Celebrating National Women’s Equality Day

by Master Sgt. Rachel Arter & Senior Master Sgt. Yvonne Davis
569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron & 2nd Air Postal Squadron

Although my father would try and explain this to me, it was difficult to comprehend that there was a time when women in the United States did not have the same rights as men. Growing up I always saw myself as an equal. After all, I was paid the same as my male counterparts and was able to vote shortly after my 18th birthday.

But how did I earn these rights? History has revealed that women have overcome many challenges and reached many milestones in order to achieve equality so their mothers, daughters and sisters could have a voice on the political future of the country.

On Aug. 12, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the 19th Amendment into law, allowing women to vote for the very first time, and on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to abolish the gender-based wage gaps.  During this time, women earned an average of 59 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.

One could say that was 51 years ago, and certainly things have changed since then, right? Well, partially.

Today, as an Airman serving my country in the U.S. Air Force, I enjoy the benefits of the same pay and incentive bonuses as the male Airmen I work alongside. However, there continues to be a 23 cent gap between what men and women make in the civilian workforce.

More recently, in 2007, pay equality was back in the spotlight when Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and it went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. There, she was an area manager, which was a position usually held by men. At the time of her retirement she earned between $560 and $1,510 less a month than her male colleagues. Needless to say, she lost her lawsuit against Goodyear, because she failed to report discrimination within 180 days of her first paycheck.  In hopes that other women would not have to face the same inequalities she did, she lobbied for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2009, creating flexibility to file gender pay discrimination complaints.

However, there is still work to be done. In 1971, Congress officially designated Aug. 26 as National Women’s Equality Day, and it is imperative that on this day we unite and commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment and reflect on the continued efforts of women to achieve full equality.

In the words of President Obama, “As we reflect on decades of progress toward gender equality, we must also resolve to make progress in our time. Today, we honor the pioneers of women’s equality by doing our part to realize the great American dream — the dream of a nation where all things are possible for all people.”