Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Women’s Rights are Human Rights
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

–philosopher and author George Santayana

A new President will take power in our country this week. To say the campaign season, and even since the election, has been contentious is pretty much the understatement of this new century.

A divided country we live in, to say the least.

And I grew up in a divided nation, hitting puberty in the ‘60s, young womanhood in the ‘70s.

For those of you who are younger, I can assure you the ‘60s’ divide was much more violent. At least so far. On the backs of peaceful protests, we had tear gas and bullets fired to keep kids in check. In 1963, four black schoolgirls were killed in a Birmingham church. And Kent State still takes my breath away, all these decades later . . .

A volatile time indeed, we lost many of the great voices to violence. Kennedy and King and Kennedy again, to name a few—their memories and that of their deaths still stop my heart.

Many, many people (half the country, it seems), just don’t understand the current divide.

I mean, honestly, they don’t—they tell me so every day. The ones I speak with are good folks as well. They just don’t “get” it.

“Get over it,” they say. “The election is over, let’s move forward,” is a constant refrain.

And I can understand that—it’s the legacy of this country to move forward with the peaceful transition of power.

No one I know is arguing that the transition of power won’t be peaceful.

That doesn’t mean the other half of this country, who believe deeply into their souls that we’ve gone far awry, will accept this without voice.

Thank God the right to free speech is still alive and well in our society.

No matter how much it has been maligned of late, or how insidious the threats to it now filter through the airwaves, the right to express one’s views is still protected.

Whether we like those views or not, some of us want to make sure that Constitutional right remains.

This is why we march.

I grew up in a time when “coloreds” had to drink from different water fountains.

Seriously. For those of you who are younger, you have no first-hand image of the signs above two water fountains—perched side by side—designating which race could drink from which one.

But I do.

And that was just a symbol of a much more insidious truth.

This is why we march.

I grew up in a time when women had no access to birth control (except from the male family doctor, who often dined with the parents).

Much less to any recourse should the dreaded pregnancy occur. If it did, boys went on off to college and lives of their choices, while girls were hidden in shame, their choices limited to adoption or giving up college to raise a baby (alone).

For those living in the world post-Roe, you have no idea the terror. No idea how being boxed between no birth control (unless properly married) + no access to any recourse caused your very blood to freeze.

But I do.

Planned Parenthood for 100 years has delivered reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide—many of whom have no access to it otherwise. The idea of de-funding it because the organization also provides low-cost abortion is insane.

And I understand being personally against abortion. That’s a belief system—and I honor your right to believe it.

But a woman’s right to choose is truly a different thing.

If I don’t have autonomy over my very own body, I have no Civil Rights.

This is why we march.

I was a child when President Johnson signed into law The Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Many whites (and I grew up in an all-white community) were outraged. Even though they were well aware of the various discriminatory practices used to prevent African Americans, particularly those in the South, from exercising their right to vote. On March 15, 1965, the President spoke to a joint session of Congress, outlining how election officials denied African-American citizens the vote.

Election officials often told Blacks they were at the wrong polling place, or had gotten the date wrong. Or, forced them to take literacy tests. They even forced them to recite the entire Constitution. Even blacks with college degrees were turned away from the polls.

During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, beatings and murders and all sorts of violence were shockingly common. On March 7, 1965, six hundred marchers assembled in Selma, Alabama. Led by John Lewis (whom our president-elect recently tweeted is “All talk, talk talk - no action or results”) and other SNCC and SCLC activists, they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, Alabama State troopers and local police ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, state troopers attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas and whips, hospitalizing over 50 people.

Thanks to the invention of modern television, we watched this on the broadcast news. It is indelibly stamped in my brain.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the historic Voting Rights Act, which required federal pre-clearance of voting law changes for states with a history of voter discrimination.

This is why we march.

I grew up in a time when women weren’t hired nearly as much as their male counterparts, especially right out of college, because of course, they would soon be home “taking care of the children,” their designated and rightful role.

Those of you born a decade later can’t really imagine being turned down for a job because you’re of child-bearing age, can you.

But I can. I heard this sentiment in my very home . . . I saw it happen to women I knew and respected. In many cases, women were barred from certain jobs. Take a gander at Hidden Figures for a glimpse into this not-so distant past . . .

This is why we march.

Many of y’all might not be able to imagine DDT being sprayed onto food crops, then leaching into waterways.

But I witnessed it.

In her groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson highlighted the dangers of DDT. Carson used DDT to tell the broader story of the disastrous consequences of the overuse of insecticides. This raised enough concern from her testimony before Congress to trigger the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Her work attracted outrage from the pesticide industry and many others. Her credibility as a scientist was attacked, and she was disparaged as being “hysterical,” despite her fact-based assertions and calm and scholarly demeanor.

Only after activists took their fight to the world were environmental laws enacted—over industry’s protests and politicians’ apathy.

Industry fought this as hard then as they fight big-coal legislation now, among many other environmental issues. And today, the very EPA is under attack . . .

Don’t believe the environment is in peril? Read Robert Kennedy Jr’s Crimes Against Nature.

“Just another liberal whacko,” many say.

The book is incredibly well researched and completely, thoroughly documented. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is fond of saying, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

You have those same environmental wackos to thank for the banning of DDT, and many other environmental saves.

This is why we march.

I might not be of the same religious faith as you. Odds are, I’m not. I have friends from many different faiths.

And though our beliefs may be different, I defend your right to hold and practice yours.

That's one of the tenants our country was founded upon.

This is why we march.

This country is of course not homogenous. We all come from different circumstances, socio-economic groups. Ethnic tribes.

We have knelt at different graves. But we have all knelt at graves.

At our core, we all want the same things--food, shelter, safety; the freedom to better ourselves and those of our families; to follow our dreams.

But to pursue any of those things, including happiness, the playing field must be level.

And of course, far too many injustices still exist to list them all here.

All these things are why we march.

This Saturday, January 21, a women’s march will be held in Washington, with sister marches around the country.

The Mission Statement:

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threated many of us—immigrants of all statuses, Muslims, and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault—and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear. . . . women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending us all.”

That’s why women are marching. To give voice to the concerns of half of this country. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

You can call me Pollyanna, but I still have a dream today. Dr. King’s words still ring in my head.

And I’ll be at the Women’s March on Austin, Texas this Saturday as well.

Will you join me?

Because I lived much of the horrors of our past. And I believe into my soul the truth in the words of poet Audre Lorde:

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

And that is why I will march.

photo attribution: "Heschel Selected Photos"

This Post Has 54 Comments

  1. This is awesome Susan! Thank you for writing this so I don’t have to!! You said everything I was thinking and feeling and I too will be marching in San Diego this Saturday for exactly these reasons. I am hopeful that our vision and collective energy will change the collective field of the coming presidential term. While we may not be able to change certain aspects of the election, we can surely help to mitigate some of the potential harms. May “We rise” and be “Stronger Together!” ~Kathy

    1. Exactly, Kathy! I do believe the rising energy here is substantial. The march in Austin expects 20K, but I have a feeling it’s going to be larger. It’s really funny–every time I’ve mentioned it to someone the last weeks, she’s said, “I know–we’re going!”

  2. In some ways it feels like we have come so far, yet in others we have hardly even began

  3. yes to all of this. It makes me so sad whats happening to womens rights right now.

    1. It’s just nuts, isn’t it, Neely. But our voices will be heard.

  4. I’m not in complete agreement with your perspective but I definitely commend you for standing up for what you believe. I’m definitely glad women have a platfofknyi share thier beliefs.

    1. And that’s the crux of things, isn’t it, Saidah–that we can disagree but still commend one another for standing up for what we believe.

  5. Beautifully said, Susan. There are many of us on the other side of the world holding our breath and wondering about the ramifications of the US election. As this country often tends to follow suit, we have reason to be concerned. By marching and refusing to be silent you are supporting women everywhere.

    1. My friends overseas are pretty concerned, Tami. Rest assured, silence is not in our plan 🙂

  6. I didn’t even hear about the march. That’s so sad. I will have to look it up. I’m glad that women are doing this in different parts of the country. I wish the media would share the marches more often. Please share your experience on Saturday. I would love to hear about it.

    1. There hasn’t been much in the media that I’ve seen about this either, Sabrina. But funny thing–as I spread the word about the Austin march, invariable people say, “I know–we’re going!”
      I’ll come back with lots of stories!

  7. You are going to march? That is wonderful! I, too, hear a lot of people advising that we all just “Get over it…The election is over, let’s move forward,”. The problem with that is I do not have amnesia.

    1. Yep, going to the march with a big group of friends, Rachel! And I hear you–I don’t have amnesia either 🙂

  8. You and I are running parallel in our memories and how we want to ‘enlighten’ those who may not have been alive during the 60’s and 70’s, or those who just have conveniently forgotten all the issues we fought for and made progress on. I just saw “Hidden Figures” and it was brilliant. As I grew up in Canada, I do not remember the segregation that you witnessed in the U.S., even though I felt it just the same. As someone who stands for rights…human, environmental and animal, I am also joining my local Women’s March here in Toronto, to stand up, show up and speak up. We are at a turning point in our history and have too much to lose by remaining either silent, or complacent! Loved this walk down memory lane and your passion for sharing this message with others. Look forward to hearing about your experience at the march in Austin, Susan! I will share my experience as well! We’ve come a long way…got a long way to go…

    1. Canada has always been more progressive than we have, Beverley. Lol. And you’re so right–we ARE at a turning point. Time to dust off our old marching shoes 🙂
      I can’t wait to hear of your experiences marching in Toronto!

  9. Been there every step of the way, Susan. Remember, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking?” Well, it’s time to boot-up ladies and march.

  10. I think our country is in for a very interesting… I use that term because I am fearful of other words to use… time. I think the next four years are going to result in a number of trials that many of us are unaware of, don’t understand, and have no idea how intense they can get. I pray for our nation … one day at a time … and hope for the best.

    1. I’m with you on that, Heather. And yes, many prayers for our nation.

  11. This is awesome. You are taking a stand for the things you believe in and taking action. Please be safe while marching.

    1. It’s time to take a stand, isn’t it, Kamika. If not us, who?

  12. Susan,
    Great political active article and I love the way you make it your own with such value and statistics. It’s a wonderful piece and I truly loved the way you phrased your work arou ndwomens rights. Thank You! Lori English

    1. Women’s rights are human rights, aren’t they, Lori 🙂

  13. I wish we could all embrace each other’s differences and move forward as one. There is nothing wrong in standing for what we believe in, to make our voices heard. However, if doing so will do more harm than good, we must look for other channels to settle things in a peaceful, orderly manner.

    1. Oh, I do too, Annemarie. These marches are designed to be peaceful, and to let our voices be heard.

  14. Couldn’t agree more. Its really sad that even in 2017 its even an issue to have womens right.

  15. So true! the 60’s were so much more violent. Let us hope we can learn from history… Also, each of us needs to shine our light and encourage others to do the same. We need to appreciate each other’s differences and the light each of us can shine in the world.

    1. That’s it in a nutshell, Colleen! “appreciate each other’s differences and the light each of us can shine in the world.” That’s it!

  16. I won’t be joining the march, Susan, because I’m sitting across the world but will be there in spirit because if people don’t stand up to protect hard won victories that provide basic human rights, then we might as well not fight for what is right.

    I was lucky to catch President Obama’s speech last night on CNN and I could see the messages that he was sending out to protect the minorities. It is going to be an interesting time in American History which the world will be watching carefully. Let us hope that President-elect Trump proves to be a better President than the Presidential candidate we non-Americans saw on international television.

    1. How confusing this all must be from across the world, Vatsala. We’re confused in this country! But we will stand up for human rights, and fight for what is right. I’ll carry your light with us!

  17. Thank you for this awesome reminder of all we have been through in this country and the issues we continue to face. After MLK Jr. day this week, we are reminded by his quote that the worst thing to do is not to speak up for what is right. Thank you for your insight.

    1. The issues are many, Anne, but Dr. King’s legacy lives on. We will carry it with us!

  18. In celebration of free speech, are all women invited? Or just women who share the same ideology like the D.C, march.?

  19. Extremely well written! Although I may not agree with all, I appreciate your presentation, and did live through and remember many of the events.

    1. And isn’t that the point, Robin–we may not agree on everything, but can still honor each other’s opinions.

  20. Susan this was so beautifully written. I too was waking up in the 60’s as a young single mom of two daughters in the early 70’s. My involvement in the Feminist movement gave me the very insight you talk about. Most women, protected by the comfort of their marriages, had no clue what was happening to those who were struggling to feed their children, find a job, and leave an abusive relationship with no resources. I don’t need to go on – you were clear and I support your writing with all my heart. Let’s open our hearts and give support to those who are not supported by the current administration.

    1. Oh, Candess, I love this: ” Let’s open our hearts and give support to those who are not supported by the current administration.” That’s it in a nutshell!

  21. Hi Susan,
    Really enjoyed your post! I was born 1963 and pretty much grew up late 60’s and 70’s and did not experience much of what you did, but I can agree with you on the above quote “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

    I truly believe that if more people recognized, accepted and celebrated each of the differences, we would live in a more peaceful country.

    I for one am a very PROUD woman and American to live in this time when there is so much good change happening.

    Thank you for sharing your insights on trhe rights of women and human rights in general 🙂

    1. Isn’t that just the key, Joan–to recognize, accept, and celebrate our differences!

  22. We have come a long way since the 60’s. While I don’t share your views on the current political scene.. I love that we all can express our opinion in a peaceful way.

    1. In some ways we really have come a long way, Alene. And in many others, we’re still fighting the same battles . . .
      But that’s it in a nutshell–we can all express our opinions in peaceful ways!

  23. I got chills reading this. On Friday, I was miserable. On Saturday, I rose up. We all came together in such solidarity. It reminds me that we truly are a nation of hope and optimism and LOVE.

    1. Wasn’t Saturday just incredibly amazing, Divya! And the numbers! We expected 20K in Austin. We were 50K strong! And absolutely–we marched with hope, optimism, and LOVE!

  24. Absolutely superb post Susan and very timely in my opinion. It’s a sad world we live in that there is still this divide!

    1. In so many ways we’re back to the ’60s, aren’t we, Sonya. But oh, the wonder of Saturday’s marches–worldwide solidarity!

  25. This is a beautiful piece, Susan. “Women’s rights are human rights” and the safety and peace of most countries can be indicated by the place women hold in that society. Thank goodness we are blessed to live in a country where free speech is part of the fabric of our lives – may it always remain so!

    1. So very true, Reba. You really can tell so much about a country by how they treat their women. And yep–whether they have free speech!

  26. Great article. And, yes, there are indeed many rights people take for granted today that were fought for hard years ago. The thing with your new government is a sensitive issue and I am not going to voice much of that here.

    1. It’s that very ‘taking for granted’ that gets us into trouble, isn’t it, Katarina. And yes–our government right now is a sensitive issue!

  27. Bravo! Susan, you have captured the sentiments of many women, and I thank you for telling it, for caring about your “sisters”, and for standing arm in arm with us all. We march on together……until the battle is won.

    1. We do march on, Donna! And I love standing arm and arm with you! Yep–forever until the battle is won.

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