ERA? Not Merely Symbolic

This may come as a surprise, but women in our country are not guaranteed equal rights under our Constitution. It's as simple as that. Just ask Supreme Court Justice,Antonin Scalia. He confirmed this fact by saying to the California Lawyer in 2011 that "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't." Granted, other laws of our land prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, but not the document that sets out the principles of who we are as a nation. In 2014, Illinois State Senator Heather Steans (D - Chicago) pushed for the approval of a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and Illinois became the 36th state to ratify the ERA. Now is the time to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Adding the ERA to our Constitution is not a mere symbolic gesture. Telling our sisters, daughters, mothers and friends that they too are equal under the Constitution prevents them from having to rely on piecemeal legislation across state and federal governments for their protection. And the times have changed since the push in the 1970s and 1980s to amend the Constitution to add the ERA. In 1970, nearly half of the women in this country worked in the home. As of 2012, over seventy percent of women are employed outside the home. These women are supporting themselves and their families, and importantly for us all, keeping the American dream alive for our nation.

According to the ERA Coalition, enacting the ERA "will set a norm for equal pay and provide a basis for litigation and legislation to extend the same pay entitlements to men and women." I've cited these glaring statistics so many times, but they are so relevant: women, on the whole, earn just 78 cents on the dollar to comparably employed males. And women of color fare far worse: for black women, it's 64 cents on the dollar, and for Latina women, it's 54 cents on the dollar compared with their white male counterparts. And these inequities persist by impacting women's retirement income when their social security benefits are calculated. We are only hurting ourselves and our future by continuing this practice of pay inequality.

Working to add the ERA to our Constitution will also help focus our country on eliminating the scourge of violence against women. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and not only in April, but in every month, we should be keenly aware of sexual violence as a public health and social justice issue. The recent Rolling Stone debacle notwithstanding, almost each and every one of us knows another woman who has been silenced or shamed from telling her story of victimization. Passing the ERA could require states to meet "[c]onstitutional sex equality standards in the enforcement of their laws against gender violence and expand the federal power to legislate against these crimes," according to the ERA Coalition.

Lean in and lean on your legislators. This is the 21st century and our country needs to join the other eighty percent of countries worldwide that enshrine gender equality in their constitutions. Sit in. Occupy. Whatever it takes to reignite the fight for equal rights for women. Don't let the ERA continue to languish in congressional committees. Let's get this to the States for ratification. Let's get this done together. ERA now.