Celebrating progress and inspiring activism for Women’s Equality Day
American Family’s Jess Alanis reflects on the anniversary of voting rights for women and why we all need to keep advocating for change.
Women's Equality Day, celebrated on Aug. 26, commemorates the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women across the U.S. the right to vote, after a lengthy and difficult struggle.
As I reflect on this day, it seems more important than ever to recognize past efforts to expand and safeguard this fundamental American right as several state legislatures today consider whether to restrict voting access.
As we celebrate the achievements of women's rights activists, we must also remind ourselves of the unique daily struggles that women face and the work that remains in pursuit of true equality. For example, as many women rejoiced in the Nineteenth Amendment milestone in 1920, millions of men and women remained excluded from the vote for several decades after, based on their race and ethnicity.
My journey to activism
For me, these historical inequities do not detract from the movement's monumental significance but instead force me to reflect on my advocacy journey.
As a first-generation Mexican American from very humble beginnings, our family discussions did not center around equality among the sexes, political representation or advocacy. As is often the case, equality depends on where one is situated, and it is a privilege to think beyond survival. As a result, my mother's thoughts were consumed by putting food on the table and preparing three brown children for the realities of what it meant to be a person of color in a rural Wisconsin community.
Beyond watching my mother cast her ballot every four years in presidential elections, I had relatively little real-life exposure of what it meant to be a woman activist who used her power, strengths and talents to facilitate change.
From a young age, I was determined to seek a career in political science and law, hoping I could be an advocate for myself and women just like me. Though I did not meet a college-educated Latina until I was 18 years old, I was fascinated by stories in history books and tales of revolutionary men and women leaders fighting for others' fundamental rights.
Inspired by those before me, I spent countless late nights pursuing my dream and education, working hard, balancing both work and law school. Fast forward just over a decade, and I’m now working as an American Family state government affairs counsel in the political landscapes I only used to read about.
In the room, challenging norms
As I work to educate lawmakers on issues important to our customers, industry and group of companies, I am confronted by the reality that I work in an environment in which I am underrepresented.
As a lobbyist in the financial sector in the Midwest, l frequently find myself to be one of few women or people of color in a room during industry discussions. Often, the only woman of color there. Further, the legislators I'm working with do not immediately identify with me.
- 24% of the U.S. Senate.
- 27% of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- 30% of statewide elected executives.
- 31% of state legislative seats.
- 23% of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000.
For women of color, young women, and low-income women the numbers are even worse. This legislative underrepresentation may be surprising given that more women than men vote. However, I think that these numbers reflect the work that we have left to do in our homes, companies, and communities to promote women and push for measures that tackle broader institutional barriers to equal representation.
Celebrating progress and inspiring more activism
We’re not all professional advocates, but we can all look for ways to be allies, provide support or inspire change through action. Throughout the years, I was inspired to do more and be more by so many men and women.
Sometimes a woman's very presence in a space can challenge the culture and norms that have existed for decades. But being in the room isn't always enough to guarantee equality.
So today, let's celebrate the women and men who have worked for the progress we’ve achieved, acknowledge that we still have work to do and keep rolling up our sleeves to do our part to achieve equality.
About the American Family Insurance group
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 232 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.