Sunday marks one of the most important days of the last century for women - the day the final state ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920 — granting women the right to vote.

With that amendment came women’s ascension into the echelon of a world that had previously only been enjoyed by men. Not only did the amendment give women the right to make political choices, it also paved the way for them to succeed in the workforce.

But here we are - 87 years later - and women are still struggling with many of the issues our grandmothers faced. Namely, the issue of poverty and how it affects the choices they make.

I’ve been considering that issue for more than a week now, ever since I sat through a two-day trial that ended with a Stephenville man sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting his two stepdaughters.

As I listened to the graphic and unsettling testimony of the two young girls, I found myself fixated on their mother, a woman who chose to stand by her husband despite the ugly allegations against him.

I watched as she defended him, stopping short of calling her daughters liars, but choosing not to believe what they had to say. She continued living with her husband while her daughters were sent to live with relatives near Austin.

In many ways the mother was also on trial, accused of not doing enough to protect her children — of turning her back on her own flesh and blood.

And as I sat in the courtroom, absorbing the myriad of emotions from witnesses, the jury, attorneys in the case and courtroom spectators, I found myself trying to analyze a woman whose life was one I wanted to understand.

I listened as she struggled to describe her life in broken English, trying to tell anyone who would listen what they couldn’t possibly understand. Her life was full of hardships, she said. Her family was poor. They lived in a small, two-bedroom trailer and worked at jobs that didn’t pay much more than minimum wage.

She loved her girls, she sobbed, but there was a force that kept her tethered to a man accused of hurting them in the worst kind of way.

During a break in the trial, I sat with Jodee Lucero, president/CEO of Cross Timbers Family Services, who was also watching the trial. Sitting on a bench outside of the courtroom, the two of us mulled over the woman’s dilemma.

It should have been so simple, we said. Jodee and I are both mothers who love our children and would do anything to protect them, but there was a distinct difference between us and the woman who sat hunkered down on a bench across the room.

Poverty.

Later in the week, Jodee and I talked on the phone, the trial still weighing heavy on our hearts and minds. Dealing with similar situation on a daily basis, Jodee has a deep understanding of what women often face.

“Poverty, lack of education and lack of resources often hinders women from taking care of themselves and their families,” Jodee said. “It often puts them in a position of feeling like they can’t leave a bad situation. They stay simply to keep a roof over their heads - it’s a force that most women, like ourselves, don’t understand.”

Jodee went on to say that 50 percent of women who return to abusive relationships do so because they cannot support themselves. The fear of being alone is more terrifying than believing the unthinkable.

And while Sunday will come and go with barely an acknowledgement of how far women have come, we need to stop and take a hard look at where we’re headed.

Sara Vanden Berge is News Editor for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.