WASHINGTON - As students return to school this week,
many will open their history books to learn that 90 years ago today
women were given the right to vote when the 19th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution was signed into law. The history books will explain how
this event began to radically transform the role of women in our
society. Today, women have more opportunities than ever before. For the
first time, more women attend and graduate college than men, and women
now make up half the workforce.
In recent years we have witnessed Nancy
Pelosi become the first woman elected Speaker of the House of
Representatives; we've seen Hillary Clinton come closer to winning a
major party nomination for president of the United States than any woman
before her; and now, for the first time, we have three sitting female
U.S. Supreme Court justices. Despite these historic milestones, women
are still denied the one thing that would make us truly equal to men --
equal protection of the law, which all men receive thanks to the 14th
"When history books and the media celebrate women's
successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now
have constitutional equality," says NOW President Terry O'Neill. "The
fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and
statues prohibiting it have no constitutional foundation. It is time to
write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights
The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was drafted by
suffragist leader Alice Paul and introduced in Congress in 1923 to fix
the deficiency of the 14th Amendment by providing the constitutional
foundation that women have equal protection under the law. The ERA
passed Congress in 1972 but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of
the state legislatures. Every year since 1982, the ERA has been
reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. Opposition to it has
been consistent and vitriolic.
"For far too long this nation has
deprived women of a constitutional guarantee of equality," says O'Neill.
"But our progress has clouded this fact. We must educate women that
they do not have the same rights as men in this country. We must work
together to re-ignite a movement of advocates who refuse to accept
second-class status for women."
We can start by calling on our
representatives at the state and federal level to advance the ERA. Last
July, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.)
sponsored the reintroduction of the ERA, and more and more states are
considering ratifying it. Women can do their part by voting in 2010. We
must vote for candidates who believe that equality is a basic human
right -- candidates who believe in reproductive freedom, who support
equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people, who are
dedicated to eliminating racism and violence, who promote economic
justice, and who believe that women must be included in the U.S.
Constitution. Only then can we achieve equality for all.