August 24

Women’s Equality Day; The progress we’ve made so far


We have come so far….and have so much more to achieve. 

Women’s Equality Day is celebrated in the US on August 26th every year. It is to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment in the United States of America, which provided equal rights to women, including the right to vote. 

It started a chain of thoughts about how far we have come but also how far we still have to go. Before I went down the rabbit hole of how much more has to be achieved, I thought I would focus on how far we have come in the last 100 years. 

The Right to Vote…but not for all 

When I think about the fact that for some countries women have had the right to vote for nearly 100 years, I wondered what other rights we have been given in the last 100 years, and also how this is not reality for all women around the world. 

While the right to vote was amazing progress there are so many other rights that women did not have. Even in celebrating Women’s Equality Day what is often overlooked with this celebration, is that the 19th Amendment did not initially extend to women of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American and American Indian heritage because of widespread voter suppression enacted against Black women and other women of colour. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on August 6, 1965 that Black women were in-practice able to exercise their right to vote. 

What about other countries (I chose these countries only because this is where the majority of my current newsletter subscribers are based). 

  • New Zealand; was the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in, but not to stand for, parliamentary elections in 1893.
  • South Australia colony; allowed women of European descent to vote and stand for election in 1894, although Australian Aboriginal women did not obtain universal suffrage until 1962.
  • UK; while earlier laws were passed for some women to vote but it was not until 1928 that all persons over the age of 21 had equal terms, providing women with the same voting rights as men.
  • Ireland; from 1918 women in Ireland over 30, with certain qualifiers could vote. In 1922 that equal voting rights were given to men and women

What more research revealed 

While the right to vote was significant progress for women at this time, they continued to be treated as second class citizens in many other ways. Given Ireland was the country I grew up in I decided to a little research on how the equal rights of women continued. It can be easy to think of 100 years ago as a different generation but the information I found showed that within my lifetime there have been what I (and you) would consider archaic laws against women….

  • In Ireland female civil servants had to resign from their job when they got married, on the grounds they were occupying a job that should go to a man. Banks operated a similar policy. In 1977 the Employment Equality Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status 
  • Until the Family Home Protection Act of 1976, a married women had no right to a share in her family home. Her husband could sell the house without her consent. 
  • It was not until 1990 that martial rape was defined as a crime. The first successful prosecution for a marital rape was in 2002.

Did that shock you as much as me?

This last point on marital rape was a real shocking for me, and I don’t use that word lightly. Up until these legal changes the precedent was that as part of marriage a women has provided matrimonial consent, which she cannot retract, and therefore considers sex within marriage consensual by definition. 

I was 24 years old before the first man in Ireland was successfully prosecuted for marital rape. I thought if I did more research I would find that Ireland was far behind the curve in regards to marital rape laws. 

Imagine my horror when I found out that we were in line with other so called developed countries. In the US it was In 1993 that all 50 states had finally eliminated the “marital rape exception”. The UK had similar laws and timelines for the removal of the “marital rape exception” based on a legal decision, but it was not until 2003 that the illegality of rape within marriage was laid out explicitly under the Sexual Offence Act 2003. 

More recent than you think 

I share this information with you not to provide a pessimistic landscape but to show how we often believe that the changes for women happened well before our time. This reminded me that many of these changes in Ireland (and around the world) happened shortly before I was born, and even into my teens and twenties. 

Our privilege 

It is a reminder of how fortunate we are to have grown up and lived our lives with these privileges. I, and you, are benefiting from what generations of women before us have fought for, and continue to fight for.

As women of privilege it can often seem that women have equal rights…many of us will have grown up in happy homes, with access to education & healthcare and the potential for careers. We must remember that these rights are not available to all women, even within your own country. The patriarchal world we continue to live in would like us to believe that we have equal rights & equal opportunities. However, just a small amount of research shows that this is not the case. 

We need to know that the fight for equality around the world is far from over. The next blogs in this series will focus on what still needs to be done, and how you can make an impact. 


feminism, feminist, women's equality day

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