|Women’s rights in America|
|Thursday, 08 March 2012 15:12|
Women in America have had to fight hard battles for rights that their male counterparts have taken for granted. Since 1848, when the first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, women's rights groups have fought for, among other rights, the right to vote, to control their reproductive health with contraceptives, to abort a fetus, to be paid equal wages, to serve in the U.S. military, to receive maternity leave and job security when pregnant, and to be protected from sexual harassment at the workplace.
Despite these pivotal legislations however, politicians have used women's rights issues as political fodder. As we celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, with November's general elections looming, these issues have again flared as fiercely divisive campaign points, with women's rights groups seeing the resurging opposition as a "war on women's rights."
Women's rights groups have been very vigilant in campaigning for these hard-earned gains. These efforts got a tremendous boost in 1961 when President John Kennedy established the President's Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The commission's 1963 report documented serious discriminations against women in the workplace, making specific recommendations for improvement, including fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable child care. Other milestones were reached in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act barred employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act banned employment discrimination against pregnant women, ensuring that women could not be fired or denied a job or a promotion because of pregnancy, nor forced to take pregnancy leave if still capable of working.
But while great strides are made by women in the workplace, they continue to face challenges over the issue of contraceptives and abortion. These challenges exist despite decades of campaigning, as far back as 1921 when the American Birth Control League was formed, evolving in 1942 into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives by married couples, and in 1972 sanctioned unmarried person's right to use contraceptives. One of the most iconic legislation for women's rights was the Roe vs. Wade case in1973, when the Supreme Court ruled for a woman's right to safe and legal abortion, overriding the anti-abortion laws of many states.
After some 150 years of constant struggle, it's disconcerting that in 2012 women are mired in a political struggle over the right to receive health insurance to cover contraceptives as a birth control method, and the right to abort pregnancies for health reasons or if raped. One would think that these debates have long been settled.
The discourse however surrounding this issue leaves much to be desired. In some cases, women are being excluded from the legislative discussion. In addition, women's rights advocates are being characterized as immoral when they try to present their case. With such important matters, there should always be room for debate.
American women who believe in their inalienable rights should commemorate International Women Day on March 8 by striving that these rights be respected. They can ensure their voices are heard by turning out to vote in November.