On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was adopted to the United States Constitution. The date is now known as Women’s Equality Day, when we do trite things like “look back on how far we have come” and “look forward to the future” while our government works quietly — and sometimes, shamelessly — to return us to a time when we couldn’t choose our own outfits, let alone who would represent us in government.
In any case, “women’s equality” is often framed simply as equality between men and women. Cool, we’re down with that. But there’s always been plenty to do to improve equality among the large and diverse group of women and femme-identified people itself. What’s more, intersectional feminism demands we promote equality for people of all genders, races, socioeconomic or immigration status. And with an administration that has little regard for anyone who wasn’t born white and male, this crucial aspect of feminism is as vital as ever.
That’s why this Women’s Equality Day, we’re sharing a group of women who are fighting for justice and dignity for people of all races and all genders across all areas of society: in the workplace, on the airwaves, in the doctor’s office, in our news coverage, at the ballot box, and more. In Audre Lorde’s words: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Stacey Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 10 years before she was nominated by Democrats to run for the state’s governor in 2018. Her inspiring and widely publicized race against Republican Brian Kemp ended in defeat, which many attributed to voter suppression measures targeting voters of color — measures that were facilitated by Abrams’ opponent. To this day, Abrams has never formally conceded the race. Now, she’s fighting for more equality at the ballot box.
Admirers have shipped Abrams as a potential 2020 presidential contender, especially given how her personal story of going into debt to support her family resonated with people across the country. But for now, Abrams is focusing on bringing more equality to the electoral process. This month, she announced the launch of Fair Fight 2020, a political action committee devoted to advocating voter rights and fair elections in Georiga.
Fair Fight has launched voter protection initiatives in 20 battleground states ahead of the 2020 elections. The group will work to ensure every valid voter in the country may cast their vote without arbitrary barriers designed to suppress the minority voice. They’ll also set up a voter protection hotline. Abrams has also said recently she’d accept any 2020 nominee’s request to serve as their VP.
Next month, 30-year-old Lilly Singh will become the first woman to host a late-night program on a big-four broadcast network since Joan Rivers when her show “A Little Late With Lilly Singh” premieres on NBC. Her YouTube channel with more than 15 million subscribers features skits about her Indian upbringing and what’s like to move through the world — at work, on dates, and with family — as a woman of color from an Indian background.
The author, actress, and activist served as UNICEF’s first-ever Goodwill Ambassador from the YouTube world, traveling to India to advocate against gender and class discrimination and share her experiences abroad with her massive online following.
Before we get anywhere near equality, there always has to be a first. For the first WOC to join an all-white male late-night line up to be bisexual Indian-Canadian woman with a proven commitment to equality and activism? That’s kind of the leap towards equality we can get behind.
The United States Women’s National Team
Months before their historic Women’s World Cup showing, all 23 members of the United States Women’s National Team filed a lawsuit against their employer alleging large-scale gender discrimination in investment and compensation. They returned from France with an expanded, enthusiastic fan base whose support extends far beyond the soccer pitch.
Though equality is a simple concept, it’s one the team’s employer, U.S. Soccer, has struggled to accept. Still, players have stood firm in their mission even as their employer hired lobbyists to contest the player’s claims in the public and refused to even consider “equal pay” a starting point in negotiations.
Players have refused to qualify or dilute their demands — which are simply equality across the board. “We’re trying to do this on behalf of women everywhere, to be treated respectfully and paid lawfully,” USWNT forward Christen Press said.
As states across the country legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis, industry leaders are asking how a legal market can restore justice to the millions of black and brown Americans disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Shaleen Title is one of those leaders demanding equality. As one of Massachusetts’ first Cannabis Control Commissioners, she’s focused on making the state’s legal cannabis industry fair, equitable and inclusive of communities that racist enforcement of weed laws have hurt the most.
Though black and white Americans are likely to use cannabis at equal rates, black people are far more likely to be arrested for it. Now that Massachusetts has a legal market, Title works to make sure it’s not just white, male, Silicon Valley types who are cashing in on the economic opporutnies of legal weed. She helped write a model bill to guide states towards cannabis policy that invests in communities negatively impacted by criminalization. She’s a champion of equality in an area where it’s desperately needed and yes, she is very dope.
Ashlee Marie Preston
There is one person largely responsible for more media coverage of murdered trans women of color, and that’s Ashlee Marie Preston. Her activism on behalf of communities often erased from mainstream coverage is nothing short of tireless, and she uses her platform to demand justice for — and even acknowledgment of — the dozens of trans women of color who are killed each year.
The average life expectancy of a black trans woman in the U.S. is under the age of 35, an unacceptable statistic Preston highlighted on her own 34th birthday, when she placed 77 candles on her cake to honor 77 people killed. There is no equality for women until all women’s lives are honored and respected, and Preston’s dogged determination to place trans women of colors’ experiences firmly in the mainstream feminist narrative is brave, vital, and far lonelier than it should be.
Alicia Garza has mobilized thousands of activists demanding equality after helping found the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Garza led the movement in its freedom ride to Ferguson in 2015 to protest the shooting death of another black teenager, Michael Brown and set up Black Lives Matter chapters all over the country.
Garza has used her platform to demand an intersectional approach to racialized violence, one that acknowledges that systems of oppression overlap, but impact people of all genders and all races in different ways that demand different strategies to confront. She is currently a principal at Black Futures Lab, which works to evolve and harness black political power in communities across the country. Their Black Census Project, launched in 2018, was a first-of-its-kind survey of tens of thousands of black people across the country to gather information to inform and identify paths towards economic and political equality. They’ll use the results to create national and local policy platforms to help politicians better serve black voters.
Rep. Deb Haaland
When it comes to mainstream news coverage, not all women are represented equally. Even though Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average and an estimated 5,700 Native American women were reported missing in a 2016 report, the shocking scourge of missing and murdered indigenous women has only recently entered public view.
Rep. Deb Haaland has worked to bring issues impacting indigenous women straight to the Congressional floor. Haaland, representing New Mexico, became one of the two first Native American women elected to U.S. Congress in 2018, joined by Sharice Davids of California. In May, Haaland introduced legislation to facilitate more effective investigation of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. The bill addresses inconsistent law enforcement protocols for acting on disappearances, improves tribes’ ability to investigate cases and access federal resources, and requires better data collection on violence against Native women.
Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson
We’ve had 45 male presidents, so we’re hundreds of years away from reaching anything close to equity in the Oval Office. But this year’s field of Democratic candidates for president features five female candidates, and there’s no question that they have already normalized the once novel concept of a woman daring to think she could not only be commander in chief but outdo any guy gunning for the gig.
These women demand equality by their mere presence in this drawn-out, densely covered Democratic primary race, but also in the policy platforms they choose to promote. We’re pretty sure the issue of black maternal mortality has never come up in a presidential race. But this year, Elizabeth Warren released a plan to address it. Kamala Harris has vowed to stop anti-abortion laws in their tracks.
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At a historic moment for women in politics, a record number are competing for the Democratic presidential nomination. What will it take to shatter the nation’s most stubborn glass ceiling? Tap the link in our bio to meet five women running for the Democratic nomination. Photographed by #AnnieLeibovitz, written by Amy Chozick, Vogue, August 2019
Whether or not a woman wins the nomination, these five candidates are pushing the needle towards broader equality between men and women in public office and in the issues they choose to center.