The proposed Equal Rights Amendment ensures that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution applies equally to all citizens, regardless of gender. Introduced in 1923, it has been a long road for suffragists and feminists fighting for equality. Now, nearly a century later, it is only one state away from potentially be added to the U.S. Constitution.
In Houston to attend the National Women’s Conference in 1977, a group of some of the most well-known women in America appears at fundraiser to support the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. They are (L-R): Betty Friedan, Liz Carpenter, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former first lady Betty Ford, Elly Peterson, Jill Ruckelshaus, and Bella Abzug.
History of the ERA
In 1776, the newly independent United States buzzed with excitement and anticipation as the founding fathers crafted the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing rights for its citizens. However, only certain citizens were protected, while others were left with limited or no freedoms.
In this new country, women were unable to vote, own property, keep their own earnings, or even have custody of their children. Fed up with their situation, many strong and courageous women set out to fight for the rights gifted to white men.
It took over a century before women won the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was enacted in 1920. Along the way, Alice Paul and members of the National Woman’s Party held marches, boycotts and picketed the White House – which were often met with attacks, arrests and imprisonment.
Though they secured one victory, there was still a lot to fight for. Laws and practices in society and the workplace perpetuated women’s status as second-class citizens. To achieve true freedom from sex discrimination, Paul believed that an Equal Rights Amendment needed to be passed. She proposed the amendment in 1923, however it wasn’t until 1972 when it was passed by Congress.
After passing in Congress, it needed to be ratified by 38 states. However, even with an extended deadline set for 1982, only 35 states made the ratification in time. Since then, two more states have ratified the amendment: Nevada in March, 2017, and Illinois in May, 2018.
Photo by Alexa Mazzarello
Since it was approved by Congress in 1972, many states have approved their own versions of the Equal Rights Amendment in their constitutions. However, supporters believe that the only way to ensure protection against sex discriminations for all women is by getting the amendment passed on the federal level. But the deadline has passed, so what can be done?
In 1992, an amendment was ratified by its 38th state, giving us the 27th Amendment – 203 years after it was passed by Congress (it was originally proposed by James Madison). Supporters believe that since there was no deadline for this amendment, they may be able to push through the Equal Rights Amendment once it is approved by a 38th state.
And there may be an even easier way. In a 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, they said that Congress could simply vote to change the previous deadline or remove it altogether.
What You Can Do
Once one of the remaining 13 states ratifies the amendment, the final battle can begin, putting us one step closer to equality for women. As Supreme Court Justice and Equal Rights Amendment Supporter Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”
So, if you live in one of these states and support the cause, let your representatives know: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia.
Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.