Efforts are underway once again to bring the Equal Rights Amendment to the attention of the public.
Women demonstrating for their right to cast a ballot were the very first group to form a picket line in front of the White House — and they stayed there for over two years.
At issue was the democracy called America. They believed that with a democracy comes a vote for every citizen, and in 1917 women could not vote. These were the suffragists, and they were standing up for half of the population of the United States — the women.
The women persisted, taking turns on the picket line, leaving their homes to travel to Washington, D.C., and maintain a peaceful demonstration for women’s suffrage. They were repeatedly arrested (for obstructing the sidewalk), jailed and force-fed during hunger strikes. This picket line was the final stage of a campaign for women’s rights that had been running for decades.
On the night of Nov. 14, 1917 — 100 years ago Tuesday — the protesters were beaten and jailed for insisting on their rights. Following press coverage of the beatings and the ensuing public outrage, they were released.
The years of protest and pressure finally paid off in 1920, when the women of America were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment. It was touch and go until the final ratifications by the states; there was a struggle in every state. But because of the persistence of those women, because of their determination to have the rights they thought they should have, our democracy became more complete and today American women can vote.
The right to vote is the only right explicitly granted to women in the U.S. Constitution. Ours is one of very few developed nations not to have equal rights for women spelled out in its constitution.
Our Constitution is also one of the oldest constitutions still in force, written in the 18th century when it was written by and intended for white men. That is why many of the laws designed to protect women from discrimination tend to fail. Laws pertaining to pay equity fail. Laws prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace fail. Laws addressing violence against women fail.
Women have the right to vote, but in the United States they do not have full equality under the law. Without clear constitutional backing, protective laws aren’t enforced and are at risk of being repealed. Women won’t have full equality under the law until more voting Americans see that equal rights for women will not harm us — that equality will help women, families, children and men. We all benefit when our working women are paid fairly, when girls grow up being respected as much as boys are and when there is a strong defense against sex being used as a weapon….