Are We Fired Up Yet?

Contrary to what you might believe, the U.S. Constitution does not provide equal protection to women, except for the right to vote. The 19th Constitutional Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920. Almost one hundred years later, the flawed legislative and judicial process toward equality persists.

There are constant reminders of the struggles for women - pay inequity, pregnancy discrimination, and violence against women. Most of us experience it, read about it, and talk about it. There is only one big step that could have a significant effect on all these issues - the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. If you have any doubt that we really need the ERA, here's why...

Pay Inequity: Women make on average 78 cents for every dollar a man makes and much less for women of color. Over the course of their careers, women can expect to earn anywhere from $700,000 to $2 million less than their male counterparts. The Equal Pay Act allows employers to justify paying a woman less than a man doing the exact same job because she was paid less in her last job than he was in his. The inequity must be addressed by constitutional protection against discrimination on the basis of gender.

Pregnancy Discrimination: Women still face pregnancy discrimination. The Supreme Court recently heard a case involving a woman named Peggy Young who was forced out of her job after her company refused to reassign her to a job lifting lighter packages to accommodate her pregnancy. At the same company, a man who lost his license for drunk driving was given a temporary reassignment which didn't require driving. The reason that they could get away with this - in 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that pregnancy discrimination did not constitute sex discrimination.

In 1978, in an effort to correct this, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to affirm that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. However, a recent Supreme Court decision suggests that men may have the right to temporary reassignment if other categories of workers, such as convicted drunk drivers also have that same right. The court has basically said that women have no right to "preferential treatment." The underlying presumption is that the worker is someone who does not become pregnant. By creating a right to equality that recognizes that the workplace cannot be structured solely around the biology of men, the ERA could help change that presumption. With the passage of the ERA, the failure to recognize pregnancy might be viewed as discrimination against women as it automatically puts them at a disadvantage - an important recognition of their basic biology and the need for their accommodation in the workplace. This is essential to secure women's place in the workplace.

Violence Against Women: Women and girls are victims of gender-based violence. Since the 9/11 attacks, more women have been murdered by their partners or husbands than all Americans killed that day, as well as in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Yet, violence against women is treated with more leniency than other violent crimes.

In 1994, Congress passed The Violence Against Women Act, which, among other things, provided a right of action for victims in federal court in cases when state law enforcement failed to prosecute. Christy Brzonkala, a campus rape victim, tried to use this act when suing her on-campus rapists and Virginia Tech for its handling of her complaint. Yet, the Supreme Court struck down the provision she relied upon, finding that there was no constitutional basis for it. Although she had a factual basis, her case was thrown out because she did not have a constitutional basis. An ERA can make a difference in providing justice for victims of gender-based violence.

Standing Up for Our Principles; The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is needed because it provides legal protection, and is a statement of principle. Once recognized by the Constitution, women can become equal citizens under the law. The United States is a leader on the world stage for women's rights. Ninety percent of Americans support women's equality. It's time to get public opinion, our constitution and our principles as a people in alignment.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, "I would like in my lifetime to see women get fired up about the Equal Rights Amendment." Are we fired up yet?