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Equality is Only One Step on the Path to Equity

Sen. Kyle Evans Gay 

Sen. Gay represents Senate District 5. She serves as Chair of the Senate Elections and Government Affairs Committee.  

Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, a recognition of the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of the trailblazing women whose work led to the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage. I will forever be grateful for the gift the suffragettes bestowed upon generations of women who would follow. Their vision made possible countless other achievements and paved the way for women's participation at all levels of government and society.

Yet when I look around my state, my country, and our shared world, I can’t ignore the legal and institutional barriers to true equity, not just between men and women, but among women from different backgrounds. From maternal health to access to the ballot, Black and Brown women bear the brunt of these inequities. 

While the right to vote was monumental, the right to vote was in fact a narrow and limited expansion of civil rights. It would be decades before states repealed laws limiting a woman’s right to own land, take out a loan, or seek certain employment. Here in Delaware, it would be 99 years before women’s equality was incorporated into our state constitution. Delawareans waited even longer for equal protection based on race, and an amendment that would bring equal protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability is still under consideration in the legislature. 

I fought for the equal rights amendments to our state constitution both because I believe that every person in our society deserves equal protection under the law and because I believe that our governing documents should reflect our shared values. But as we all know, such statements and legal protections are only a fraction of the work that my colleagues and I must undertake in order to build a society that truly provides equal opportunity for all. In order to fight for equity and honor the suffragettes and others we celebrate today, we have to take a page out of their books and build support for real action. 

But the question facing the government is what does real action look like in 2022? Once you have enshrined equal rights, bodily autonomy, and anti-discrimination into law, what comes next? How do you reconcile the fact that equality in the law doesn’t always lead to equality under the law?

To me, action means investment and process reform. We cannot make change unless we are willing to invest in programs and policies that are data-driven and have proven success. But we also cannot continue to invest in programs and policies without instituting the infrastructure needed for those policies to succeed for women of all backgrounds and identities. It simply is not enough to increase the volume of investment without looking critically at how we deploy that investment and whether our decisions themselves promote equity.  

Today we celebrate women's equality with the understanding that equality is only one step on the path to equity. The movement to gain the right to vote was at the same time inspiring, successful, and flawed. Suffragettes charted the path, but it is our obligation to continue to walk that path based on our own vision. And we can honor their achievements, while at the same time acknowledging that the challenges that followed were and continue to be increasingly complex.  

The movement now demands us to value, invest in, and support a society that empowers all women to realize the equality that has been promised. 

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