Time now for women’s equal rights

flagshoesmallWhat a day to vote. It was rainy and a little chilly, but the line for my polling place stretched for blocks. We were a mixed group that reflected the diversity of peninsular Charleston.

Astonishingly, everyone was in a good mood, apparently sensing the history being made. I couldn’t help but think of the history that brought me to that line. A history of struggle that began with the writing of the Constitution.

In the 1840s, the first organized movement for women’s suffrage began, and it didn’t end until 1920 when the 19th Amendment passed both Congress and 36 states giving women the right to vote.

Just a few blocks from my polling place is the home of Anita Pollitzer, whose efforts with the National Women’s Party sealed the deal when she successfully lobbied a reluctant Tennessee legislator whose vote ultimately proved to be the one that broke down this barrier for women.

It was a hard-fought battle and I think of those women who bucked the conventional wisdom on my behalf.

While women have the vote in America, there are millions of women on this planet who don’t: The women of Afghanistan who have been so degraded by their culture and for whom the right to vote is the greatest of privileges but a fleeting privilege that will disappear overnight if the Taliban takes power again. The women of Saudi Arabia who not only can’t vote but aren’t allowed to drive or leave the country without a man’s permission.

The women of Swaziland who live in a country where 26 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS.

I vote on their behalf with the hope that the new administration will support efforts to bring respect and human rights to women worldwide.

I also vote for the women in my own country who don’t have access to affordable child care, whose pay is a third less than their male colleagues and for whom health care is a luxury and care giving is not a valued commodity.

In a year when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin broke through the glass ceiling of politics, when our vote ended up being the deciding factor, it is only right to recognize that we have a long way still to go.

Our current rights are limited to laws and amendments to laws that can be overturned in a legislative session or by executive order.

Our rights are tentative at best and can turn on the dime of public opinion or a state legislature dominated by one ideology.

It is time to bring women to the table with equal rights under the Constitution. It’s time, and that is what I thought about when I voted on Nov. 4. For more information go to http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/

Jennet Robinson Alterman is executive director of the Center for Women in Charleston, S.C.

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