It’s been almost 100 years since women were given the right to vote and still American women are disproportionately underrepresented in our government. The 113th Congress has 99 female members, making up just 18.5% of the seats. Only four women have ever been appointed as Supreme Court Justices. Finally, when it comes to the most powerful position in America, no woman has ever been nominated as the presidential candidate for either major political party. Given the stagnation of women’s advancement in politics, it’s no surprise that women’s issues remain marginalized.
Now more than ever, the interests of corporations are endangering the rights of women. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of exempting employers from the federal regulation that requires them to cover contraceptive health care for their female employees if they claim a religious belief against contraception. In a scathing dissent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the Court’s ruling completely disregarded the “impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith.” She continued to reason that the social and economic freedom of women is dependent on “their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Yet this control was handed over to for-profit corporations. In other words, if you want to understand who holds the most sway in deciding the fundamental rights of our citizenry, just follow the money.
On the bright side, it’s becoming increasingly evident that women can make a profound difference in governmental policy. Activists all over the country have sparked an increased awareness of gender discrimination. Finally, the country has begun to recognize that many women are the leading breadwinners in over 40 percent of American households. Still, women in the workforce are prevented from earning as much money as men. In April 2014,
President Barack Obama signed a number of executive actions aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap. These executive orders will help to ensure that employers are compliant to current equal-pay laws but many women are awaiting further assistance in governmental regulation.
The most powerful tool women have to ensure their interests will be championed is the ability to vote. As the religious right in America pushes on with its “War on Women,” limiting birth control options and restricting reproductive rights, women are fighting to have their voices heard in policy matters that directly affect them. Similarly, there can be no economic equality for women until there is a political system working to fully prevent gender discrimination in the workforce.
Without fair representation in our governing bodies, gender equality will continue to regress.
This November, North Carolina voters will have a chance to take a step forward in progressing the rights of women. In an election that may in part decide which major political party will take the Senate, the choice will lie between Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. As current Speaker for the state House of Representatives, Tillis has led a vicious assault on women in North Carolina. In July 2013, under the guise of a motorcycle safety bill, the House passed unrelated amendments to the law imposing heavy restrictions on Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kay Hagan, one of only two women to ever represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, has been instrumental in advocating for women in the federal government. In fact, the first bill she cosigned in the Senate was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This bill was signed into law in 2009 and promised to aid women in their fight for equal wages.
In 2013, after a long legislative battle, she and her colleagues also voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, continuing an active prosecution of violent crimes against women. Throughout their political careers, both Tillis and Hagan have made clear their stances on women’s rights. It will soon be time for female voters in North Carolina to take advantage of the right that women fought so hard for almost a century ago and show that their voices can and will be heard.