quickly broadened to signal the need for more economic and political equity for women.
#MeToo has been powerful and galvanizing, finding common ground with women of multiple generations.
But #MeToo is a moment, not a movement.
Speaking one’s truth is important, but not enough. Change takes time and work. Movements don’t unfold in a linear way, but move in fits and starts. And they require constant action.
More than a year ago, with hope lost for the country’s first woman president, and the election of a man who had a hard time masking contempt for women and their interests, especially for their economic and reproductive health, a new movement was ignited. It was powered by a march in 2017 around the country and around the world. It was the largest single day of protest in history. Afterward, many wondered what the next steps would be.
In this moment, the most important action to sustain that movement is around the ballot box — both by voting and running for office.
While women have made extraordinary strides in the workplace and society, the presence of women in elected office is dismal.
Women make up just 35 percent of City Council and 31 percent of the city’s delegation to the General Assembly in Harrisburg, according to the Philadelphia Commission for Women.
There are currently no female representatives from Pennsylvania in the U.S. House and the state has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate. Women are only 20 percent of Congress.
The good news is that more women are registered to vote, and go to the polls, than men. The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University also found that adult women have consistently reported voting more than men in every presidential election since 1980.
A lot can happen in a moment, and the moment we’re in is significant – and historic.
But real change must happen with a sustained and focused movement. And right now, the direction for that movement is clear: toward more women in elected office, and more women going to the voting booth.