Module 4 – Women’s Rights


Historically, in most societies, men and women occupied roles in their families and their communities that were shaped by their gender.  Women’s roles were often defined as “wives” and “mothers.” In the United States, as elsewhere, women have been engaged in a centuries-long struggle to obtain equal rights.

In the 19th century, some women in the United States were involved in a suffrage movement, aimed at obtaining the right to vote.  They also sought changes in the law that would give women greater control over their lives (such as control over their own property and the right to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children).  Many of these women supported the equal access of women to professional schools (particularly, medicine and law).  Some of these early feminists were also involved in other social movements, such as the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and the dress reform movement.

Women obtained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment:

In the 1960s, a new generation of women challenged remaining barriers to education, employment, and other opportunities. In the 21st century, women have yet to obtain equity in some areas, including equal pay.

In the criminal justice system, women have faced gender-specific issues as victims, offenders, and criminal justice practitioners and professionals.


a.  Here is a timeline of the women’s movement in the United States:

b.  See these documents from the 19th century women’s movement (from the PBS documentary, “Not for Ourselves Alone”). Note, in particular, the “Declaration of Sentiments” from the famous convention at Seneca Falls, New York:

c.  Listen to Helen Reddy singing one of the songs that became an “anthem” of the women’s movement:

d.  Here is a clip of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the United Nations about women’s rights in the 21st century:

Suggested Activities

Activity 1:
Think about and discuss these questions: Should  men and women have the same legal rights? Should men and women always be treated the same in school and work situations? Should men and women always be treated the same by the criminal justice system?

Activity 2:
What comes to mind when you think about how women are portrayed in popular culture (for example, television, music, films, and video games)?

Activity 3:
How do you think race/ethnicity and socioeconomic class affect the treatment of women of color and women who are poor?