April 24, 2020

GUEST ROOM | We Still Need an Equal Rights Amendment

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In 2018, as a Cornell freshman, I wrote an op-ed detailing why we need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to codify gender equality into the United States Constitution. Two years ago, peers saw my article and asked, “the ERA? Like from the 70s? Do you seriously think that can still pass?”

Now, as I am approaching my fourth and final year at Cornell, I believe more than ever that the ERA can be ratified as the 28th constitutional amendment.

Since 2018, the two additional states necessary to achieve the 38 state ratification threshold for adding a new amendment into the United States Constitution have ratified the ERA. Illinois, the home state of well-known ERA antagonist Phyllis Schlafly, ratified the ERA in 2018, followed by Virginia as the crucial 38th state in 2020. Yet, the ERA is on hold at the federal level. While the House of Representatives passed a resolution to eliminate the ratification deadline on the ERA, the Senate has yet to pass a similar resolution.

We need an amendment like the ERA to codify our legal and cultural belief that women and gender minorities are equal. The global pandemic has only further exacerbated gender inequality and exhibits why we as a country must explicitly declare that women and gender minorities deserve equality through passage of the ERA. Only once we pass the ERA and include it in our governing documents will cultural change follow suit.

According to economists writing for CEPR’s policy portal, women are more likely to suffer unemployment due to COVID-19. Especially because men make up such large portions of certain employment fields that qualify as “essential” or telecommutable, men are much less likely to lose their jobs than are women. Thus far, over 60 percent of workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic are women. In addition, due to additional childcare responsibilities caused by the closure of schools, women are responsible for increased childcare duties. According to data from the United States Census, 70 percent of single parents are women. Women, largely women of color and immigrant workers, also do much of the work that is not being recognized for unemployment benefits — such as unpaid domestic and care work. We are also seeing a horrifying surge in domestic violence, as many victims of abuse are being confined in quarantine with their abusers. As court proceedings are being delayed due to the crisis and police are overwhelmed, there is seemingly little escape from domestic abuse.

The problems women face are only magnified for people of gender minorities; many fear mistreatment by medical staff and are ostracized from their original families. Glenn v Brumby determined that trans+ people would likely be protected under the ERA because the wording prohibits “discrimination on the basis of sex.”

While the legal implications of ratifying the ERA are crucial, the cultural change it would bring cannot be ignored. Nationally and globally, our definition of gender is expanding to include many more than just two genders. It is worth noting that no gender other than men (and intended as cis-gender men) are referenced in the highest governing document of our country. This sets a precedent for how we as a people value women and gender minorities in the U.S.

And for those who do not want to go back and read my original article, just remember that statutes of the Violence Against Women Act were struck down due to a lack of protection granted by the U.S. Constitution under the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. We must recognize that no policies striving towards equality are guaranteed to be upheld at the highest level of governance until we have an ERA. We need an ERA, and we need it now.

If I have convinced you that the ERA is worth learning about, or better yet worth fighting for, join me this Monday, April 27, in participating in the ERA Coalition’s Campus Day for the ERA. The live-streamed event will feature a panel discussion moderated by Carol Jenkins with panelists including Nevada State Legislator Pat Spearman, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and more. It will be live-streamed to Facebook @ERACoalition. 


Liel Sterling a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.