The Old ERA: Equal Rights Amendment

1971 Betty March

Since casting their first ballots in the presidential elections of 1920, American women have fought against discrimination and inequality to hold seats in congress, fight in the military, and become Fortune 500 CEOs. Now, in the 21st century, controversy prevails over how long a female CEO’s maternity leave should be or if a woman even has the right to make decisions for her own body.

Underneath all these issues is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

While a majority of Americans believe that women have equal rights, the truth of the matter is that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee this. “The only constitutional right specifically guaranteed to women on an equal basis with men is the right to vote, affirmed by the 19th Amendment in 1920 after an arduous 72-year political struggle,” states Martha Burk.

Written in 1923 by suffrage leader Alice Paul, the ERA is very straightforward. As outlined on Feminist Majority, the Equal Rights Amendment states:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 and 38 states are necessary for the amendment to the Constitution. To this day, only 35 states have approved.

Why is this important? Burk explains:

“Let us count the ways: the pay gap between women and men remains at 78 cents on the dollar, women can be charged more for all kinds of insurance coverage (though the Affordable Care Act puts an end to that practice in health insurance), and those same women who will be leading the charge in combat still can’t get full reproductive health care while in the military, even if they’re pregnant as the result of rape.

“And all the other rights women have under the law are merely statutory. That means there’s no guarantee that we can’t lose the right to equal credit, equal shots at jobs and promotions, protection from being fired for being pregnant, and equal access to school and university programs including sports, law, and medicine. All of these forms of discrimination were once legal, and are now outlawed by statutes — laws that can be overturned by hostile legislators.”

Something as simple as the ERA is not a part of the U.S. Constitution, and has to be re-introduced on a constant basis in the U.S. Congress. The most recent attempt at reviving the ERA was in 2005, but none of the resolutions made it to a vote either in the House or the Senate.

It’s important to keep this in mind as U.S. women take equality for granted when it’s not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Be informed, keep the conversation going, and take action to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified.


A Hufflepuff at heart and a brunch lover, Tina loves to read, write and meander through bookstores. From her first encounter with Sailor Moon, she's been a geek ever since. Waffles and glomping everywhere!

  • Steena

    That awkward (horrible) moment when you realize your place in society is about three steps closer to a Margaret Atwood novel than you realized.