July 31, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Women's Progress

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

In 1921 Wisconsin lead the way into American history by passing the first equal rights bill in the United States. American women fought and achieved progressive success with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. They took the first steps in a journey that is far from over. Wisconsin’s Chapter 529 was an Act to create new section 6.015 of the statutes to remove discriminations against women and to give them equal rights before the law. The sections reads “Women shall have the same rights and privileges under the law as men in the exercise of suffrage, freedom of contract, choice of residence for voting purposes, jury service, holding office, holding and conveying property, care and custody of children and in all other respects...” It was signed into law by Governor John James Blaine before a great assembly of women from all over the state with a black quill pen provided by the National Women’s party. While a step in the right direction for the empowerment of women, its generalities and subjection to court interpretation made it inadequate. It was change in the right direction and well-fought for, but it was not quite change enough.

The progress of women in this nation is not one party’s fight or agenda. It belongs to the entire nation. The accomplishments for women in 1921 cannot continue to progress without the determination and support of legislators and members of the public from multiple parties, counties, and various ethnicities and backgrounds. In 1921 the Republican and Socialist parties had enough votes in the Senate and the assembly to pass the bill. Now the honor belongs to every party and citizen to drive into the future and continue along the path Wisconsin blazed for the nation. This is a topic and concern that involves everyone. “When we undercut the contributions of one gender we do so at our own peril…denying ourselves half the talent, half the resources, half the potential of the population. And as we approach future challenges we must think rather than fight our way through, we need to be able to leverage all our best thinking out there.” (General Martin Dempsey Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff).

The progress and treatment of women is important today. For example, as we prepare for U.S. withdrawal of the security forces in Afghanistan in the upcoming year, and for the approaching Afghan elections, it is critical to ensure women’s rights are not sacrificed and also to protect women’s security and ability to move without restriction throughout their country. This should be considered as a very telling indicator of the success of the U.S.’s transition out. There are currently influential women leaders in government, industry, the military, and throughout the rest of society. These women demonstrate the progress we have made, starting here in Wisconsin, which we must continue to champion today. Presently we must ask ourselves, are we still moving forward? What more can we do to push past the obstacles that hinder the path of women’s progress? Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, an Ottoman and Turkish army officer and founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey said “Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?” These words from the past have never rang more true.