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"I am equal and deserve equal protection."

"I am equal and deserve equal protection."

Eliza Scheffler us aparticipant in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's
Machon Kaplan summer program for college students. She is a student at Yale University and an intern at Hadassah.

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."

Well, duh. Right?

Well... not duh. Technically, the equal protection of all people, regardless of sex, is not written into the United States Constitution.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), authored by Alice Paul, was first introduced in Congress in 1923. After it was passed in 1972, it was sent to the states for ratification. Only 35 states ratified the ERA by the deadline, 3 short of the needed 38 to adopt an amendment. Since 1982, the ERA has been reintroduced in every session of Congress. Yesterday, it was reintroduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney.

In America, women have risen to the highest levels of leadership. They educate our children, they serve in presidential cabinets, and they die for our nation on the front lines. The contributions that women make to society are invaluable. So how does one possibly argue that women should not be protected from sex discrimination with the ERA?

Those who oppose the amendment say we don't need it. Women have come so far without it. So, as long as we can speak freely, I guess we may as well scrap the First Amendment? I think not.

Women have come a long way. But there is still a long way to go. According to the AFL-CIO, "In 2007, women in the United States were paid 77 cents for every dollar men received for comparable work."

I don't think that the ERA alone will change society. Achieving equality for women is going to take a lot more than an amendment. At a Jewish Women International breakfast for interns on Financial Literacy, I learned that women are much less likely to negotiate their salaries and benefits, often leading to a significant gap in the starting salaries of men and women in comparable entry level positions. If we really want to be treated equally, women will have to confront our own behaviors that contribute to the inequalities.

Though it isn't a panacea, the ERA helps in significant ways. It creates a higher legal and judicial standard for rulings on sex discrimination, raising it to the level of discrimination based on race. It demonstrates to other countries that the United States is committed to equal protection under the law, thereby strengthening our argument when we advocate for subjects of discrimination anywhere. Additionally, the ERA will change attitudes by making it clear that a person's sex is not a factor in determining his or her rights.

If ever faced with a situation of sex discrimination, I'd like to be able to say, "I am equal and deserve equal protection. It says so right there in the Constitution." But right now, that's just not the case.

Want to show your support for the Equal Rights Amendment? Click here to send a message to Obama, Biden, your U.S. Senator or U.S. House Representative.

Published: 7/22/2009

Categories: Social Justice, Uncategorized
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