It may come as a surprise to you, but March is known as Women's History month. Normally it is a month to commemorate, celebrate and contemplate the achievements of the female gender. These, however, are not normal times.
Just three months into the year, and we have witnessed attacks on women and our rights almost unsurpassed in my lifetime. I am 44 years old. I grew up knowing that contraception was available and not controversial. Abortion has always been controversial in my lifetime, and is something I have long fought to protect as a legal and safe procedure. I believe in having the choice to reproduce or not. I believe that women should be considered equal to men and should be protected as such by our Constitution. I want to see the ERA passed. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment?
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
"The Equal Rights Amendment
, first proposed in 1923 to affirm that women and men have equal rights under the law, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution. It has been ratified by 35 of the 38 states needed. Next Thursday my wonderful partner and I will be attending this press conference
. There are a lot of people out there that think this fight for the 28th amendment is over. It isn't. Additionally, a lot of people believe the ERA is no longer needed, that it is a time that has come and gone. There is a complacent belief that women have already achieved equality. Take a look why this is still important:
Aren’t there already enough legal prohibitions of sex discrimination – the Equal Pay Act, Title VII and Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Supreme Court decisions based on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, and more? Why are there still people saying, as Alice Paul did in 1923, "We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government"?
The need for the ERA can be expressed simply as a warning. Unless we put into the Constitution the bedrock principle that equality of rights cannot be denied or abridged on account of sex, the political and judicial victories women have achieved with their blood, sweat, and tears for the past two centuries are vulnerable to erosion or reversal at any time – now or in the future.
Congress has the power to make laws that replace existing laws – and to do so by a simple majority. Therefore, many of the current legal protections against sex discrimination can be removed by the margin of a single vote. While courts in the near term would still apply skeptical scrutiny to laws that differentiate on the basis of sex, that precedent could be undermined or eventually ignored by future conservative or reactionary courts. With a specific constitutional guarantee of equal rights through the Equal Rights Amendment, it would be much harder for legislators and courts to reverse our progress in eliminating sex discrimination.
Would anyone really want to turn back the clock on women’s advancement? Ask the members of Congress who have tried to cripple Title IX, which requires equal opportunity in education – who have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Pensions Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act – who voted to pay for Viagra for servicemen but oppose funding for family planning and contraception – who for decades have blocked U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Most laws that discriminated explicitly against women have been removed from the books – in many cases, as a result of the political power and expertise developed by women in the course of the ERA ratification campaign. The current legal and judicial systems, however, still often have an impact on women that works to their disadvantage, because those systems have traditionally used the male experience as the norm.
Therefore, lawmakers and judges must be encouraged to include equitable consideration of female experiences as they deal with issues of Social Security, taxes, wages, pensions, domestic relations, insurance, violence, and more. Without an Equal Rights Amendment providing motivation, the status quo will change much more slowly.
The events of the past few months from some conservative circles should be a reminder of why the ERA is just as important as it ever was. Women have been used as political fodder for everything from access to contraception to abortion, and now - domestic violence prevention is up for debate. You read that correctly, domestic violence is now too partisan for conservatives. From the New York Times
The fight over the law, which would expand financing for and broaden the reach of domestic violence programs, will be joined Thursday when Senate Democratic women plan to march to the Senate floor to demand quick action on its extension. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has suggested he will push for a vote by the end of March.
Democrats, confident they have the political upper hand with women, insist that Republican opposition falls into a larger picture of insensitivity toward women that has progressed from abortion fights to contraception to preventive health care coverage — and now to domestic violence.
We have presidential candidates in 2012 that want to end Planned Parenthood, reduce accessibility to pre-natal care, prevent sex education for our youth, and believe that rape victims should carry a child to term. We have conservative radio talk show personalities calling women sluts and prostitutes. We have been asked to produce sex tapes. We have been forced to endure trans-vaginal ultrasounds. They want to declare a zygote a person. Some states are saying that an employer should be allowed to ask a woman about her health history in order to get a medical prescription. It may seem like years ago, but women were attacked for coming forth with sexual harassment stories about Herman Cain
. "A few months ago, after Sharon Bialek charged that Herman Cain had sexually harassed her, Limbaugh pronounced her name “Buy-a-lick,” and called her thirteen-year-old son a Nazi “brownshirt,” for having encouraged her to come forth." Remember that? It's understandable if you don't -- the attacks are almost daily these days. A year ago, the NYT wrote this editorial
Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. (...) These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states.
They were right. It's gotten worse in just the first few months of this year alone...
None of the legislation proposed to curb women's rights are directed toward men. There are a few amendments and proposals out there to make points of this, but generally -- this is all about taking away rights from women. One could debate that men are side-effected, but this legislation and these statements are directed straight at women. We are being told to be quiet and be happy with what we are given. This should not be legal, not in the United states of America in the year 2012. If women were constitutionally considered equal to men, none of this legislation would be happening. Women are empowered, but until we get equal protection clarified -- we will still be dealing with the idea that we are not equal to our male counter parts. Electing women to public office is always important, (it's critical to be quite honest -- we are a majority in this nation, our elections should represent that, but I digress) but clearly, it is not enough. It's not enough when domestic violence victims are political fodder. It's not enough when men think they can probe into our bodies and health records. It's not enough when some people think they can shame us for our choices.
Until we have a clear cut judicial standard for equality in deciding cases of sex discrimination, being a woman is not enough. We deserve better than the treatment we are getting from the Republican party. We are actually witnessing a rollback of our rights in this nation. We should be "promoting laws and court decisions that fairly take into account women’s as well as men’s experiences"
. I think it is clear right now that is not happening. It's time for Americans to amend our Constitution to say that as a member of this planet earth, our nation has ZERO tolerance for any form of sex discrimination. Let me allow this wonderful woman
to say it far better than I ever could:
It is patently unfair that women bear the brunt of the punishment for sexual activity even though men are usually in bed with them but women, by dint of biology, bear the evidence of sex. We are able to be pregnant and the measures we take to avoid pregnancy leave a paper trail of doctors visits and prescription claims. Men can pay cash for condoms and cavort in societal anonymity. They live in the shadows of the sexuality wars and, as such, escape the condemnation of the forces that are coming after women now. Forces that have no respect for either medical or sexual privacy and autonomy.
It's one thing to say it is unfair -- it is entirely different to finally
declare it unconstitutional to treat more than half the population different because they were born with a vagina instead of a penis.
It's time to stop letting the regressive portion of our nation define how they think women should be. It's time to stop letting them
define what our
history should be. "We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government."
-- Alice Paul, 1923