Even though many in the media lauded 2008 as the year of the woman in national politics, according to the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks 69th out of 128 countries in terms of female political empowerment, 70th in terms of wage equality for similar work, and 71st in Congressional representation. Armed with these numbers, and a renewed focus for final ratification, last week Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment for ratification.
The history of the ERA perplexes many women’s rights advocates. On March 22, 1972 the ERA passed the Senate and the House and was sent to the states for ratification. The Amendment originally contained a seven-year deadline for the states to ratify it before it would officially become part of the Constitution. Initial ratification efforts fell short, and this deadline was later extended to June 30, 1982. This deadline expired with 35 of the required 38 states ratifying the Amendment.
As it stands the ERA remains just three states shy of ratification. Rep. Maloney’s bill proposes no deadline on the ratification process. Working closely with Senator Edward Kennedy (D-NY), many see now as an opportune time to re-ignite the battle.
The statistics from the World Economic Forum, current civil rights jurisprudence, and a push for Equal Pay legislation all make it clear that despite making inroads into corporate and political leadership, women still face widespread, systemic, and pervasive inequality in treatment. As it stands right now, the prohibition on sex discrimination falls under a myriad of federal laws, none of which provides any comprehensive legal framework of protection. Even the presence of the 14th Amendment does little to protect from sex discrimination as it does race discrimination since the Supreme Court has refused to evaluate sex discrimination claims under a “strict scrutiny” analysis that the 14th Amendment requires for other classifications, such as race, religion, and national origin. The ERA would require that courts treat sex discrimination the same way they do race, religion, and national origin discrimination- nothing more, nothing less.
Currently 22 states provide for equal rights on the basis of sex in their state constitutions. Of those 22 states Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Utah, and Virginia have not ratified the federal ERA. Women’s rights advocates are advancing efforts for ratification in those states as part of their push for final ratification. If you live in one of the states that offer state protections but have failed to ratify the federal amendment, contact your lawmakers and insist they consider passage. If we truly want to empower families then we need to make sure that our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, and our wives have the opportunity to compete honestly. The Equal Rights Amendment creates that opportunity.
photo courtesy of dbking via Flickr