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Women's Equality Yet to Be Fully Realized

As it stands now, the equal rights of women are subject to interpretation of law. That is a risk our mothers, sisters and daughters cannot afford.
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Today we acknowledge a monumental step on the historic and ongoing path toward women's equality. Ninety-one years ago the states ratified the 19th Amendment, securing women the right to vote, and we celebrate Women's Equality Day to commemorate this victory. This effort was a decades-long struggle that can be traced back to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Sadly, despite many significant triumphs for women over the years, there are poignant examples that prove America has still not fully realized the principle of equality between men and women, and so the struggle continues.

These are challenging times for all Americans, but there are several indicators that suggest that women have been disproportionately burdened by the recession. It is well-documented that women earn significantly less money than men in the workplace -- working women make about $0.78 for every $1 a man earns. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, last month men gained 136,000 jobs while women lost 19,000. We cannot afford to deny women critical benefits and services in the name of fiscal responsibility. These actions would be anything but responsible.

As the Congressional "supercommittee" formed as part of the debt limit deal composes its deficit reduction proposals, it is important that they carefully consider how potential spending cuts may harm vulnerable women and families.

Already in this Congress, the House has approved significant cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates will eliminate funding that helps feed 300,000 to 450,000 eligible low-income women and children next year. Entitlement programs for the elderly such as Social Security and Medicare may suffer spending cuts in this process, which would disproportionately affect women. Since women live longer and make less money during their lifetimes than men, they are more financially dependent upon these benefits. Women and men must be equally defended in the recovery because women are partners in our future success as a country. Although resolving our debt crisis is a priority, it is unfair to balance the budget on the backs of women.

With all of this in mind, I have introduced a resolution proposing an Equal Rights Amendment with the support of 169 bipartisan co-sponsors in Congress. The only way to ensure equality for women is to clearly declare it in our Constitution. In the past, we have come extraordinarily close to achieving ratification of this amendment. In 1972, 35 of the required 38 states voted to ratify the amendment after Congress passed the resolution.

We cannot ensure that women will be free of discrimination in the workplace and everywhere as long as women are not universally defended under our Constitution. As it stands now, the equal rights of women are subject to interpretation of law. That is a risk our mothers, sisters and daughters cannot afford. Women deserve the same permanent rights and explicit protections given men in the Constitution. As we mark this significant anniversary in the history of the women's rights movement -- especially in this time of economic insecurity -- let us affirm that our country values its principle that all men and women are created equal by enshrining that principle in our nation's Constitution.