Today we celebrate National Women's Equality Day. While all women weren't granted the right to vote until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, today marks the adoption of the 19th Amendment, a major women's suffrage milestone in 1920. We have a lot to celebrate on this day here in Pennsylvania and across the country, but we still have a lot of work to do in the fight for equal rights.
For almost 100 years, women – and sometimes men – fought for women's suffrage, using speeches, papers, petitions, marches and demonstrations to show that women deserved this right of citizenship. Led by luminaries like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Carrie Chapman Catt, these women didn't always agree with one another but were committed to realizing this victory for voting rights and progress.
I often think about what it must have been like to be a woman at that time – and how women today would stand up if faced with crossing the same bridge. I don't have to question it though, because I see it every day in the world around us, and even here at PennDOT, as a new generation of leaders and do-ers pursue policies and actions to create a more diverse, equitable society.
In 2020, PennDOT convened the Dismantling Systemic Racism and Inequities (DSRI) Working Group with staff from across PennDOT, which focused on assessing our diversity and inclusion efforts, understanding structural racism in transportation generally, and evaluating programs and initiatives that could help with these issues. These efforts culminated in the release of the PennDOT Dismantling Systemic Racism and Inequities 2021 report (PDF), which discussed how PennDOT can achieve greater equity in the areas of contracting, public involvement, community investment, our boards and commissions, and of course, our own internal culture at the department.
The progress of women, minorities and other disenfranchised groups – whether in the workplace or the communities they live and travel to – is intricately intertwined with the history of the suffrage movement. Access to the vote is a powerful tool that everyone must have access to in order to drive real change and transform communities.
I'm committed to taking the next step in the movement here at PennDOT to create and support a quality transportation system that works for everyone, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.
It brings me great joy to celebrate this day with my fellow women at PennDOT as we work toward a more equitable future for all.
"I was very fortunate growing up to be surrounded by a family and teachers that encouraged me in all that I did," PennDOT's Executive Deputy Secretary Melissa Batula, P.E. said. "I truly believed I could do anything and never even considered restricting myself to only stereotypical female roles or jobs or felt intimidated in traditionally male jobs.
"I thank all the fantastic female leaders such as Susan B and even Billy Jean King that sacrificed and pushed the boundaries of convention to make that possible," Batula added. "As leaders we must continue to be bold as we make sure that all persons can not only survive in any field, but thrive as we welcome and embrace inclusion of every aspect of society."
"When I ponder upon what Women’s Equality Eay truly means to me, especially in context of transportation, I think of the many women before me who paved the way for us to be today’s unapologetic change makers and advocates for a more equitable – not just equal, society." Senior Civil Engineer Winnie Okello, P.E. said. "Women such as Bessie Coleman, Claudette Colvin, Rosa parks and Dorothée Pullinger were simply being, and in their being-ness, they made ripples in the fabric of society that are evident even today."
Okello authored an article in the May–June 2019 issue of TR News about transit and street harassment (PDF), a global problem that women are especially prone to.
"Women in transportation don't just construct bridges and roads, we build communities," Senior Project Manager Nexa M. Castro said. "We are powerful when we build teams and role models by uplifting and supporting our colleagues and communities; then we obtain success."
Visit our website to learn more about women in transportation and our commitment to transportation equity at PennDOT.