Why is 26th August celebrated as Women’s Equality Day?
26 August is celebrated as ‘women’s equality day’ in the United States of America. On this day, in 1920, American women obtained ‘the right to vote’ – also known as ‘suffrage’, with the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution. 26th August 1920 was the culmination point of the ‘First Wave of Feminism’ during which women demanded the right to vote. On 26th August 2020, the feminists have celebrated the centenary of suffrage.
The women achieved the right to vote after a long period of great struggle. We actually need to know how it all started and what factors became the driving force for western women to struggle for their rights.
Women: The Second-Rate Citizens
Historically, in all societies (ancient, medieval, and modern), women have experienced subordination, discrimination, and oppression. This experience was common because it was generally believed that ‘women are by virtue weak and irrational’. Thus, women were always dependent on men for survival and protection. As Aristotle had said, “The relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and of the ruler to the ruled.” Even the founding father of America, Thomas Jefferson held the same view. He believed that ‘women’s position is in house, not in politics and public office’. Similarly, Charles Darwin believed that a man is intellectually superior to a woman. This belief of male dominancy and women’s irrationality remained unquestioned till the 18th century.
The Enlightenment Period
It was during the enlightenment period when the ideas of liberty, equality, and dignity spread in European and American society. Many scholars promoted liberalism during this period. Thus, people began to see themselves not as subjects of kings, but as citizens. As a result, democracy began to be established. The monarch’s authority was challenged and the power was distributed among people. But the benefits of citizenship and political rights were only limited to men, and women were kept deprived of those benefits. Women were considered to be ‘second-rate citizens’. They had to face social, political, and economic discrimination. Though the divine right of the king was challenged, still the divine right of husband or father remained unchallenged.
As already mentioned that the discrimination against women was socially accepted and justified because of the assumption that women are irrational and they lack reason. This belief kept women deprived of their participation in politics and public affairs.
First Wave of Feminism
The ‘first wave of feminism’ began with the publication of a book named ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ that was written by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792. In this book, she challenged the established belief of women’s irrationality. She said in her book that ‘men and women are equal in capability. They also possess reason, so they should have all the rights that men have’. Thus the book demanded equality and the end of discrimination. This demand took the form of an organized movement in 1848, known as the First Wave of Feminism.
In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was arranged in America. The declaration of the Sentiments of Women was passed in the convention. It was mentioned in the declaration that men and women are equal in capability. Thus, women must be given equal rights to men.
During the First Wave of Feminism, women demanded the right to vote. It was believed that ‘the right to vote’ would solve all women’s problems.
Thus, the ‘First Wave of Feminism’ started with the Seneca Falls Convention and ended with the passage of the 19th Constitutional Amendment Act in 1920. The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. However, it was certified by the then U.S Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby who signed the proclamation on August 26, 1920 (History).
Thus, 26 August is the day celebrated as Women’s Equality Day.