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What is Women's Equality Day and why do we celebrate on 26 August?

The US commemorates annually on 26 August a major step forward in women’s struggle for equality, the day when the Nineteenth amendment was signed.

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What is Women's Equality Day and why do we celebrate on 26 August?
ANDREW KELLY REUTERS

The ratification of the Nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was certified on 26 August, 1920. This was the culmination of a decades-long push by suffragists to enfranchise women giving them a say in the discourse of the United States.

However, it wasn’t until half a century later that the date would become a day of commemoration when “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote.” Representative Bella Abzug of New York, in 1971, first introduced a resolution in the US Congress to designate 26 August as “Women’s Equality Day.”

The year before saw the largest gender-equality protest in the history of the United States on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth amendment. Over 100,000 women participated in demonstrations and rallies across the United States calling for equal rights in a nationwide “strike for equality.”

Representative Abzug's bill finally passed in 1973 and in President Richard Nixon’s proclamation that year he said "The struggle for women's suffrage, however, was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation's life.” Adding “Today, in virtually every sector of our society, women are making important contributions to the quality of American life. And yet, much still remains to be done."

How is Women's Equality Day celebrated?

This 26 August will be the culmination of the Centennial year of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment. The National Women’s History Alliance theme for 2021 is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.”

The day is typically observed with schools, libraries, workplaces, and other institutions participating in events and programs that teach about local and prominent suffragists, as well as recognizing women’s progress toward equality. It’s a day not only to commemorate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment but also highlight the continued efforts of women to achieve full equality.