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Americans Ponder Racial Inequities on Women’s Equality Day

More US women are earning college degrees but that advancement in education hasn’t translated into income equality in the workplace.

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, which in the U.S. commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 granting women the right to vote.

It also highlights the gender-based discrimination almost all women, particularly women from the two largest minority groups in the U.S., continue to experience.

On the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, a Pew Research Center report indicated that “while many Americans say the last decade has seen progress in the fight for gender equality, a majority say the country still hasn’t gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men.”

Latinos are the largest minority population in the U.S., at about 18%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The second largest group, at about 13%, are Blacks and African Americans.

One in five women in the United States is Hispanic, said Amy Hinojosa, president of Mana, a national Latina organization, who added that Latinas face many inequalities today.

Hundreds of thousands of Latinas work at hourly jobs for minimum wage and are on the front line during the coronavirus pandemic with little if any workplace protections, Hinojosa told VOA.

“We need to value the contributions that Hispanic women make,” she added, including those who are housekeepers, cashiers, food service workers and agricultural pickers.

Hinojosa told VOA Hispanic women are especially concerned about health care coverage and unequal pay.

According to a report from the Center for American Progress, “Latina women earn $549 per week, compared with white women’s median earnings of $718,” and their annual full-time earnings are 88% of their male counterparts.

The 2013 report continued, saying “Latinas are more likely to lack health coverage among America’s uninsured women, with more than 38% being uninsured.”

Although those numbers have changed slightly in subsequent years, they show that “it’s hard for Hispanic women to contribute in a meaningful way to their families, when many of them only make 54 cents for every dollar compared to a white male in an equivalent job,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said the upcoming presidential election on November 3 is a reminder of another issue Hispanics face – voter suppression.

According to a 2019 report from the Center for American Progress, “Voter suppression tactics – from strict voter ID laws to discriminatory voter purges, limitations on voting hours, reductions in voting locations, and language barriers – are increasingly used to discourage and undermine women of color voters’ participation and potential influence on election outcomes.”

“We still have a very low percentage of voting,” Hinojosa said, and the reasons include women who do not speak English or lack a driver’s license or other acceptable ID so they can register to vote.

A record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Pew Research Center analysis of that data found 50% of eligible Hispanic women voted in 2016 compared with 64.1% of eligible black women.

Black women are also struggling against voter suppression, said Martha S. Jones, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote and Insisted on Equality for All.

Jones points out that even when women received national suffrage in 1920, most Black women could not vote due to racial segregation and discrimination laws. She said even today, African American women continue to fight voter suppression, which includes limitations such as the closure of polling places and voter roll purges for something like infrequent voting, a move that forces women to re-register.

Melanye Price, a professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, said, “Black women suffer from the double burden of racism and sexism.”

Like Hispanic women, African American women may have “more challenges around voting,” such as not having a proper ID and may work “in certain jobs that don’t allow them to take off on Election Day,” Price said.

Both Price and Mana’s Hinojosa think voter suppression could be alleviated with widespread use of voting by mail, longer voting hours at polling places and the relaxation of state ID regulations.

Like Hispanic women, Black women are concerned about income inequality, Price said. “They are asked to pay rent and buy things for their children at the same rate, but they are not paid at the same rate,” as men and white women.

It’s a stereotype to think that African American women who don’t work and rely on public programs are lazy, Price said, “but they cannot earn enough money to keep their kids in a good daycare.”

Other issues of concern to Black women, Price said, are a lack of affordable health care, better public education since “they can’t earn enough money to send their kids to a quality school,” and violence perpetrated against them and their families by police.