As we mark Women’s History Month, we should ask ourselves: What are we doing today to make a better future?
Each and every one of us has the power to change the world. And I know how we are going to do it: We are going to finally win the nearly 100-year fight to put women’s equality in the U.S. Constitution.
This month prompts other questions, too. Who is the Shirley Chisholm of today? Or Rosa Parks? Or Bella Abzug?
The answer is simple: We are. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the Women’s Marches and the victory of 131 women elected last November to Congress all point to one indisputable fact—that the women of this great nation are demanding to not only be heard, but to be listened to. We are demanding a seat at the table, and we are ready to make equality a reality.
It takes 38 states to ratify a Constitutional amendment—and 37 states have voted to ratify the ERA since it passed Congress in 1972. Nevada and Illinois did so in just the last two years.
Now is the time to make this happen. The energy, engagement and enthusiasm for women’s rights is higher than it has been in a generation. There are women, and like-minded men, pounding the pavement every day, believing in their ability to lift up all women in this country. We need to support them. We need to seize this moment, unite and rally in states where advocates are working tirelessly to finally ratify the ERA.
We cannot allow our most fundamental rights to be subject to the passing political whims of the party in power—to whoever is in the White House or in charge of our state capitols. We may not be able to control who is nominated to the Supreme Court, but if we have the political will, we can change the document the justices are entrusted with interpreting by passing and ratifying the ERA.
History has shown that without an ERA, women’s lack of constitutional equality can be devastating. Without an appropriate standard with which to define discrimination on the basis of sex, we cannot possibly be successful in combatting it.
Christy Brzonkala’s case is one shocking example. Brzonkala was raped as a freshman at Virginia Tech, and one of her attackers confessed. Yet when she tried to bring a civil suit against him under the Violence Against Women Act in 2000, her case was thrown out in the Supreme Court on a technicality—because the ruling Justices said that Congress didn’t have the authority to give victims the right to sue their rapist.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that women could not join together in a class action lawsuit against Walmart for its clear pattern of underpaying and under promoting women in its 3,400 stores across the country—because the company did not have an express policy of discrimination.
And just last year, a federal district court ruled that Congress does not have the power to ban female genital mutilation.
The Equal Rights Amendment will give women the legal backing they need to enforce anti-sexual harassment and violence laws, fight for equal pay for equal work, and demand equality in all areas of our lives.
In both the House and Senate, lawmakers are advancing multiple paths towards an ERA. I introduced H.J. Res. 35 with Republican Representative Tom Reed (NY-23) to restart the ratification process and add the word “women” to the Constitution. Representative Jackie Speier (CA-14) and Senators Ben Cardin (MD-D) and Lisa Murkowski (AK-R) introduced two bills—H.J. Res 38 and S.J. Res. 6, respectively—that will eliminate the 1982 ratification deadline.
We’re trying to take every avenue possible to get us the legal equality we have needed since the founding days of our country. And we’re doing all of this because when all our daughters, and their daughters, celebrate Women’s History Month—in 20, 30, even 50 years—we want them to look back on 2019 as the year when equal finally meant equal.