The Origins of ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’

03 May, 2019

Nearly 100 years ago -- in 1920 -- the U.S. Constitution was changed to guarantee women the right to vote.

Today, at least six women are running for president – the highest number the country has ever seen.

The struggle for women's political rights in the United States has deep and complex roots, says historian Kate Lemay. She recently launched a show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., called "Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence."

The show explains that the struggle for women's political equality began long before 1920. It was connected to the fight against slavery in the 1800s.

It also connected to efforts to reach civil rights for African Americans during the 1900s.

Political rights for women are only part of the story, argues another historian, Katherine Marino. In March, she released a book called "Feminism in the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement."

Marino writes that a group of influential feminists in Latin America in the early 1900s split with some feminists in the United States over the goals of the movement. These Latin American feminists wanted to advance social and economic rights along with political rights.

For example, they spoke out against government oppression and international imperialism. And, Marino says, Latin American feminists sought rights for families as well as individuals.

Marino says feminists from Uruguay, Brazil, Panama, Chile, and other places often worked together. Their work resulted in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It also gave birth to the phrase "women's rights are human rights."

Today, says Marino, some feminists in Latin American still combine struggles for women's rights with other issues. For example, she says, before the #MeToo movement began in the United States, some Latin American women created Ni Una Menos. The phrase means "not one woman less." It speaks out against the killing of women and girls, and in some cases also opposes national austerity measures.

Marino notes that, even with an early split, feminists across the Americas are sounding similar again.

She says, "Today in the U.S. we str seeing a broader definition of feminism that's connected to social, racial, economic justice."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

persistence - n. the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people

imperialism - n. a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world

austerity - n. a situation in which there is not much money and it is spent only on things that are necessary

broad - n. including or involving many things or people : wide in range or amount