Upholding Women’s Rights is Everyone’s Responsibility

Until every person enjoys the same rights no matter their sex, gender or race, the world will not be truly free. Upholding women’s rights is everyone’s responsibility.

Throughout history, some myths and religions presented women as less intelligent or a source of evil, so men often ruled them. Even after women were given some freedom, they still struggled with discrimination in many areas of life. Some women, however, were able to become leaders. For example, Queen Elizabeth ruled England for 45 years in the 1500s, and Catherine the Great was empress of Russia in the 1700s. Other women were able to make significant contributions in business, science and the arts. Yet, despite their tremendous accomplishments, most women have not been equal to men in terms of legal rights.

Seven generations have been witness to enormous changes for women – in family life, in religion, in the workplace, and in politics and government. These dramatic improvements have not happened by accident or miracle – they were the result of deliberate, determined action. Thousands of women have worked to affect these changes, and they should be remembered for their heroic work.

The story of women’s activism is a drama filled with courageous visionaries who refused to give up. It’s a story of ingenious strategies, capable organizers and administrators, and activists who used public speaking, petition drives, lobbying, and nonviolent resistance to achieve their goals. These women’s names and achievements should be as familiar to Americans as the names of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the United States, the movement to guarantee women’s rights was a grassroots effort that began in 1848. The first women’s rights convention was held in the small town of Seneca Falls, New York. The participants included Lucretia Mott, a Quaker preacher and social activist; Martha Wright, a teacher and journalist; Mary Ann McClintock, the leader of an Illinois state union for working women; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a lawyer and founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Most people believe that women and girls should have the same rights as men. In fact, across 34 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center, a median of 94% say it is very important for women to have the same rights as men in their country. This includes majorities in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Australia, as well as nearly all surveyed Latin American nations.

Most people also think that the new Sustainable Development Goals will help further advance women’s rights, including reducing discrimination against women and girls. But to achieve these goals, governments and societies must commit to the women’s rights agenda – and make sure they follow through with their promises. The women’s rights movement cannot rest until all women enjoy the same opportunities and rights as men, regardless of their sex, race or religion. They need to make the case that equality is a fundamental human right and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Investing in the solutions of grass-roots women’s organizations will be essential to this effort.