Column: Brand new era, same ol’ ERA
What do Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan all have in common?
All three countries have greater representation of women in government than the U.S.
Actually, 90 countries — spanning across six continents and at all levels of development — have a higher representation of women in the elected lower house of their parliaments (i.e., Congress) than the U.S. does.
Many countries that outrank the U.S. in this area have one thing in common: They include provisions for protection of women’s rights in their constitutions. In fact, “the U.S. strongly urged Iraq and Afghanistan to include women in their new Constitutions as they rebuild their societies.” Why, then, doesn’t the U.S. lead by example?
Around 72 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that a provision for the protection of equal rights between the sexes is included in the U.S. Constitution. It’s not.
In reality, despite Abigail Adams’ 1776 request for her husband, John Adams, to “remember the ladies,” no mention of the word “women” or “gender” has ever been included in this nation’s constitution. This shortcoming is what the Equal Rights Amendment aims to address.
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
That is the ERA — a simple statement that holds the power to change the face of this country. Soon after women were given the right to vote, suffragist Alice Paul proposed this amendment in 1923 as the logical next step toward assuring equal rights under the law for all citizens.
The ERA was introduced to Congress every year between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The ERA fell just three states short of the number needed for it to be ratified and permanently added to the Constitution.
Why has an ideal that became so close to being realized lost so much momentum and visibility?
Perhaps it’s because since 1972, even in the absence of the ERA, the U.S. has managed to make notable progress in the realm of gender equality.
“A lot of the public policy benefits that we could have gained through an amendment was achieved through independent legislation,” said Suzanne Dovi, associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy. “[For example,] equal pay is supposedly illegal in practice, even though it is still with us today.”
It is true that legislation such as the Equal Pay Act, Title VII and Title IX work to better secure women’s rights. These legislative measures contribute to the illusion that gender discrimination is adequately addressed in the U.S. The problem is that these solutions are impermanent.
According to the ERA webpage, without constitutional framework, “Congress has the power to make laws that replace existing laws — and to do so by a simple majority. Therefore, many of the current legal protections against sex discrimination can be removed by the margin of a single vote.”
Were the ERA added to the Constitution, the impermanency and ambiguity toward women’s rights would be largely eliminated. Our country would no longer operate under the presumption that men innately hold rights and women must prove that they hold them. It’s about time our nation shifts the burden of proof from the oppressed to the perpetrators of sexual discrimination.
Almost 51 percent of Americans are women. That means that if you are a U.S. citizen, there is about a 51-percent chance that there is no mention of your rights in the Constitution. Regardless of whether or not you know this already, it’s time for the public to become informed about where the U.S. stands with respect to the rights of its majority: women.
Feminism has been on the rise and is becoming increasingly prominent in contemporary U.S. dialogue. There is no better time than this to bring the ERA, a timeless call for justice, back to the national stage.
Hailey Dickson is a freshman studying public health and molecular & cellular biology. Follow her on Twitter.