How many centuries will it take to establish equal rights for women?
A hundred years ago, there was vigorous debate about the need for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to be added to the Constitution to protect the rights of women and codify gender equality. Many years prior to this discourse, the Declaration of Independence set the stage for “all men are created equal,” but only for some men and no women.
Since the founding of this nation, women have been fighting for equal protection under the law. “Justice for all” should not be dependent on the state one resides in. For the United States, the ERA will secure this indisputable foundation for everyone to stand on.
Starting in 1923, The ERA was introduced in every session of Congress until it was finally passed in 1972. An arbitrary seven-year deadline for ratification was amended to 1982, but only 35 states had ratified it by that deadline. Yet, by 2020, three more states ratified the ERA-reaching the 38 states needed for certification.
It would seem that since this milestone was achieved and society has evolved since the original deadline was set that there would be greater support for an amendment that would ensure equality for all its citizens. However, since its inception, there has been opposition across political parties and organizations. And at times, reversals in support as consternation increased over unfounded consequences for labor rights and societal roles. Now there are nearly 300 groups that champion the ERA as well as bipartisan support.
On Feb. 28, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on their resolution to remove the arbitrary deadline for ratification of the ERA and to recognize the 38 states that have ratified the amendment. This was the first Senate hearing on the ERA since 1984. Our world has changed significantly since the 1980s. Though there are more women in leadership positions and remarkable advancements in technology, science and medicine, as well as expanded access to information, significant disparities plague our society which we also see across the global landscape.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak on panels for the 2023 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which convened in early March, to explore the impact of digital innovation on our lives, especially for women and girls around the world. At the start of the meeting, the U.N. secretary-general stated that at this current rate, it would take 300 years to reach the sustainable development goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The initial goal was set for 2030.
Imagine the lives of our descendants 300 years from now. Will they still be talking about lack of access to health care and education, decision-making regarding their sexual and reproductive health, freedom from gender-based violence and opportunities to excel in their careers? And will these issues still be debated in communities that may be established on other planets and moons in our universe? Our actions today impact not only our lives now, but for generations to come. Fortunately, we have the knowledge and the wisdom to make enlightened decisions that are not riddled with fear and weakness. We know that, as the sustainable development goals state, “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
To generate more controversy and confusion, some people are focusing on semantics and whether we mean equality or equity, sex or gender, feminism or egalitarianism. Though each word is important, we must agree on the end result, which is we all want to live and work well and safely in any environment — on this planet and beyond. And for the record, I believe in equity to achieve equality and I’m a post-feminist egalitarian.
Saralyn Mark, MD, is the founder of SolaMed Solutions, LLC, host of the “Always Searching” podcast and founder of iGIANT (Impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies). She is the American Medical Women’s Association’s COVID-19 lead and a former senior medical and policy advisor to the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA.
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