Not Flexing Our Rights

As the suffrage commemoration fiesta begins, here's a look at the work we've still got to do

| August 23, 2007


August 26 marks the 87th anniversary of women's suffrage in the United States. Recognizing the arduous efforts made to claim our right to vote is important, and there's been remarkable progress getting women into voting booths. According to Women's eNews, female voters have consistently outvoted male voters since the 1980s. During this year's anniversary, however, it's also important to keep in mind that there's still a lot of work to be done when it comes to getting women to the polls. As Women's eNews notes, 'In the last presidential election, 8 million women registered but did not vote; another 36 million potential female voters were not registered at all, according to the US Census Bureau.'

So, why are so many American women avoiding the ballot box?

Some reasons for low voter turnout sound remarkably lame. Kassidy Johnson, a Feminist Majority Foundation campus organizer, tells Women's eNews that, 'I really believe the things that hold us back are normal, everyday things. You forget, you can't find a babysitter or you don't want to stand in line all day.' A similarly mundane explanation comes from Joe Goode, executive director of Women's Voices Women Vote, who explains that unmarried women -- a sizable and quickly growing demographic -- don't vote because '[t]hey don't have the same social network or are not as politically engaged as married couples. ?The second major thing holding them back,' Goode goes on, 'is cynicism towards politicians and politics.'

Such hurdles seem like they should be easily overcome when compared with the obstacles facing female voters and candidates elsewhere in the world. Take the case of Kenya. Organizations such as the Institute for Education in Democracy and the League of Kenya Women Voters are working to protect female candidates as Kenya's next presidential election in December draws nearer. Women's eNews explains that in the past, gangs hired by rival candidates violently discouraged women from participating. In Sierra Leone, although women's suffrage began nearly 50 years ago, Inter Press Service reports that many women are unaware of election dates or don't know that they can vote for 'a candidate of [their] choice.'



Such barriers may humble our light excuses, but there are struggles facing female voters in America that are far more daunting than laziness or cynicism. Women's eNews reports that abused women are often reluctant to register as voters, as they fear that their whereabouts will become publicly accessible to their predators. Women in nursing homes have been taken advantage of by people who offer to help fill out their absentee ballots, but don't actually take the resident's political choices into account. Cultural paradigms also hamper women who emigrate from countries with limited voting rights. So while we celebrate the progress that has allowed so many women to cast their ballots, let's also resolve to work harder to ensure the ability for each woman -- here and across the globe -- to exercise that right.

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