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Student Voices: Time to ratify the ERA

“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.”

 

These are the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most famous U.S. Supreme Court justices. She, along with women all over the United States, supports the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) so that gender equality becomes a constitutional reality.

Currently, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee that the rights of men and women are equal – to defend the rights of women across America, it is crucial that the Equal Rights Amendment is ratified.

According to Roberta W. Francis, co-chairwoman of the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the ERA campaign began with Alice Paul, head of the National Women’s Party, in 1923. After nearly 50 years, the ERA was sent to the states for ratification on March 22, 1972, with a seven-year deadline. Due to significant opposition, the ERA was ratified by only 35 states, three short of the 38 needed. However, because of a renewed interest in women’s rights, Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Today, the ERA is more relevant than ever. With the ERA, all citizens would have equal legal standing in all 50 states, protecting women from gender discrimination in areas such as public education and domestic violence. Furthermore, as part of the Constitution, the ERA would offer a strong legal defense against the reversal of policies that advance women’s rights, such as the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, regardless of shifting political climates. Also, some states have versions of the amendment but others do not – this leads to inconsistency in the courts and creates an unclear legal precedent. As a constitutional amendment, the ERA would offer a much stronger legal defense for victims of gender discrimination and clearly establish a legal standard for the courts.

However, some concerns have been raised about the ERA. For example, some believe the ERA would force women into the draft; however, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise armies without specifying gender or age limitations. According to the ERA Education Project, because the Department of Defense opened all combat positions to women in 2015, a male-only draft system would likely be declared a form of gender discrimination today, with or without the ERA.

According to Forbes Magazine, 94 percent of Americans support incorporating gender equality in the Constitution, but they are unaware of the ERA. In fact, 80 percent of Americans do not know that the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee women the same rights as men. According to the National Constitution Center, in 1992, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution was passed and accepted after a 203-year ratification period, without the process restarting. This precedent implies that if one more state ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment, Congress could declare ratification accomplished.

Many dedicated organizations and citizens are campaigning for the ERA’s passage and ratification. Those who wish to support gender equality should contact their congressional representatives and assist advocacy groups. In a letter to Congress, actress and activist Meryl Streep put it best: “I am writing to ask you to stand up for equality – for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife, or yourself – by actively supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Maya Chandra is a sophomore at St. Francis High School.

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