During my vacation less than two weeks ago, my family and I went to upstate New York to visit the Finger Lakes and enjoy nature’s beauty as well as some fine wine. However, I purposefully made part of the visit historical. Seneca Falls, New York is the site of Harriet Tubman’s home in her later years and also the site of the Women’s Rights Convention that occurred during July 18-20, 1848.
Seneca Falls is an interesting intersection between the struggle to abolish slavery and the fight for women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Martha Coffin Wright organized the Women’s Rights Convention which culminated in the issuance of the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence and listing the ways in which men had subjugated women. The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men including the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The question for this blog is how are we continuing the struggle for freedom, particularly women empowerment?
The Declaration of Sentiments is a document that describes the political and economic servitude of women. It states that because women cannot vote that, “He (men) has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.” The declaration continues, “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.” This is rather complete subjugation.
Despite the eloquence and persistence of the suffragettes over the ensuing decades, it took 72 years before the 19th Amendment establishing women’s right to vote was passed in 1920. In fact, the 95th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment occurred just last week. It took even longer to combat economic servitude. One effort in this struggle was Congressional passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) in 1974 prohibiting gender and race discrimination in lending. Until passage of ECOA, it was common that lenders required male co-applicants before women received loans. Advocacy is difficult and struggles must occur over long periods of time, even decades. But victory, as the 19th amendment and ECOA demonstrate, does occur.
Yet, we are far from finished. The gender gap in pay remains stubborn and persistent. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, African-American women make 68 cents on average for every dollar earned by white men. Also, women also have access to fewer sources of wealth or other assets. According to Mariko Chang, previously an Associate Professor at Harvard University, a single woman has only 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by a single man.
Manna combats gender economic inequalities through its housing program. Manna did not set out to be a women’s rights organization but over the years, about 80 percent of our clients have been women, mostly African-American women. Many of them are single parents.
We have also had heartwarming stories of women’s empowerment collected by my colleague Annelise Osterberg. Consider the case for one Manna homeowner who purchased in the Le Droit Park neighborhood in 1997. After finalizing her divorce, this homeowner decided she wanted to purchase a home so that she could have something to pass on to her grandchild. However, she soon realized she didn’t have the necessary savings for a down payment.
She recounted, “Back then the bank account was opened in my husband’s name. The credit cards were in my husband’s name. I was a stay at home mom, so I started working late in life and didn’t have a lot saved up.” Because this homeowner had been economically dependent on her husband during their marriage, she became financially vulnerable after the divorce. However, with Manna’s assistance she was able to purchase her own home. The financial stability that this purchase afforded her gave her the ability to both start her own small business and begin saving for retirement. Now after strategically managing her finances, she is fully prepared to retire in the next few years as well as pass her home on to her grandchild—a position she would not have been in without help from Manna.
We have much more ground to cover before achieving gender parity. Manna will continue pursing homeownership and neighborhood revitalization as part of the struggle for women’s rights and dignity.
Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.