Last week it was 20 women in the Senate that changed things and this week 60 women in Saudi Arabia took to the streets (literally) and did the unthinkable – they drove a car. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi and previous attempts to end the ban have resulted in arrests and even jail. The 60 women protest hasn’t stopped the ban, but there does seem to be a slight shift in the conservative kingdom to at least consider ending the ban.
I heard a woman interviewed last week on NPR, who said it (ban on women driving) might have been valid 50 years ago, but it’s not needed now. I was wondering, what had changed in 50 years other than women being tired of not having the freedom their male counterparts have? They can’t ride a bike or walk unless escorted by a family male. They are not equal and they do not have freedom. It is freedom at the behest of the man in charge of the woman.
As a woman I find this reprehensible. I am so grateful I live in a country that allows women to be free and equal to men. Wait a minute, did I say equal? We are equal, right? Well, actually, we have a little why to go. The United States has yet to grant women equal rights in the constitution. We need to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
Alice Paul wrote the original draft of the Equal Rights Amendment and it was introduced in Congress in 1923. It took 50 years for both houses of Congress to pass it in 1972 and went on to be ratified by the states. For those of you how don’t remember your constitutional studies in high school, once an amendment is passed, 38 of the 50 states must ratify it before it can become law. Pushed by the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s, most of us thought the amendment would become law.
I was in high school when this all started and became a supporter and advocate for the ratification in my home state of Missouri. I lived in St Louis at the time and I started to hear about a woman from across the river in Alton, Illinois who was waging a campaign to stop the ERA. Phyllis Schlafly was the face of a conservative movement that said if the ERA was passed, the family would dissolve and society would be doomed. The Vietnam War was ending and many mothers had seen their sons drafted and sent to war. Mrs. Schlafly told mothers that their daughters would be drafted and sent to war if the ERA passed. She told fathers that the Boy Scouts would have to accept girls in the troops. There were lots of scare tactics used, but many of the women my mother’s age were fearful of the changes and before long the ERA was in trouble. It failed to get the 38 states needed to pass and kind of fell off the radar during the next 30 years.
- Without the ERA, the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee that the rights it protects are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex. The first — and still the only — right specifically affirmed as equal for women and men is the right to vote.
- The equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment was first applied to sex discrimination only in 1971, and it has never been interpreted to grant equal rights on the basis of sex in the uniform and inclusive way that the ERA would.
- The ERA would provide a clearer judicial standard for deciding cases of sex discrimination, since federal and state courts (some working with state ERAs, some without) still reflect confusion and inconsistency in dealing with such claims. It would also clarify sex discrimination jurisprudence and 40 years of precedent for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who claimed in an interview reported in the January 2011 California Lawyer that the Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, does not protect against sex discrimination.
- The ERA would provide a strong legal defense against a rollback of the significant advances in women’s rights made in the past 50 years. Without it, Congress can weaken or replace existing laws on women’s rights, and judicial precedents on issues of gender equality can be eroded or ignored by reactionary courts responding to a conservative political agenda.
- Without the ERA, women regularly and men occasionally have to fight long, expensive, and difficult legal battles in an effort to prove that their rights are equal to those of the other sex.
- The ERA would improve the United States’ human rights standing in the world community. The governing documents of many other countries affirm legal gender equality, however imperfect the global implementation of that ideal may be.
I applaud the women in Saudi Arabia as they fight for their freedom and equality in that conservative kingdom. I support their efforts and I hope they are successful. I now ask for the women in the US to demand our equality in the Constitution. I don’t believe the states would ever pass laws that would prevent us from driving, but I’ve seen states try to limit our access and options to healthcare or our ability to adequately address wage discrimination on the basis of sex. We need equal protection under the law. We needed it 50 years ago and we need it today. Join us at #equalrightsamendment or comment below and let us know your thoughts.
[credit name=”RIYADH ” nurl=”http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/26/us-saudi-women-idUSBRE99P03520131026″ via=”BBC” vurl=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24658753″ license=”cc”]