As Women’s History Month ticks along, there are dire concerns about the pace of gender equality in the world.
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said this week that gender equality won’t be achieved for 300 years given the recent trends.
At the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women’s 2023 session, Guterres pointed to a rollback of reproductive rights in the US and recent government-imposed limits on the level of education women can receive in Afghanistan among other changes.
“Progress, won over decades, is vanishing before our eyes,” he said.
Setbacks can come quickly. And, as seen in New Jersey, they can stick around for decades.
The fight for equality
For women in the Garden State, the women’s suffrage movement was a battle to restore a lost right.
New Jersey’s first constitution in 1776 gave voting rights to “all inhabitants of this colony of full age, who are worth fifty pounds…and have resided within the county… (for) twelve months.” A 1790 amendment affirmed the voting law applied to both men and women.
And vote they did.
The Museum of the American Revolution unearthed old polling lists that named more than 200 women voters. In Chester’s 1807 elections, 15 of the voters were women. That would soon be reduced to zero.
Accusations of fraud, voter intimidation, corruption, sexism and partisan politics led state legislators to restrict suffrage to taxpaying, white male citizens in 1807.
Some argued that the state constitution had been misinterpreted from the beginning. Others were convinced the 50-pound requirement led to voter fraud. Others still claimed men were masquerading as women to vote more than once.
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A few New Jersey residents made famous protests until women’s voting rights were made through the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. In 1857, Lucy Stone refused to pay property taxes in East Orange quoting the famous phrase “no taxation without representation.”
Stone, the first woman from Massachusetts to receive a college degree, nevertheless saw some of her belongings seized and auctioned to cover her lien. A dozen years later, Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Tenafly defiantly attempted to vote but was blocked by the men guarding the ballot box.
110th anniversary of suffrage parade
The women’s suffrage movement is being featured as part of National Women’s Month commemorations by the National Constitution Center. Virtual programs are paying particular homage to the movement in honor of the 110th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC
Led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the March 3, 1913 parade featured women suffragists marching on horseback, nearly a dozen bands and two dozen parade floats.
It also drew massive attention to a movement that had been ongoing for more than half a century and not all for the best reasons. More than 300 were injured during the parade, as some spectators aggressively assaulted participants amid “rank mismanagement by police,” The Morning Call of Paterson reported.
“Women marchers had their skirts torn off… by men who were drunk, or both mad and drunk,” it reported. “Pennsylvania Avenue was cluttered with hair combs, bits or torn millinery, patches or women’s clothing and other relics of the fight the suffragists had made to get through the crowd.”
Beyond the National Constitution Center, organizations including The Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution are all commemorating National Women’s Month with programs and exhibitions.
In New Jersey, local groups including the Women’s History Month Committee in Bloomfield and the Glen Ridge Women’s Club are hosting events.
The history of Women’s History Month
The month of commemorations dates to 1987. Started as a Women’s History Week created by the Education Task Force of Sonoma County, California, it became a month following a Congressional declaration. Since 1995, every president has made annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
In a proclamation this month, President Joe Biden said more needs to be done to break down the systemic barriers to full and equal participation in our economy and society that women face.
Women’s rights suffer setbacks
Back at the UN, the Commission on the Status of Women is holding a two-week session and looking specifically at disparities when it comes to gender equality in the digital age.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative to the UN, said Tuesday that the internet can empower women with educational and economic opportunities to help narrow those gender divides. Still, the internet has also made women susceptible to a raft of online threats and abuse.
Recent estimates are eight in 10 women have experienced some sort of online harassment, Thomas-Greenfield said. Offline, the scene isn’t much better, she added.
“Since the pandemic started, gender-based violence has spiked,” she said. “Meanwhile, too many women and girls are being killed – some even on public streets. Others are shunted away, banned from school and barred from public life.”
According to UN estimates, roughly 1 in 3 women experienced physical or sexual violence even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Since, there has been evidence of an uptick.
The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice reported an increase of more than 8% in domestic violence incidents following the imposition of pandemic-related lockdown orders in 2021. Globally, research by UN Women found an overall intensification of violence against women and girls. following the outbreak, partially due to a concurrent reduction in support services as resources were shifted amid the pandemic.
Officials with the National Domestic Violence Hotline said record numbers of calls have spurred exceptionally long wait times. Some callers have been asked to call back when hold times exceed 15 minutes, as monthly calls, chats and texts seeking support for relationship abuse in 2022 reached nearly 80,000 a month on average, they said.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: ‘Vanishing before our eyes’: Women’s equality progress suffers setback