The fight for women's equality will stand still unless women vote. This election year is especially important as Congress will vote on issues key to women's economic security and health. Today, on Women's Equality Day, we can all take a step toward complete gender equality by encouraging our young women to vote on November 6.
Since the height of the women's rights movement in 1964, the percentage of eligible women who vote in presidential elections has declined. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, while 72 percent of eligible women voted in the 1964 presidential election, only 60 percent voted in 2008. This apparent complacency among young women with a right that our forbearers fought to desperately to earn must be addressed.
Universities and colleges across the country are launching voter initiatives that speak to the young community, including the University of Miami. TurboVote is an online registration tool that sends email and text message reminders to students with the goal of registering record-numbers of students in this presidential election year, a time seeing significantly lower youth enthusiasm than four years ago.
College campuses are a bright spot in the work toward women's equality. Today, women have surpassed men is pursuit of higher education, graduating in greater numbers and with more degrees than their male counterparts. Another great higher education initiative is Vision 2020, a national campaign launched at Drexel University with the goal of achieving gender equality by the year 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
When I was a young college instructor, such a goal would have been unimaginable. My department chairman told me I would never be granted tenure. Apparently, I had embarrassed my male colleagues by publishing more papers than they had written collectively.
As a president of a Big 10 university and a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, I can not help but feel proud looking back at overcoming such blatant discrimination, but I also can not help feeling concerned about the many places in the country still dominated by males — whether it be corporate boardrooms, chambers of commerce or even our nation's capital. I am proud of the strides we have made as a country but we have a ways to go.
Women's equality is a problem not just for women but for all Americans. The best policies are made when there is genuine diversity of thought involved in the process, which includes the distinct voice of women.
Today, as our country celebrates the legacy of those who fought hard for justice, opportunity and prosperity, let us recommit ourselves to the goal of gender equality in our country. And by voting on November 6, the nation will have no choice but to hear us. Ninety-two years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, we may finally see women redefine presidential politics.
Donna E. Shalala is the president of the University of Miami and an advisory board member to Vision 2020, a national initiative of Drexel University to make equality a national priority by the year 2020, the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote.