Consider Equal Rights Amendment this Women’s Equality Day

This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on August 17, 2015.

By proclamation of the president, Aug. 26 is Women’s Equality Day, the day we commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. This year marks 95 years since women were first written into the Constitution and 43 years since the second attempt was made in the form of an Equal Rights Amendment.

Women’s Equality Day was established by a resolution passed by Congress in 1971.

The full text is as follows:

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled to the full rights of privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex,

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and

WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated “Women’s Equality Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.

The nationwide demonstration referenced is the Women’s Strike for Equality that occurred on Aug. 26, 1970. It focused primarily on equal opportunity for women in the workforce. At the time, women were earning 59 cents to the male dollar.

Every president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama has since issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day. The proclamations are interesting reading. At first they focused primarily on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that was passed by Congress in 1972. Thirty-five states ratified the amendment, but 38 are required to make it part of the U.S. Constitution. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter expressed their full support of the ERA and urged ratification by the states.

Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama’s proclamations acknowledge and honor the perseverance of women in their fight for equal rights, discuss legislation that has improved conditions for women, and urge us to dedicate ourselves to the cause of equal rights for all. Yet none of these presidents after Jimmy Carter specifically mention the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women’s Equality Day was born out of a national movement recognizing that women should be guaranteed equal rights in the Constitution. It continues to be proclaimed by presidents across the political spectrum, with varying emphasis, but without a doubt endorsing the underlying sentiment of equal rights for women. Americans agree. Polling data indicates that 96 percent of Americans think women should have equal rights and 88 percent of Americans think we should have an ERA added to our constitution.

So why don’t we have one? Is there no political will on the part of politicians? Are we satisfied with the progress women have made since 1970 in closing the wage gap to 80 cents on the male dollar? Are there better tools in the equal rights tool box than legal ones?

Maybe all of these things play a role, but I think the underlying reason we don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that we, as citizens, haven’t demanded it. There hasn’t yet been enough talk, enough urgency, enough stories both of successes — such as Minnesota’s Equal Pay Legislation, and setbacks — such as the U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming it was OK for UPS to fire a pregnant woman rather than modify her job duties for the last months of her pregnancy. The issue of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution isn’t forefront in our public discourse. Until the legal discrimination happens to you or someone you know, it’s not discussed or acknowledged. And even then, it may be easy to suggest this one act of discrimination is just an isolated case.

I don’t know that an ERA would change these experiences without the accompanying changes in our collective expectations of how women should be treated in the workplace, but it does give foundation to protest that treatment and enforce equal rights.

If President Obama again issues a proclamation celebrating Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, take a minute to discuss what an Equal Rights Amendment might mean for you, or your daughter, or your grandmother. Another tool in the tool box to ensure equal pay, equal opportunity, and equal rights for all, per our Constitution.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Richard Nixon’s 1973 proclamation to that captures these sentiments:

“While we are making great strides to eliminate outright job discrimination because of sex in the federal government, we must recognize that people’s attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. There still exist elusive prejudices born of mores and customs that stand in the way of progress for women. We must do all that we can to overcome these barriers against what is fair and right.

“Because I firmly believe that women should not be denied equal protection of the laws of this nation and equal opportunity to participate fully in our national life, I reaffirm again my support for the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment can represent a giant step forward in achieving full equality for opportunity for all Americans as we approach the 200th birthday of our nation. I hope it will be speedily ratified.”

Me too.