A feminist trailblazer and one of America's most prominent justices died on Friday, aged 87. Even as she battled pancreatic cancer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not give up the fight for equality. She remained committed to her position as one of nine judges on the US Supreme Court, the country's foremost tribunal, until the day she died. She would often joke that there would only be enough women on America's highest court "when there are nine", an anecdote that perfectly illustrates her dedication to furthering women's rights.
Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was nominated for the position in 1993 by then-president Bill Clinton. A self-made woman hailing from a modest Jewish family, Ginsburg had to fight discrimination early on in her life. Despite having graduated top of her class from Columbia Law School in 1959, she struggled to find employment.
In fact, she had been demoted from her previous job in 1954 when she became pregnant. "Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me," she said. "I struck out on three grounds: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother."
Since those days, Ginsburg made it her life’s cause to have sexist laws repealed. In 1971, she was only 38 when she won her first case before the Supreme Court in Reed v Reed, successfully ending a policy that gave men preference over women as estate executors. The following year she co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and became the first tenured woman professor at the prestigious Columbia Law School. As the ACLU’s general counsel, she launched gender-discrimination cases with the aim of ending sexism in American law. Of the six cases she brought before the Supreme Court, she won an astounding five.
Her fight for equality, however, was not reserved to the public sphere. In her own personal life, she shared household work and childcare equally with her late husband, Martin, who also took on most of the cooking. Anti-feminists often make the argument that a woman's success inevitably comes at her family’s expense. Yet Ginsburg’s family life is proof to the contrary. Her biggest supporter was her late husband, who lobbied for her to be appointed at the Supreme Court. On his deathbed, he wrote a letter to his wife saying: “I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met.”
Ginsburg was a force to be reckoned with when it came to advancing women’s rights, yet much remains to be done to achieve equality. For instance, a recent report by the World Economic Forum found that “no country, including the top-ranked ones have yet achieved gender parity in wages”. In 2017, the “Me Too” movement revealed the extent to which men in power, in Hollywood and beyond, can exploit their position to take advantage of women.
Ginsburg has inspired a new generation of women's rights advocates to follow in her footsteps.
Her passing, however, has created a political storm that has nothing to do with the values she stood for during her lifetime. Right-wing politicians hoping the progressive judge's seat will be filled with a conservative appointee have rushed into a partisan debate. But now is not the time for political calculations. People of all sides should come together to celebrate Ginsburg's achievements and honour the memory of a woman who changed the lives of millions of Americans for the better and inspired many more across the world.