Last week Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that would equally protect the constitutional rights of citizens regardless of their sex. The approval— more than 30 years past the deadline— could help the ERA be implemented into the U.S. Constitution, a landmark win for the women’s rights movement.
At the height of the movement, Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and presented it to the states in a seven-year deadline that would ultimately fail to secure the necessary 38 state approval for it to be added to the Constitution. An extension was granted in 1982, but the ERA fell three states short after opposition led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, argued that the ERA would lead to an America where men wouldn’t be required to support their wives, unisex bathrooms, a women’s draft, and the legalizing of same-sex marriage. The amendment would shortly lose some traction, setting back the movement. However, the ERA didn’t peter out completely, as women’s rights groups continued to stoke the fire by working to keep the amendment alive through a “three-state strategy” to ensure it’s validity if and when it had the necessary state backing.
Nevada would ratify in 2017, followed by Illinois. Meaning they are one state short of the possibly amending the Constitution. Thirteen of mostly southern states, including Arkansas, Florida, and Georgia could make all the difference.
A common misperception, according to the ERA Coalition, is that the Constitution already guarantees that both men and women have equal-rights protections. However, the protections given to women are at a state level with each state implementing their own version of the ERA into their constitutions. Advocates argue that passing the ERA is more than a symbol of a feminist awakening, but would help secure the rights of women, particularly in reproductive rights debates and workplace security.
While it’s hard to say what triggered these states to take action in the last year, you cannot deny the impact the recent wave of women activism through the Women’s March and #MeToo Movement has had in our country. Thousands of women and allies marched in protest in Washington the day following the inauguration of President Trump. Survivors of sexual misconduct have spoken out against their abusers, most of whom are powerful men like producer Harvey Weinstein, and are toppling down a system that has long condoned sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination against women.
“The #MeToo movement was such a powerful phenomenon because for far too long women have not felt heard,” actress and political activist Alyssa Milano said. “It’s hard to empower women when they are not recognized as part of our constitution. It’s simple, we need the ERA to protect women’s rights.”
Women are tired of fighting for their jobs, their right to be viewed as a human, and their right to live. By ratifying the Constitution to include the Equal Rights Amendment, we not only lift the burden from women’s backs right now but also secures a safe and equal future for our girls.
“If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the 2014 National Press Club. “I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered. So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that it’s a basic principle of our society.”