Monday, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the
passage of the 19th Amendment. A century ago, women in this country were not
allowed to vote, yet many Americans take that right for granted today, with one
out of three eligible women failing to exercise her right (CAWP, 2019).
Although women make up more than half of the U.S.
population, they are not proportionately represented at the decision-making
tables in business and government where priorities are set and resources are
allocated that affect all of our lives. In 2019, women hold 23.7% of U.S.
Congressional seats and 27.6% of statewide elective executive offices. Even in
Rhode Island, where we have a record 37% of women in our state legislature, we
still have a way to go before achieving equity in office.
As the Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode
Island (WFRI) and the Rhode Island delegate to Vision 2020 (a national women’s
equity coalition), I speak about the need for civic engagement every day. Civic
engagement means taking an active role in your community and it is a critical
component to a healthy democracy. Issues like pay equity, affordable family
leave and family care, and gender discrimination are directly impacted by the
work of government leaders. The beauty of living in a democracy is that each of
us has the power to shape our communities using our voices, our votes and our
To that end, we recently trained 55 women to run for office
using a non-partisan training curriculum. We are currently interviewing
candidates for our Women’s Policy Institute this fall which will train women to
advocate for the change they would like to see in our community. On Monday, in
collaboration with Vision 2020, the League of Women Voters, RI NOW and many
other women’s groups, we will be training volunteers to register voters for the
next election. Our goal is to increase the number of women voters and women
elected into office in 2020.
While we will mark the 99th anniversary of women’s suffrage
in the U.S. on Monday, it is critical that we recognize that we have not yet
achieved our goal of gender equity in this country. At 4:00pm on the steps of
the Rhode Island State House, we will be raising a “Toast to Tenacity” to
celebrate where we have come from, while acknowledging how much further we need
to go to attain that goal. The program will include remarks from Governor Gina
Raimondo, Lt. Governor Dan McKee and Deputy Secretary of State Melissa Husband.
This fun, inclusive event is meant to kick off a year long campaign to increase
women’s civic engagement in Rhode Island. We invite the community to join us at
the event on the State House steps, by sharing a “virtual toast” from their
desktop on social media using #womensfundri and by taking the 2020 Voters
Pledge for Equity, which can be found here.
About the author and Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
Kelly Nevins has been the Executive Director of the Women’s
Fund of Rhode Island since 2016 and a leader in the Rhode Island nonprofit
sector since 1990. Information about her and the work of Women’s Fund of Rhode
Island can be found at www.wfri.org.