The legal rights of women has been one of the historical issues that the federal government and state government in US have had to address. It started as small voiceless group in the 19th century but got momentum in the 1960s during the greatest American civil rights revolution. Women had been discriminated as weak and inferior to men for a very long time. But with the education of female gender and access to job opportunities it can be noted that women are capable of performing tasks equivalent to men. Women movements have done considerable work to have legal rights of women entrenched in the constitution. Although th e laws have given women more chance and opportunity than before, there is still much to be done.
WOMEN LEGAL RIGHTS MOVEMENTSWomen have long been a neglect lot in the history of human development. Ideology from the historical perspectives have viewed women as inferior to male gender in many aspects such as intellectual and leadership capabilities. Women have suffered a brunt of mens ego for along time. The women rights gained public attention in the USA as early as 1848 where their grievances came to public domain. It set the agenda for women rights and several conventions were held later that culminated to the emergence of women rights movement in USA (Imbornoni, 2008).
Previously women issues have had less legal and career openings over men. It relegated women to roles of wive and mother. The right to vote for women in the 20th century was a foundation for increasing the chances of women in educational and career undertakings. The notion of most people in the early times was that women were inferior and source of evils and temptation and referred as children. Teachings in the early Christian theology reinforced the idea that women were evil and wicked. In other countries the attitude was different and more positive towards women affairs such as in India women were free to own property and marry. However with the evolution of Hinduism, women were required to obey their husbands and could not own wealth (DaMetz, 1994).It has been proven that when women are given opportunities in education and leadership to exercise their might.
They are found to perform exceptionally well like men. For instance the women religious leaders in the past enjoyed great influence of power and prestige as well as in leadership such as the Queens of England in the 16th century (Elizabeth) and 19th century (Victoria). Women were relegated to house work and less muscular task while heavy work like hunting and ploughing was for men.
But women are known to be highly tolerant to pain, diseases and have higher life expectancy than men (DaMetz, 1994).In the twentieth century women movements emerged more vigorously to champion for the rights of women in issues like contraceptives abortion, education, gender discrimination, employment opportunities and more gender based discrimination. For instance in early 20th century women attending school was 19 percent. They were taught how to read and write. Girls were prepared for motherhood and marriage while men for professional work. This scenario improved steadily for instance in 1980s statistics showed that 49 percent of women attended school, 49 % had masters degree, 33% had doctoral degrees and 25 percent of all college students were 29 years or older. In the colonial America, women were not included in most of the formal job opportunities even studying was restricted to summer times when men were working and out of school. This led to the onset of women movements (Stetson, 2004).
In 1869 women activists formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) which aimed at ensuring there is amendment in the constitution at national level that addresses the plight of women. In the same year, American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA)was formed to advocate for the rights of women at States level. This made several States to adopt legislations that provided legal redress to women and between 1893 to 1918 most States had adopted the legislation.In the following years major amendments were done to improve the welfare and conditions of women such as the National Association of Colored Women (1896) voiced the conditions of colored women, National Women Trade Union (1903) that sought to improve working conditions, formation of Congressional Union of women in 1913, passage of federal woman suffrage in 1919, formation of Women’s Bureau in 1920 for collecting data on working women, formation of American Birth Control League in 1921, formation of National Council for Negro women that championed for discrimination, sexism and racism against black women in 1935 and later the emergence of Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian group (Imbornoni, 2008; Robnett, 1997).
From the 1960 to the present radical changes have been made to change the status of women. For instance in 1960 the Food and Drug Administration allowed women to have birth control. In 1962 President John Kennedy set up Presidents commission that sought to report information concerning working women in case of discrimination and unfair hiring practices.
In 1963 the Feminine Mystique book by Betty Friedman was released. It became popular and was bedrock for contemporary women movements (Imbornoni, 2008).The enactment of two Acts in the subsequent years boosted the women movements. This included the Equal Pay Act (1963) and Civil Rights Act (1964). These required the federal government and contractors to pay equal salary to all genders and avoid discrimination of women based on their gender. Similarly, the Employment Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was set up to investigate and penalize violators of the law. In 1965 the supreme court ruled out the a case which barred married people to use contraceptives. A feminist group called National organization for Women (1966) that sought for abolition of discrimination in jobs by championing for legislation and lobbying as well as litigations and demonstrations in the public was formed (Imbornoni, 2008).
President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 devised an Executive policy that ensured all women are indiscriminately allowed to attend educational institutions of their choice. The EEOC in 1968 ruled out sex segregated advertisement in the media and thus set cause for women to be employed in high paying jobs. California later became the first state to adopt the divorce law that connoted ‘no fault’ and which granted women equal share of property in case of marriage getting sour. This followed another ruling made in 1970 where the supreme upheld the rule that jobs should be equal and not identical such that the employer cannot pay female worker less than male worker in the same job category (Imbornoni, 2008).Then in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment went through the Congress and taken to States for ratification. It did not get the required minimum number of states and was subsequently rejected in 1982. In the same year calls for privacy was upheld for unmarried persons who were allowed to use contraceptives through the supreme court ruling. Then the Education Act Amendment (Title X) allowed participation of school going girls in athletics and professional programs.
This increased their numbers significantly (Imbornoni, 2008).The equal opportunities Act of 1974 further reduced restriction of labor market. And in 1976 marital rape become an offence starting with Nebraska. The pregnancy Act was passed in 1978 where employers were required to allow women to work even when they are pregnant as well as grant them the same opportunity in employment.
In 1984 the EMILY network was started which advocated for female candidates eying for political office to be supported. This helped to increase the number of women membership in the national level. The supreme court in 1986 made ruling depicting that sexual harassment as discrimination in the workplace (Imbornoni, 2008).
More over, the supreme court went ahead and quashed a case in which the state of Pennsylvania wanted reinstitution of clauses in Abortion Act that were referred as unconstitutional in1992. Two years later the federal government tightened federal laws governing violence against women such as rape and domestic violence. In 1996 the court ruled in favor of admitting women to the Virginia military school or lose public funding.
The court also gave more weight to penalty against sex discrimination to third party complainant. In 2006 the supreme court banned specific type of abortion procedures according to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The above application of legal rights to women have had impact in the conditions of women in America since 1960s (Imbornoni, 2008).However the adoption and implementation of the Acts since the 1960s were sparingly applied. For instance the Equal Pay Act and Civil Rights Act did not change the welfare of women working in retail stores and access to credit cards.
There was considerable difficulty in application of the law to female offenders since most women were unfairly treated as compared to men. Unmarried women were constantly harassed and their privacy undermined and female prostitutes were imprisoned as male customers were not (Stetson, 2004; Robnett,1997).It was also evident that women in America were not allowed to own property but were virtually the possession of their men similar to children and material wealth.
This discrimination prevailed for a long time even in education and job opportunities. For example women doctors accounted for 5% in 1890, women lawyers were 2% in 1930 and no women engineer in 1930. But with enactment of the Acts since 1960s the percentage of women enrollment increased by more than 15% such as women lawyers in 1980s was 22% while medical doctors accounted for 17%. Comparatively, teaching profession had large number of women teachers equivalent to twice the number of men teachers (Stetson, 2004).Although currently the women make large proportion of employees, they still do supportive work such as secretaries, waiters, attendants and waiters. In 1989 there was 45% of women in the US work force but had little significance in decision making. The number in senior positions later increased dramatically but could not surpass the proportion of men.
Women were still paid less than men like in 1963, 43% were paid less and dropped to 32% in 1988. Women become concerned with jobs and delayed family for long while working elders numbers increased (DaMetz, 2004).The number of working mothers increased steadily from 12 percent in 1960s to 57% in 1980s. Black women constituted the largest number and had other roles to perform apart from formal work which included domestic work and caring of children. In the 1970s working wives spent more than one hour per week in domestic chores than full time housewives.
More so maternity leave in most States was not given to breast feeding women even with the changes made in the federal law (DaMetz, 2004).Women in the political positions were not successful despite the right to vote that was passed long time before the 1960s rights revolution. It is only in 1984 where a woman was nominated to run for vice presidency.
Apart from this most high ranking public office held by women have been in mayoral and governors positions.CONCLUSIONWomen rights movement in the USA started as early as mid 19th century. It began with the need to address legal ineffectiveness in tackling women issues. Two formidable associations were formed the NWSA and AWSA which later merged to form NAWSA.
This articulated women issues at Federal and States levels. Several Acts and Amendments were enacted and slowly transformed a woman from her main historical role of domestic and motherhood into the professional modern woman. Laws discriminating against gender, race and sex were enacted. The most visible ones include the Equal Pay Act (1963) and The Civil Rights Act (1964) among others.
Though these laws were supposed to give level ground to all women. There is still difficulty in implementing them.