The Return of the ERA

July 21, 2009

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any State on account of sex.”

RepCarolynMaloney_D-NY

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)

This is the main text of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which is being reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Judy Biggert (R-IL) and over 50 co-sponsors.  The text is simple but, considering it was first introduced in 1923, that hasn’t made it easy to pass.

At a press conference this morning outside the U.S. Capitol, I had the privilege to hear various members of Congress and leaders of women’s organizations speak in support of the ERA, now also called the Women’s Equality Amendment. Rep. Maloney said, “Laws can change, government regulations can be weakened, and judicial attitudes can shift. The only way for women to achieve permanent equality in the United States is to write it into the Constitution.”

Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI)

Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI)

I don’t believe the passage of the ERA would mean an end to discrimination against women – and nor do I think we should end all of our other efforts to pass laws that would address sex discrimination and only focus on passing the ERA – but I do think it’s passage could help change attitudes and would provide us with a stronger place in the law to turn to when women are discriminated against for being female.  I do have to wonder, though, with all of the other issues Congress is addressing, if Congress will make time to deal with this longstanding, important issue. I’m still glad, though, that I could learn more about the ERA today and show my and AAUW’s support – and I hope this time it will pass!

Holly Kearl

AAUW Representing

Left to Right: AAUW LAF Program Manager Holly Kearl, LAF Fellow Tom Rosen, Public Policy Fellows Stephanie Vertongen, Jared Swanson, and Meg Beyer.

The re-introduction (or rather, re-re-re-re-re-introduction) of the Equal Rights Amendment reminds me that AAUW and other like-minded organizations still have plenty of work left to do when it comes to achieving true equity for women in America. Though perhaps the re-introduction and hopeful passage of the ERA is more symbolic than pragmatic (after all, amendments aimed at enhancing civil rights certainly have not eradicated racial oppression in America), gender-based discrimination still permeates our society and the potential passage of the ERA could afford women the opportunity and rights to effectively question and dismantle this discrimination.

Maloney (D-NY) and Biggert (R-IL) remain hopeful that passage of the ERA “will make equal rights for women not just a goal to be desired but a constitutional right.” As enumerated by Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, the rights ensured by the ERA might help change a status quo in which worldwide women in America rank “76th in educational attainment, 36th in health and survival, 69th for political empowerment and 70th for wage equality for similar work.” Unlike in past attempts, perhaps this time the ERA will pass and we can use it to change this unfortunate, and unequal, reality.

Tom Rosen

AAUWguest By:   |   July 21, 2009

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