March is the official month dedicated to honoring Women’s History. And while it’s certainly a time to celebrate and uplift women’s voices and contributions to our society, it’s important to acknowledge how far we have to go to give all women their basic equal rights. There’s no women’s equality until women’s equality is equitable.
There remains a group of women left behind for every significant milestone in the search for equal rights for women.
The 19th Amendment
Black women played a critical and active role in the fight for universal suffrage and the 19th Amendment. Despite fighting for the same rights as their white suffragist counterparts, Black women were often excluded from many of the activities and demonstrations held by white women.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association prevented Black women from attending their conventions. Black women often had to march separately from white women in suffrage parades. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony wrote the History of Woman Suffrage and largely ignored the contributions of African American suffragists. Though Black women are largely missing from the conversation around suffrage, they played an important role in getting the Nineteenth Amendment passed.
After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920 and granted women the right to vote, Black women voted in elections and even held political offices. However, many states passed discriminatory laws against African Americans, which limited their access to voting. Nonetheless, Black women continued to fight for their rights.
African American women worked for decades fighting for their right to vote, which finally occurred when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. This Act justified more than a century of Black women’s work to make access to voting more equitable.
It’s been over half a century since pay discrimination became illegal in the United States. Yet, a persistent pay gap between men and women still exists in our country. If you look a layer deeper, you will see that the wage disparity between white women and women of color is stark.
According to AAUW, among full-time workers in 2017, Hispanic or Latina, American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN), Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (NHPI) women had lower median annual earnings compared with non-Hispanic white and Asian women.
The gender pay gap comes from various factors such as race and ethnicity, disability, access to education, and age. Due to these factors, groups of women experience different gaps in pay.
Despite whatever progress we have made as a society when it comes to shrinking the gender pay gap, it is naive to assume that all women have truly benefitted from these changes. We must address the inequities between women of different races before we can ever find a solution to the wage gap between men and women.
In its 48th year, Roe v. Wade is closer than ever to being overturned. With a solidly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the future of Roe is uncertain at best. Should the landmark decision be overturned, states will be able to dictate both the accessibility and legality of abortion.
However, if this were to happen, many women of color would not notice much of a difference because although access to abortion is legal, it is not accessible.
One major reason for this disparity is the infamous Hyde Amendment, enacted in 1977, which bans federal funding for abortion for those on Medicaid and other federal programs. Forcing people who obtain their healthcare coverage through the government to pay out of pocket disproportionately impacts Black women and other people of color.
During the 2021 General Assembly, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our partner, Birth in Color RVA, worked hard to pass two bills that remove the ban on abortion coverage through the state healthcare exchange. Virginia will be the first state in the South to remove this ban.
The legal protections that Roe v. Wade offers are the floor, not the ceiling. The Hyde Amendment is one of the many examples of systemic racism that prevents BIPOC from accessing reproductive healthcare. There has been lots of noise made by reproductive freedom groups calling on elected officials to end the Hyde Amendment. All* Above All is a national organization that launched #BeBoldEndHyde, which is a campaign around appealing the discriminatory ban. President Joe Biden has made claims to repeal the Hyde Amendment, and we can only hope he moves quickly to keep his word.
So as we spend this month celebrating women’s history, it’s important to continue to support the women who are still fighting for their basic human rights. We must continue to uplift, support, and pass legislation that directly impacts women of color and their futures.
You can find a list of organizations below that are dedicated to increasing equity for BIPOC women as well as the LGBTQIA community: