By Shelby Quast, Americas Director at Equality Now
Many people think women are already protected by the U.S. Constitution — after all, numerous other countries have constitutional protections for women — but the U.S. does not!
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees women’s rights. The original drafters of the U.S. Constitution were all white, landholding (and many slave-holding) men. Women were never part of “the people” they envisioned in the Constitution.
Many years later the Supreme Court interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to protect women to an extent, but a special category was created for gender that offers far less protection than other protected categories like race, religion or national origin.
The 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause is not enough. It does not fully protect women, and we need a higher judicial standard. Piecemeal laws like Title IX and the Equal Pay Act are not permanent protections for women and can be rescinded or replaced at any time.
Plus, without women being fully protected in the Constitution, it’s easier to pass and keep sexist laws on the books.
I recently attended the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative led by USAID and the White House. Together, U.S. departments, bi-partisan members of Congress and the private sector, pledged increased aid to protect and promote the rights of women and girls abroad.
As one example, the group highlighted child marriage as a legal barrier to prosperity. At the launch, the initiative announced their support for changing the minimum age of marriage in Cote d’Ivoire to 18.
I did a double-take. Child marriage is legal in 48 U.S. states!
I applaud the pledge this group has made for women and girls in other countries and ask them to extend that support to delivering equality for women and girls in the U.S.
Equality must be protected from partisan politics and instead lifted up as the American value it is. Protecting and promoting women’s equality is good for communities and business. Everywhere!
And yet in America:
- numerous states are passing regressive laws that are limiting women’s reproductive rights
- a pregnant woman in Alabama who was shot in the stomach was arrested for manslaughter when the fetus died as a result of her wounds
- laws against Female Genital Mutilation are under attack, putting tens of thousands of women and girls at risk
- sexual harassment policies in the workplace have not caught up with the breadth of the problem exposed by #MeToo and #TimesUp
- survivors of sexual violence continue to be silenced
The most effective thing we can all do to deliver equality for women and girls is to guarantee their rights in the U.S. Constitution with an Equal Rights Amendment.
Monday, August 26, is National Women’s Equality Day, a day commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
This Women’s Equality Day, we need your help to urge members of Congress to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
Congress passed the ERA in 1972 but 38 states are required to ratify an amendment before it actually becomes part of the Constitution. During that time, anti-ERA groups ramped up their opposition and the 38-state ratification requirement was never met.
When Congress first passed the ERA, they attached an arbitrary seven-year deadline to it, which is not required by the Constitution. Upon reaching the original deadline in 1979 without achieving the requisite number, pro-ERA advocates convinced Congress to extend the deadline until 1982. When the extended deadline expired, the ERA was just three states short of ratification.
In a renewed push, Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017 and Illinois followed suit in 2018. We are now just one state away. In order to integrate the remaining ratifications, Congress must eliminate the original deadline.
There are two bills pending in Congress currently to do just that: Rep. Jackie Speier’s bill (H.J. Res. 38) and Senator Ben Cardin’s bill (S.J. Res 6). In April 2019, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held the first official hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in almost 40 years. This was historic and now we need the Judiciary Committee to mark up the bill, pass it out of committee and move it to the House floor for a vote!
Once the final state ratifies the ERA, the fight will center around eliminating the previous 1982 ratification deadline in Congress.
If you live in one of the 13 states that have yet to ratify the ERA, you can get connected to local activists and support the ratification push in your state. You can also contact your state representatives and tell them that you want them to vote for the ratification of the ERA in your state!
TAKE ACTION to eliminate the ERA deadline! Contact your Senator and Representatives HERE.
Help make equality a reality in the United States’ most fundamental legal document.