Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality. Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:
- Abolition of slavery, 1865
- African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
- Women’s right to vote, 1920
- Civil Rights Act, 1964
- Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
- Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990
Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states. In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!
Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.
Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.
Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:
- Women represent just 20% of Congress, and are similarly under-represented at the state and local level. The Washington Post published interactive data to show results by state.
- Access to healthcare, childcare, and protection from abuse varies widely from state to state (and Alabama is consistently among the worst, ranking dead last in the overall score from this study.)
- Women comprise 40% of the workforce, but the US ranks among the last of developed nations in workplace policy that would benefit women who work (paid family leave, childcare, access to healthcare, flexible schedules).
- The gender pay gap has stagnated for more than a decade.
We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.
Happy Independence Day.