100 years of women's suffrage

Flagstaff city councilmember, Jamie Whelan, posed for a portrait Oct. 28. Whelan voted in this election as the results may impact women's rights. 

The 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was passed in 1920. Now, 100 years later, female activists and politicians are at the forefront of this year’s historic election. 

For the first time in United States history, a campaign featuring a woman of color as a vice presidential candidate is leading in the polls.

Women’s and gender studies professor Sanjam Ahluwalia said it is exciting to have a Woman of Color on the Democratic ticket, which follows a trend of female political and social justice activism over 100 years. 

Ahluwalia points to other female leaders advocating for change, such as education activist Malala Yousafzai, Black Lives Matter (BLM) founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi and gun control advocate Emma González.

“Women’s history is a pretty powerful corrective to the way we understand the world,” Ahluwalia said. 

While Ahluwalia does not describe the Biden-Harris ticket as inherently feminist, she does describe the campaign as pro-women and an inspiration to women of color in the U.S. and around the world. 

Ahluwalia said the Biden-Harris campaign and female-led social justice movements, such as reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and BLM only exist because of a long history of discourse enabled by feminism.

“I found [feminism] very enabling and very enriching as a lens to understand what is going on and to understand the world around me,” Ahluwalia said. 

During the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, politics and international affairs professor Marija Bekafigo said the female vote will be a large factor in determining the direction of the country, and she would like to see more young people voting.

According to the Pew Research Center, female voters have maintained slightly higher turnout rates at the polls than their male counterparts in every election since 1984. 

However, voter turnout rates don’t always translate to presidency, as demonstrated in the 2016 presidential election when Clinton won the popular vote by over 2%, but lost the presidency by vote of the Electoral College. 

Flagstaff councilmember Jamie Whelan said the 2016 election exemplified how the U.S. voting system often falls short of accurate representation. 

Whelan said she thinks the U.S. has outgrown the Electoral College. The results of the Electoral College vote do not always reflect the popular vote, which she said is essential. 

The problem, Whelan said, does not stop at the Electoral College. Whelan said the recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court is a bold statement from President Donald Trump and a threat to women’s rights. 

“It’s a huge statement that our government is not working,” Whelan said. “In a blink of an eye, we can have a dictatorship.”

The confirmation of Justice Barrett, which followed the confirmation of two other Supreme Court judges nominated by President Trump, made the majority of the court conservative at 6-3 despite the Democrat population of the U.S. outnumbering the Republican population by 4%.

The now 6-3 conservative scale on the U.S. Supreme Court, Whelan said, may bring Roe v. Wade back into review to possibly overturn the historical court case that legalized abortion nationwide. 

 Ahluwalia said the revocation of Roe v. Wade could also put other reproductive rights and organizations like Planned Parenthood in jeopardy. 

 “In some ways, I think that focus troubles a very simple understanding of reproductive rights being tied only to abortion,” Ahluwalia said. 

The danger of overturning Roe v. Wade and enforcing such emphasis of reproductive rights on abortion, Ahluwalia said, is necessary women’s health procedures, such as the breast cancer screenings and Pap tests provided by Planned Parenthood, could also be threatened. 

Whelan said the confirmation of Justice Barrett is one of the reasons she is voting for change in the 2020 election. The first step of major change, she said, is to eliminate the two-party system and the Electoral College. 

“We the people are being trampled,” Whelan said. “Whatever it takes, our country needs you. We need you to vote, we need you to protest peacefully …  I’ll be right there with you.”

This election has the potential to change many of the rights women have achieved over the last 100 years. The time for change is here and the power is in the female vote.