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Activists celebrate Women's Equality Day at downtown rally

<p>More than 300 people gathered in downtown Durham Friday afternoon to celebrate Women’s Equality Day.</p>

More than 300 people gathered in downtown Durham Friday afternoon to celebrate Women’s Equality Day.

Multiple generations of men and women marched through downtown Durham Friday to celebrate Women’s Equality Day.

More than 300 people, including members of the Durham City Council and Durham County Board of Commissioners, gathered on the steps of the Durham County Courthouse in an event centered around the theme “Women’s Equality Through Time.” Although Women’s Equality Day was created to commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment—which occurred Aug. 18, 1920—the event also centered on the lack of gender equality in healthcare, labor and education.

“It’s nice to be around a community of like-minded people who actually want to fight for our rights,” said Noreen Elnady, who works at the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. “It’s cool to see that support locally where we live, and to feel like you can do something.”

The event included speeches by Michelle Laws, head of the North Carolina NAACP, and Cora Cole-McFadden, Durham mayor pro tempore, among others. Although acknowledging the victory achieved by the women’s suffrage movement, they focused on the problems women face today and possible solutions.

Despite the addition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, it was not until 1971 that North Carolina subsequently ratified the amendment—the second to last state to do so. Cole-McFadden noted that there is still much to be done to achieve gender equality in North Carolina.

“It appears that we have moved from women’s suffrage to women’s ‘suffer-age,’” she said to the crowd of activists, feminists and allies.

Participants at the event agreed that progress for women’s rights is still needed.

“We have not achieved the equality for women that I thought we would have by now,” said Sherry Altman, one of the marchers. “I’ve been marching all my life for equality and peace in the world. We can’t ever give up. We have to keep striving.”

Wage inequality, unequal access to job opportunities, domestic violence and access to contraception were also discussed as pertinent issues facing women today.

“Women are still underpaid,” said William Little, an advocate for women’s rights. “They are still underappreciated, and as a male in the workplace, I also see that.”

A significant gender wage gap continues to exist, with women earning only 78 cents to every dollar made by men, according to data released by the White House. That number drops even lower for racial and ethnic minorities.

Even at Duke, women are underrepresented on the faculty in higher paying departments. Only 15 percent of engineering faculty, 18 percent of business faculty and 21 percent of natural sciences faculty are women. According to data released by the University to the Department of Education, the average female tenure track professor at Duke is paid $34,532 less than the average male tenure track professor over the course of a nine-month contract.

In her speech, Laws discussed the importance of closing the gender wage gap in lifting North Carolinians out of poverty.

Problems such as domestic violence and sexual assault were addressed as well. Beth Dehghan—president of WomenNC, an organization committed to eliminating injustice against women—discussed the necessity of implementing the proposals put forth in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty that was signed in 1979. Referencing the 64 reported domestic violence murders in North Carolina in 2014 and the over 100,000 domestic violence calls in in North Carolina from 2013 to 2014, Dehghan proposed an action course involving a comprehensive gender analysis across cities and counties.

Following the speeches, marchers took to the street toward Durham Central Park, chanting slogans promoting solidarity in the face of sexist policies and attacks on women’s rights.

“We hope that we can touch and we can connect with other women that can feel inspired and say, ‘Hey, I have a voice, it’s time for me to step up.’ She can do it. I can do it,’” said Sheila Arias, a feminist activist representing Hispanic women.

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