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The fight to end gender inequity began with the suffragette movement of the late-19th century. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the United States, and the Suffragettes led by the Pankhurts in England were among the first pioneers of the “women’s movement.” This was a period of much activity as women organized themselves into public and high-profile advocacy groups, campaigning for the right to vote and equality in economic and property rights. Women were granted the right to vote in New Zealand in 1898, in the United States in 1919 and in Britain in 1928 (to all women over the age of 21 years.)

A second wave to end gender inequity emerged after World War II, as women broadened their objective to take on equal pay in employment and equal education, reproduction rights and the role of women in the family. Key women in this period of gender equity include Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan. The terms “feminist” and “women’s liberation” (more generally referred to as women’s lib) began during this period. Changes in attitude continued in the 1960s with focus on issues such as anti-sex discrimination laws. Some changes also came about during the second half of the 20th century by the adoption of affirmative action policies. “Equal pay for equal work” became a well-known phrase as women demanded changes in the workplace. Many countries also began to permit women to serve in the armed forces, the police force and to become fire fighters. As we entered the 21st century, more and more women are active in politics and retain high positions in business. On the flip side, men are increasingly working in occupations previously considered “female jobs” such as nursing. Men are also taking more of a role in the child rearing.

In spite of all these changes throughout history, there are many who feel the objective of gender equity has still not been achieved, especially in eastern countries. Others have begun to define gender equity more in terms of human rights. UNICEF defines it as “leveling the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity to develop their talents.”


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