By Peg Ludtke, SCVANOW Secretary
In 1923, just three years after women got the right to vote, Alice Paul proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Ninety-five years ago, the famous suffragette knew that getting the right to vote was not nearly enough to give women equal footing or respect or wages equitable to men. What is disheartening, however, is that we are still trying to ratify this amendment.
The good news is that if we make enough noise, call, write, rally, march like we have been doing since the Women’s March in 2017, maybe NOW we can finally make good on what Alice Paul proposed and went to prison defending.
At our SCVANOW meeting December 9, 2018, I was enlightened as to why this is so important and why it’s time to act on this now. Heather Allison, president, and Kathleen Murphy, founder of ERA Minnesota , explained why we need to get involved in ratifying this federal amendment and also get similar equal rights language into the Minnesota Constitution.
I admit that when the Women’s Movement was going on in the ’70s, I was in high school and not paying much attention. I am probably not alone in assuming that Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and other feisty “women’s libbers” finally passed the ERA in Congress 50 years ago after Alice Paul proposed it. Not true! Yes, Congress passed the amendment, but 38 states needed to sign on in order to ratify it and make it part of the Constitution. It stalled out in 1979 with 35 states, including MN, having approved it by its ratification deadline. So close, but yet so far.
Whenever it comes to health care or opportunities for leadership, or equity of any kind for women, the roadblocks are numerous and the way forward to respect and fairness is strewn with setbacks.
During the Reagan administration, scare tactics such anti-abortion sentiments, rumors that women would be forced to go into the military, and heavy lobbying by the insurance companies that feared they’d have to pay out more childbirth-related expenses, pushed back against the ERA. Shy of three states’ approval, the ERA missed its ratification deadline.
So NOW what Alice? There is hope in the current surge of women’s activism that maybe now we can get this done. Even though Minnesota ratified the federal ERA Amendment in 1972, the same language has never been included in our state constitution.
There is hope for both, and time is of the essence.
With a record number of women in government, and now a majority supporting a bill to include ERA language in our state constitution, we have the momentum to finally get both Minnesota Constitution and the US Constitution amended to make it unlawful to discriminate due to gender.
This is just as important now as when Alice Paul proposed it.
Women have made strides but still, make up only 25 percent of all elected government officials. In all major professions, academia, business, and other fields, leadership roles held by women still are only at 18%. Gender violence remains endemic. With no amendment that clearly makes it unlawful, threats on reproductive rights are still very real now that there is a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Of course, there is that wage inequity too.
Besides, ERA benefits men too, an argument that doesn’t seem to get much play. With the ERA in place, men benefit by having the same parental rights as women. They gain more options for paternity leave and gain in the choice of careers conventionally held by females. The LGBTQ community is also protected under the ERA. As Heather Allison stated, the law is the first step to increase the level of respect for all, regardless of gender. From there, hopefully, the culture can shift, become more equitable; we can evolve into a society where women’s rights are truly human rights.
The new session in Congress starts Jan 8. Call and write your representatives and make sure they put an ERA bill as a top priority for Minnesota. Two more states have since ratified the federal ERA Amendment. That means we only need one more! With 38 states signed on, we can request that Congress establish a new deadline and finally add the ERA Amendment to our Constitution.
Write and call your Congressperson as well. We’re in motion, engaged, awake and aware. It’s time to do Alice, all the suffragettes, our fighting sisters from the past and present –proud! ERA NOW!
*For more ways to get involved, see ERA Minnesota’s website: (ERA Minnesota)