Protect the rights of women


The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, a women’s rights advocate, suffragist and New Jersey native. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced the latest ratification bill (S.J.Res. 21-H.J. Res. 69) on June 22, 2011 — almost 90 years later. The main text of the ERA states, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

As someone born after many women’s rights fights were fought and won — access to contraceptives, access to safe and legal abortion, expansion of women’s rights in the workplace and at home — it can feel like there is not much left to fight for. However, as the current political debate about birth control, abortion and women’s bodies rages on in the presidential primary season, it is clear that there are still women’s rights to fight for. This includes fighting for the ratification of the ERA.

The bill has been introduced in Congress every year from 1923 until 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states to be ratified. For the bill to become law, 38 states had to individually ratify the ERA by the 1982 deadline — 35 states passed it by the deadline. But when the deadline expired without the remaining three states ratifying, the whole ratification process had to begin again.

However the ERA is the only proposed Constitutional amendment ever to have a timeline attached. Some very astute feminist scholars realized that and pointed out that the Madison Amendment, granting Congress the right to raise their own salaries, took more than 100 years to be ratified.  

The ERA has been reintroduced into each Congress since then. Meanwhile, the legislative focus is on trying to get the ERA ratified by at least three more of the remaining 15 needed states. This effort is called the Madison strategy or three-state strategy.

Paul saw this bill as a supplement to the recently passed 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920. As she said, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.” This statement was true in 1920 and is still true today. Data from the 2000 census shows that women earn about 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for similar work. The data is slightly better for women in New Jersey, making 79 cents to the dollar. Because of this and other inequalities women face, the National Organization for Women supports ratifying the ERA.

The NOW-Middlesex County Chapter encourages citizens of New Jersey to contact their congressional representatives to support the legislation to reopen the ratification process.

Sarah Kelly is a Douglass College Class of 2004 alumna. She is the campus liaison for the Middlesex County chapter of the National Organization for Women.

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