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Women can vote, but still lack equality

Almost 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote went to the states for ratification after passage by both houses of Congress.

On Aug. 26, 1920, six days after Tennessee became the 36th and final state to ratify the 19th Amendment with 46 nays and 50 ayes, the U.S. Secretary of State signed a proclamation giving women across the country the right to vote.

Whistles and bells sounded around the country celebrating the long, hard-fought victory for the suffragettes who had spent time in prison, and been heckled, spat upon, and knocked down by police. Oregon was one of the 36 states supporting women’s suffrage.

Almost 100 years after that historic event, women have the vote but still lack equality. The wage gap remains stagnant. Even Oregon, which has a strong equal pay law, ranks 20th in women’s pay, with white women receiving 82 cents for each dollar a man earns in an equivalent position. The economic discrimination is considerably worse for African American and Hispanic women. To honor the suffragettes who were jailed and assaulted 100 years ago for our rights, it is time to finish the battle for equality by passing the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and then reintroduced every year until it was passed in 1972. A constitutional amendment requires three-fourths of the states to ratify it after congressional approval before it becomes law. By the ratification deadline in 1982, 35 states including Oregon had voted to support the ERA — three states short of the requirement for ratification. To ratify the ERA now, there are two approaches to moving forward. After failure of the ratification in 1982, subsequent sessions of Congress have proposed legislative solutions to include women’s rights in the Constitution. Members of congress have supported a bipartisan resolution calling for an amendment to the Constitution declaring that women have equal rights. This is referred to as the “start over amendment.”

A second strategy is a bipartisan resolution eliminating the previous deadline. If passed, the existing 35 state ratifications would still be in effect and only three additional states would be required for ratification.

There are three sections to the ERA. Section 1 states that equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Section 2 provides Congress with the power to enforce the amendment, and section 3 enacts the amendment two years after ratification.

Most Americans mistakenly think men and women have equal rights under the Constitution but the 14th Amendment states that men are guaranteed equality under the law and is notably silent about women’s rights.

Advancement of women’s equality is slow and uneven across the country and even the best laws can be changed or revoked by legislators and judges. The ERA would provide the guarantee under the Constitution that all people are equal and these rights can not be altered. The ERA would finally identify sex discrimination in employment, reproductive rights, insurance, social security and education as a violation of Americans’ rights. The ERA would place the burden of proof on those who discriminate rather than those fighting for equality.

Women are still disproportionately poorer, experience widespread gender-based violence, experience sex-based pay discrimination in most fields, and are subjected to bias in hiring and promotion. The ERA will not be a panacea but will provide a legal aid in righting wrongs. As we move toward the celebration of the 100th anniversary in August 2020 of women’s suffrage, nothing would better honor those who went before us than a constitutional amendment providing meaningful equality to all regardless of gender.

Gretchen King is a member of the Public Policy Team of Ashland AAUW.