It was in a women’s literature class my sophomore year of college that I first learned the shocking fact that the United States Constitution does not have an Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing equal legal rights for everyone regardless of their gender. Alice Paul first introduced the idea for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923 saying, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of government.” Nearly 100 years later, we still haven’t seen that dream become a reality.
August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. Let’s use this as an opportunity to advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and make gender equality a constitutional reality.
A Brief History of the ERA
In the 1960s and 70s feminist activists were calling loudly for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and at first it seemed to be gaining steam. In 1972 it went through the Senate and House of Representatives and was sent out to the states for ratification. The amendment had 7 years to be ratified by 38 states. Within the first year, 22 states ratified it, but strong opposition began to form as the political tide turned conservative, and by the mid-seventies the process had all but stalled out. When the deadline was up, the ERA was three states short of full ratification. Since then the ERA has been reintroduced in every session of Congress, but still has not been ratified.
Why We Need the ERA
Many current critics of the ERA say that it’s 2018, we’ve come a long way, and we don’t need it anymore. According to them, men and women are already seen as equal in our country. But we know that the constitution was written with only one group of people in mind: white men. As the Civil Rights movement did with race, the women’s rights movement challenged the systems that were built to exclude people based on their gender. The late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia addressed this clearly in an interview where he said, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” This is exactly why we need the ERA.
The longer that the Constitution remains without the Equal Rights Amendment, the more that women just like us will continue to fall through the cracks of our legal system. The Equal Rights Amendment would create a legal standard for deciding cases of discrimination based on gender, it would defend against the dissolution of advancements to women’s rights, and it would set a nation wide standard for gender equality. These are all things that will help you and me be able to live out our fullest potential.
What We Can Do To Help
The most important way that we can help the ERA become a reality is to support and advocate for women by joining movements that do the work of teaching women and girls what their rights are and ensuring that they have every opportunity to reach their full potential. Initiatives like Live Your Dream provide women and girls with the tools they need to achieve their goals. We need to join with causes that matter to us and support programs like this that promote greater equality in our society.
It is also so important to educate ourselves and others about the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA Coalition recently released a study showing that 80% of Americans don’t know that the Equal Rights Amendment isn’t part of the US Constitution. How can we change something if we don’t even know about it? We have to speak up in our communities and teach women and girls that they have the right to demand change from the government that is supposed to serve them.
100 years ago Alice Paul had a dream for a more equal society. She wanted all of us to be able live in a place where women were seen as equal in every way. Today is the day that we can make that dream a reality. Our Constitution should and must be the foundation for building a more inclusive and equitable future for all people. It’s up to us to change that.
Become An ERA Advocate
Download any part of the ERA Toolkit and share it on your social media and with your friends and family.
Find out if your state has ratified the ERA through the ERA ratification map.
Contact your representatives and voice your support of the ERA.
Elizabeth Endara is a writer, advocate, doula, educator and cat mom based in NYC. She loves Great British Bake-Off, Eastern Europe, snug coffee shops and writing about her feelings. She is excited to be working with liveyourdream.org helping to curate and tell stories that demonstrate the power of women!