In honor of the inauguration, Marie Claire's op-ed series Moving Forward asks influential and politically active women to examine the work that needs to—and can be—done by the incoming administration to reconcile an increasingly divided country.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that 2020 will be remembered in history books as a devastating year for our country and the world. Tragically, a second pandemic of lies, hatred, and inequality, has caused 2021 to get off to an even worse start. The seditious attack by a violent mob on January 6, intent on preventing the peaceful transfer of power, was a calculated strike against our most cherished democratic values. Those who encouraged and empowered that mob apparently believe that some votes count more than others. I believe that idea is not just in conflict with, but wholly antithetical to, everything that has made this country a beacon of hope. We must take this moment to positively affirm, in every corner of this nation, the central tenet and highest ideal of our nation's founding: equality.
Numerous studies have shown that women suffered more than men as the pandemic exploded across the United States. They faced more lost jobs, cuts in wages, double duty as schools went virtual, and higher prices on essential items. And Black women, Latinas, single moms, older women in congregate care, and women with disabilities were hit the hardest across all economic and health indicators.
The pandemic put a spotlight on the underlying problems we’ve yet to resolve, including systemic racism, healthcare that is both too expensive and inaccessible, a broken public health infrastructure, and rampant gender discrimination.
With everything we are facing, we must go beyond band-aid solutions and temporary fixes. Women and all marginalized genders need equality under the law. This can only be secured by adding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to our Constitution.
We have faced far too many injustices and setbacks without it.
As President of the ERA Coalition Carol Jenkins previously put it, women were "deliberately left out of consideration" when the Constitution was written and "have been paying the price in rights, protections, and recourse ever since." Women deserve the respect and legal guarantees that come with securing gender equality in our nation’s founding legal document.
The manifestation of women’s equality in the Constitution means that we can finally achieve justice for women in the workplace, in the courts, and beyond. We have long fought for equal pay for equal work—dating back to before the Equal Pay Act of 1963. But we cannot enforce permanent pay equity without women having equal rights built into the Constitution.
There is nothing more basic and essential to human dignity than protection from domestic violence and sexual assault. But our nation still lags in providing fundamental safeguards for women and girls, as demonstrated in the recent increase in intimate partner violence—a troubling “pandemic within a pandemic.” In fact, without the ERA, important parts of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In 1994, Congress included the right to sue one’s attacker in the Violence Against Women Act. But, when a woman named Christy Brzonkala tried to exercise that right, the Supreme Court dismissed her case and deemed the provision unconstitutional.
The benefits of the ERA also reach beyond women. Contrary to popular belief, the ERA will also help men; benefits that currently apply mainly to women would be extended to everyone, not taken away. In the workplace that would mean paid parental leave for all and the extension of some veteran benefits to men. And it would mean we can combat gender-based pricing—the “pink” and “blue” taxes—on goods and services, insurance rates, retirement plans, and more.
Ratifying the ERA will empower legislators, like me, on the federal, state, and local levels, to enact laws that protect our basic freedoms and rights.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said early on in her presidential campaign that the ERA would be her first order of business, using it as a key tool to pursuing economic justice: “When you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up the economic status of children and of families and of neighborhoods and of communities, and all of society benefits.”
Thankfully, most of the work on the ERA front has already been done. In addition to Vice President-elect Harris’s support, President-elect Biden also put the ERA front and center in his Agenda for Women. With this team in the White House, I’m hopeful that we can finally complete the work our foremothers began a century ago.
I have been a lead champion of the ERA in every Congress since I took my first Oath of Office in 1993, working to build momentum and support for this critical constitutional change. Now, thanks to the work of advocates across the country and activism like the women’s marches around the globe, which show the strength of the feminist movement, we finally have reached the 38 state threshold to make the ERA the 28th Amendment. The ERA was ratified by Nevada in 2017, followed by Illinois in 2018, and in January 2020—led by incredible Black women legislators in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate —Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration blocked the final step in the process and the ERA stays stalled.
Now, as we welcome the new Biden-Harris Administration, I hope we can finally turn a page as a nation and begin again our work to make this a more equitable union—a country that serves all its people and ensures equality, respect, and justice for all. As we work to tackle the problems laid bare by this unprecedented pandemic, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris can act swiftly to give Congress the tool we need, the Equal Rights Amendment, to protect women and all marginalized genders. By acting immediately to retract a Trump administration legal memo that is blocking the National Archivist from completing the amendment process, they will allow the Archivist to certify the final state ratifications and officially reprint the Constitution with the ERA as the 28th Amendment.
By cementing gender equality in the Constitution—our nation’s foundational legal document—the ERA will send a clear message that our new president and this country are committed to equality for all. We can make good on a promise 100 years in the making and use it to build the equitable future we all deserve.
Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney represents New York’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first woman to represent her Councilmanic District; the first woman to represent her Congressional District; and the first woman to Chair the Committee on Oversight and Reform.