By Cynthia Richie Terrell on July 08, 2016
By Maddie Kane
This summer marks a celebratory 97th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. The 19th amendment granted (many, but not all) women the right to vote. This was a milestone piece of legislation that not only legitimized women’s opinions but also functioned as a cause which united women together.
While suffrage was an enormous step forward, passage of the 19th amendment did not ensure equal rights between men and women. Plain and simple - women do not have the same rights as men constitutionally. Just because women can now vote under the Constitution, that does not ensure that their equality is protected under the constitution.
When surveying over 1,000 people and asking, “true or false: men and women are granted the same rights under the constitution?”, the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality found that more than 80% said true, when, in fact, the answer is false. They also found that when surveying those same people after telling them that the answer is false, the overwhelming majority - 94% - would support a new amendment to the Constitution that guarantees equal rights for men and women.
These shocking statistics show that people falsely believe women are protected but if they only knew the true nature of problem, they would vote for an equal rights amendment.
The equal rights amendment states 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.” It was first introduced in 1923 and was then passed by Congress in 1972. It was ratified by 35 states, however, to be put in the Constitution, an amendment needs 38 states approval. It was 3 states short of being constitutionally recognized. It has been reintroduced in Congress every session since then and has still not been accepted.
What does this say about our country? That something so unanimously supported cannot be put into the Constitution? Something that 94% of people agree upon being amendment. Why is Congress so resistant?
The primary need for this amendment is to close the wage gap for good. This amendment would ensure equal pay for women in the workplace, it is as simple as that. People want this, why has our democracy failed to give it to them? It feels as though Congress is saying that this is simply not a priority to them, that they don’t care. This amendment is sensible and supported, but yet they won’t vote. Why not, Congress? The wage gap is bad enough as it is, just the fact that women are paid less for the same work, but when you look at the way that it disproportionately affects women of color, the truth is frightful.
In a study done by AAUW, they found that Asian American women are paid 90% what a white man makes, white women 78%, African American women 63%, Native Hawaiian women 62%, American Indian and Alaskan natives 59%, and Hispanic or Latina women 54%. These numbers get progressively more alarming as you realize that percentage most shown is 78%, the white women’s number. This shows the dire need for an amendment to the constitution that will ensure that women of color are paid equally for their work, that they are given what they have earned.
So how can this amendment be put into the Constitution? For one, we need a Congress that cares about women’s issues. This means that we need a representative congress. Currently, only 19.4% of seats in Congress are held by women - this is not representative of our population which is 51% female. FairVote advocates for multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting, an electoral reform that would result in more women being elected as representatives. With more female representatives, the more the people who personally care about this issue of wage inequality and the higher the likelihood that the Equal Rights Amendment is discussed and passed by Congress.
At the end of the day what we have learned is that Americans want an equal rights amendment in the Constitution, they just don’t know that they need it. We need congressmen and congresswomen who care about issues that the American people support and we need to get those representatives into office through structural reforms like multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting.