Women have been fighting to be seen as equal to men in the eyes of the law since the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1800s. Because of women like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and other early feminists who fought relentlessly for the rights of women everywhere, great strides have been made towards ensuring equality for women.
However, there are still many issues facing women that prove they are not yet seen as equal to men. Discrimination against women exists today in the forms of pay inequity and underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and political offices, just to name a few.
On June 10, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame called attention to these issues and how they could potentially be remedied by hosting a lecture with guest speaker, Jessica Neuwirth.
Neuwirth, who is president and a co-founder of both the ERA Coalition and Equality Now, recently published a book titled Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment is Now. The release of this book prompted Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame Executive Director, Emily Fijol to organize the lecture.
“Having learned about the ERA, I was struck by how easily various women’s issues would be supported by an Equal Rights Amendment. I was really inspired by Jessica Neuwirth’s message that an ERA could be feasible now,” said Fijol. “As a woman and the mother of a young girl, I think the ERA is very important, and would help to affirm and protect the rights of women that many assume we already possess.”
At the lecture, Neuwirth spoke to the audience about how the ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the Constitution could improve the lives of women in the United States.
The ERA is not a new idea; in fact, it was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader and founder of the National Women’s Party. It was then introduced in every session of Congress until it was finally passed in 1972. Over the next 10 years, the ERA was ratified by 35 states, falling just three states short of the 38 required for it to become part of the Constitution.
Although many states ratified the ERA quickly, the opposition that it faced stalled decisions from the few remaining states. Neuwirth cited fear of gay marriage, unisex bathrooms and women in combat as reasons given to not to ratify the ERA.
“Enough time has passed since the last campaign for equal rights that many of these issues don’t even make sense anymore,” said Neuwirth. “This is not only the best time for an Equal Rights Amendment, it is the only time.”
Since 1982, the ERA has been reintroduced into every session of Congress, but has never been taken to a vote. Neuwirth speculated that the reason the ERA hasn’t passed in Congress is not because people are against it, but because they are misinformed about what rights are actually afforded to women in the Constitution. During the lecture, she stated that more than 70 percent of Americans thing that an ERA is already in the Constitution.
“The majority of people are actually shocked and angry when they find out that it’s not,” said Neuwirth.
Neuwirth also stated that most people believe that they are protected under the 14th Amendment, and although the amendment has helped some, most women have actually not been able to use the law to prevent discrimination.
Throughout the lecture, she spoke about issues still facing women that an Equal Rights Amendment could potentially eradicate. On average, women are still only paid 78 cents for every dollar a man makes; many women suffer lost wages or have their employment terminated when they become pregnant because appropriate accommodations aren’t made for them; and violence against women is still a major issue, even with the laws currently in place to protect women.
By including an ERA in the Constitution, Neuwirth said that we could begin to combat many of the issues that women regularly face, and she believes that politicians on both sides of the aisle can work together to make an ERA a reality.
“This is a human rights issue that transcends politics,” said Neuwirth. “I’m hopeful that this campaign will be short and sweet.”
Copies of Jessica Neuwirth’s book, Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment is Now, can be purchased at the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, located on Malcom X Street in Lansing. For more information about the Equal Rights Amendment and how you can get involved, visit eracoalition.org.