By Roberta Madden
This article was published in the Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times on April 28, 2011.
• Politically, women have advanced since 1921, when North Carolina elected the first woman to a state legislature anywhere in the South. Today, 22 percent of North Carolina state legislators are women—still far short of the female percentage of our population.
• On average, women in the U.S. make 77 cents for every dollar men do—an increase of only 18 percent since 1963.
• State budget crises threaten to result in layoffs that affect women disproportionately, in fields such as teaching and nonprofit organizations.
• A great deal more remains to be done to make women truly equal.
Then on April Fool’s Day, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online (AC-T, April 1) asserted that the feminist movement in America “is largely played out” and “the work here is mostly done,” so that we now need to fight the battle for women’s equality in foreign lands. Despite Mr. Goldberg’s blithe assurances, as long as gross inequities exist, our work at home is far from done.
Neither essay mentioned the most serious problem facing American women: the lack of constitutional protection for equal rights under the law.
Numerous laws and practices throughout the nation still discriminate on the basis of gender. The U.S. insisted that Iraq and Afghanistan include equal rights for women in their constitutions, but our own Constitution contains only one protection for women: the right to vote.
All other protections, even if passed in Congress and state legislatures, can be withdrawn by one vote or by a Supreme Court ruling. Recently, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opined that the due process clause does not apply to women.
The Equal Rights Amendment will provide a guarantee of protection for both women and men against unequal laws and unequal enforcement.
Many people thought the ERA was a dead issue in 1982 when the deadline imposed by Congress passed and only 35 of the needed 38 state legislatures had ratified it. But lo and behold! Another constitutional amendment (dealing with congressional pay raises) became the 27th Amendment, 203 years after it had been proposed.
Given this precedent, many legal scholars believe that the deadline is a false issue and that only three more states are needed. Recently, Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin introduced HJR 47, which clarifies that after three more states ratify the ERA, it automatically becomes part of the Constitution. Our members of Congress need to get behind this measure.
North Carolina has not yet ratified the amendment, but now there is a new citizens’ organization: Equal Rights Amendment North Carolina Citizens Task Force.
For information please check the website: www.era-nc.org.
Roberta Madden is one of the organizers of Equal Rights Amendment North Carolina Citizens Task Force. She lives in Black Mountain.