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Speaking of Scandals, Women Still Aren’t in the U.S. Constitution

January 23, 2018

Written by ERA League Action Team Co-Lead Judy Lotas. Originally published in the Outer Banks Beacon.

 

One hundred years ago, suffragettes held vigil at the White House, demonstrating for equality and the right to vote. A century later, women still do not have legal equality in the United States.

To commemorate those brave women’s actions, Equal Means Equal organized the Silent Sentinel. It began on November 13 and continues until January 21, 2018.

Women and men take shifts every Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They stand outside the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue engaging passers-by in conversations about the Equal Rights Amendment and our country’s lack of gender equity. American citizens are mostly surprised, assuming we’d won that battle years ago. Tourists from foreign countries are appalled.

When the Constitution was written, women were treated much as property. Daughters were managed by their fathers until marriage; then they were consigned to husbands for supervision.

Bizarre as it sounds, and notwithstanding the 14th Amendment, women still don’t have legal status equal to that of men’s. They have fought for a century for this simple guarantee:

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

While the ERA has not yet passed, we are closer than at any time in American history to making it the 28th amendment to our Constitution.

Why do we need the Equal Rights Amendment? 

The battles women fight every day—for equal access to education, pay, and health care—would become obsolete if women’s rights were protected by the Constitution. Women earn only a fraction of what men are paid, even though 50% of the American workforce is female. Under ERA, equal pay for equal work or work of equal value becomes law.

Ratification of the ERA would, for the first time in U.S. history, help guarantee women and men equal legal protection. Norms for equal pay could be set and provide a basis for litigation and legislation that extend the same pay entitlements to women and men.

Ratification would also—

•  Help assure that victims of sexual and violent crimes occurring in marriage can secure meaningful legal protection

•  Fight pregnancy discrimination in the workforce

•  Provide consistency of protection, state to state.

Today, the Equal Rights Amendment is just two states shy of obtaining the 38 needed for passage. North Carolina should be one of them.

What is North Carolina doing about ratification?

Between 1972 and 1982, the NC General Assembly deliberated ratification six times, each unsuccessfully. Then, in March 2015, two organizations, RATIFY ERA-NC and NC4ERA, joined forces to have the ERA reintroduced in the General Assembly. Although the amendment wasn’t ratified, the ERA-NC Alliance was formed. This consortium of organizations and individuals is determined to see the ERA become law.

The ERA-NC Alliance and the League of Women Voters of NC have been gathering steam, as has the rest of the country. The 2017 Women’s March was powerful, dramatic evidence that women have had enough. The riveting documentary, Equal Means Equal, has helped fuel every woman’s and many men’s fire. And the sad, noxious string of sexual assaults in the workplace has made us sick, but stronger.

What can you do?

Year 2018 has been dubbed “the storm before the calm.” Midterm elections will galvanize voters on many fronts, including the fight for the ERA.

ERA bills will be proposed in the NC General Assembly House early in 2019. The goal for 2018 is to get all 100 NC counties to follow Dare County’s example and persuade our state government to ratify the amendment. Ask every candidate you meet where he or she stands on this purely nonpartisan issue. Equality of rights under the law is a value we can all agree on, regardless of our political persuasions.

 

Judy Lotas is an activist, writer, and founding partner of LPNY Ltd., the largest ad agency in the world owned and run by four women. She has been named by Advertising Age as one of the “100 Best and Brightest Women in Advertising/Marketing.” After 9/11, she was involved with the Afghan American Peace Corps and traveled twice to Afghanistan. A resident of Duck, Lotas currently serves on the Board of Dare County League of Women Voters, co-chairing the statewide ERA effort in North Carolina.