As students return to school this week, many will open their history books to learn that 90 years ago today women were given the right to vote when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed into law. The history books will explain how this event began to radically transform the role of women in our society. Today, women have more opportunities than ever before. For the first time, more women attend and graduate college than men, and women now make up half the workforce. In recent years we have witnessed Nancy Pelosi become the first woman elected Speaker of the House of Representatives; we’ve seen Hillary Clinton come closer to winning a major party nomination for president of the United States than any woman before her; and now, for the first time, we have three sitting female U.S. Supreme Court justices. Despite these historic milestones, women are still denied the one thing that would make us truly equal to men — equal protection of the law, which all men receive thanks to the 14th Amendment.
“When history books and the media celebrate women’s successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality,” says NOW President Terry O’Neill. “The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statues prohibiting it have no constitutional foundation. It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”
The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was drafted by suffragist leader Alice Paul and introduced in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment by providing the constitutional foundation that women have equal protection under the law. The ERA passed Congress in 1972 but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Every year since 1982, the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. Opposition to it has been consistent and vitriolic.
“For far too long this nation has deprived women of a constitutional guarantee of equality,” says O’Neill. “But our progress has clouded this fact. We must educate women that they do not have the same rights as men in this country. We must work together to re-ignite a movement of advocates who refuse to accept second-class status for women.”
We can start by calling on our representatives at the state and federal level to advance the ERA. Last July, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) sponsored the reintroduction of the ERA, and more and more states are considering ratifying it. Women can do their part by voting in 2010. We must vote for candidates who believe that equality is a basic human right — candidates who believe in reproductive freedom, who support equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people, who are dedicated to eliminating racism and violence, who promote economic justice, and who believe that women must be included in the U.S. Constitution. Only then can we achieve equality for all.