Women’s Rights in the United States and Around the World

The idea that women should be full citizens in the United States and in countries around the world, with the same legal rights as men, was at first outlandish. But it came to pass, and the change has been so gradual that people who have lived through recent decades of it can scarcely remember a time when things were different. Younger people, especially, can’t imagine life any other way. Among those who do know what it was like, there is universal agreement that the changes were good, and they would not want to go back to the way things used to be.

Yet a great deal of work remains to be done in order to achieve true equality between women and men. Despite some progress, stark gender gaps remain in the areas of pay and land ownership; violence against women and girls; access to health care and education; employment opportunities; political representation, and economic empowerment. Moreover, there are still countries where women’s lives are endangered by patriarchal traditions and practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and ‘honour’ killings.

Fortunately, the movement that began in the wake of the Seneca Falls Convention has continued to grow. Many national women’s organizations have formed, and an international organization was established to bring together women from all nations who share the goal of fighting for human rights for women. This group, the International Council of Women, was the world’s first to organize itself on a global basis and to include members from trade unions, arts groups, professional organizations, and benevolent societies.

Today, most people in the world can agree that gender equality is a basic human right. In the United States, for example, 9 out of ten Americans across demographic and partisan lines say that equal rights are very important, and only 3 percent think that they are not. And both Democratic and Republican leaners, as well as a majority of women, believe that the country has not gone far enough to provide equal rights for women.

Women’s rights advocates have also created a set of international human rights goals that the United Nations has agreed to uphold. Goal 5 is specifically dedicated to empowering women, and there is considerable work to be done in that area. In particular, all countries need to ensure that every woman and girl has the right to make her own choices about her body, including having access to birth control information and services; choosing whether or not to marry; being free of gender-based violence; and deciding how many children she wants and with whom. These are basic fundamentals that should be enshrined in law everywhere. Yet the work is not done and it will take more effort than ever to make sure that women have these freedoms. This is a vitally important task for the future of humanity. But it will be a job that can only be accomplished with the cooperation and involvement of all, men and women alike.