Growing up, I always understood the significance of March 8th. As a young girl, I would look forward to that date not only because it also happens to be my birthday but because International Women’s Day was a day of reflection. A day to celebrate the many accomplishments, contributions and sacrifices women have made to shape society across all fields and reflect on the many issues regarding gender inequality that persist today.
For the past year, Covid-19 has further unveiled and exacerbated inequality issues such as unequal access to healthcare, education, unequal pay, and an increase in accounts of gender-based violence, all problems that continue to disproportionately affect women across the globe. This is why for 2021, the UN has set the theme for International Women’s day as: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world”.
For this Women’s History Month article, I also wished to bring attention to Black History Month, which was celebrated last month in the United States and share some of the contributions of black women whose leadership has inspired countless others. Early this year, I watched as Kamala Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States. As someone who has always expressed an interest in history and politics, the significance of Kamala Harris’ inauguration becomes even more evident once you learn about the history and contributions of countless black women who fought to overcome the disenfranchisement of the black vote in the United States.
In August of 1920, the 19th Amendment passed in the United States. It granted women the right to vote, yet this date did not hold the same significance for many African American women. Similarly to when the 15th Amendment passed in 1850, which granted African American men the right to vote (despite its many limitations), the women’s suffrage movement had not been entirely inclusive of black women. Racism and the importance of garnering Southern white women’s support often overshadowed the movement marginalizing Black women from the cause. The marginalization from the mainstream suffrage movement drove them to organize and form groups such as The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) to advocate for challenges unique to their experiences as Black women who were navigating both sexism and racist oppression. Through these groups, black women created a safe space from a society that did not celebrate them. Yet, despite the 19th Amendment, in the Southern States, Jim Crow laws continued to suppress the Black vote. Other discriminatory laws such as mandatory literacy rates and poll taxes limited African American electoral participation overall. It wouldn’t be until 1965 that further suffrage protection would be granted with the Voting Rights Act.
Despite the Voting Rights Act’s passing, disenfranchisement continues to affect black and minority groups in the United States and is reflected in electoral results. An example is the 2013 US Supreme Court decision in favour of absolving a section of the Voting Rights Act. Fast forward to 2018: political leader and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams becomes the first black woman to be elected as Democratic nominee in Georgia’s gubernatorial race. Yet, her race against Republic nominee and secretary of state Brian Kemp results in a narrow defeat for Abrams of only 55,000 votes. Due to the previous 2013 decision, the election raised concerns and exposed voting irregularities in Georgia. This led Abram’s to create her “Fight Fair Action ” program and co-fund the “New Georgia Project”. This initiative seeks to protect voter rights in battleground states and increase electoral participation via an array of different programs and activities.
Abrams’ leadership and determination paid off almost eight years later. Her “New Georgia Project” has registered more than 500,000 Georgians since it began in 2014. Her efforts are accredited to Georgia securing a Democratic win during the senate race and “turning blue” during 2020’s presidential elections for the first time since 1992. Abrams
What have I learned from Stacey Abrams? Despite her defeat, Abrams embarked on a mission to tackle disenfranchisement in an electoral voting system historically rooted in racism. Personally, as a black woman myself, learning more about Stacy Abrams has taught me that when we are not given a “seat at the table” we can build our own table, with seats that will be filled by many generations to come.