Although this year marks the 50th anniversary of the United States Congress approving the Equal Rights Amendment, which would declare for women the same rights as men under the Constitution, the amendment is still not published into law.
The ERA would end legal distinctions between men and women in many matters, including divorce, property ownership and employment.
“We’ve been fighting this battle for a really long time,” Lori Bunton, co-president of the ERA-NC Alliance, said.
The ERA was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, an activist in the women’s rights movement. In 1972, the amendment passed through Congress with bipartisan support and moved to the states for ratification with a deadline of seven years.
Thirty-five states ratified the amendment, just three states away from the three-fourths requirement. The momentum came to a halt because of pushback from labor and insurance organizations, Bunton said.
It was opposed by some women who believed that they would lose some protections, including having separate bathrooms and not being drafted, if the ERA became law.
The amendment did not reach the requirement for ratification until 2020 when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify it. By this time, the seven-year deadline had long passed. This imposed a new barrier: getting Congress to remove the seven-year time limit.
The ERA is in the U.S. Senate after the House of Representatives voted to remove the time constraint, but has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote.
The ERA-NC Alliance is a nonpartisan, nonprofit cooperation of different organizations in the state that support women and the ERA.
Since its founding, Burton said the ERA-NC Alliance has worked to encourage North Carolina to ratify the amendment and is now putting pressure on senators to remove the time limit.
“When you think about something as fundamental and as broad as equality, why should there be a time limit?” Bunton said.
Women earn, on average, $8,600 less in median income than men in the state of North Carolina, according to a 2018 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Women of color are at even more of a disadvantage, earning an average of $13,179 less than men.
Bunton said that currently, women often start out making the same amount as their male colleagues, but are overlooked for promotions.
“We have a legacy of wage inequity in the state,” Bunton said.
Women AdvaNCe, a women's writing collective and one of ERA-NC Alliance’s partner organizations, has created a space where women can share their personal experiences with the gender wage gap and other inequality issues.
“This is important for us, even as a moment of course correction, at a time when it feels like there's a war against women,“ Antionette Kerr, Women AdvaNCe's co-director, said.
Kerr said that she has personally experienced workplace discrimination as a woman of color, and added that it’s important that people actively work to correct systems of oppression.
“We have to work twice as hard as Black women,” she said. “I feel like we see greater challenges because of being either invisibilized or, in some cases, demonized.”
Kerr said people have questioned the necessity of the ERA because there are other laws that protect against discrimination.
“It’s a fight that we don’t know we’re in,” State Co-Chairperson for the ERA in the League of Women Voters, Judy Lotas, said.
Lotas said that many people assume women are already equal and don’t realize that they are not included in the Constitution.
“Without a constitutional amendment, which is what the ERA would be, we can expect to see laws unravel when it comes to civil rights being eroded or pushed back,” Bunton said.
The ERA-NC Alliance and League of Women Voters are both working to urge citizens to put pressure on North Carolina's U.S. senators to pass the ERA through Congress to remove the deadline constraint.
“We really have a goal right now of seeing that North Carolina becomes a state where women have the same rights and same equality as men,” Bunton said.
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