Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice

Celebrate National Women’s Equality Day
Sunday, August 26, 2018
​August 26, 2018


In 1970, the National Organization for Women sponsored demonstrations throughout the U.S. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which secured women's right to vote.  Called the Women's Strike for Equality, tens of thousands of women advocated for social, political, and economic justice.  In 1971, Congress declared August 26 as National Women's Equality Day to honor the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment.  We still have a long way to go.

In 1848, more than two hundred women and about 60 men met in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss their place in society.  History remembers some of their names:  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt, and Frederick Douglass.  They created a Declaration of Sentiments of women’s rights.  Their courage created a social movement that endures, with many accomplishments to its credit.

Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Lucy Stone, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Florynce Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, and millions of others, joined later.  These women, their colleagues, and their followers are principal forces in all American social endeavors:  the Abolitionist, Suffrage, Labor, Civil Rights, Peace, LGBT, and Feminist Movements.

Women’s suffrage was the 1848 convention’s primary goal.  It took 72 years to accomplish that.
People ranted and raved, moaned and wailed, and predicted all sorts of horrendous consequences if women

(GAAASSPPP !!!) VOTED !.  None of those terrible things happened, and change came to America.

It was a long and difficult road, but their work and sacrifice brought important legal rights to American women and changed social attitudes:

• the right to vote
• the power to control their own property, including their money
• better opportunities in education and employment
• equal athletic opportunities in schools
• elected office and powerful political positions

Americans gradually and grudgingly accepted women in professional roles as doctors, lawyers, politicians, professors, police officers, fire fighters, construction workers, and other occupations.  

But every single issue was a fight, or a lawsuit, or a civilly disobedient moment.
Change came slowly and painfully, in fits and starts.  Now we’re sliding backward. And we're still struggling.  Congressional Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to repeal every bit of our progress. 

The Equal Rights Amendment has been the movement's focus for nearly 50 years.  Congress first proposed the ERA in 1923, and again in 1972.  In the late 1970s, conservatives cultivated an absurd and morbid fear of the ERA.  They told us that it would force women to serve in the military, and live in the same barracks as men. They told us that prisons, public restrooms, and department store fitting rooms would all be unisex. They told us that the sky would fall in upon us. Sound familiar?

Thirty-five of the necessary 38 states ratified the later version, but it expired because Congress had imposed a seven-year time limit for ratification. The Alice Paul Institute asserts that the time limit was illegal  and that we only need three more states to ratify the ERA.  Nevada ratified in 2017 and Illinois in 2018.  It looks like Virginia may be the 38th.  It's an interesting legal argument.  We don’t know whether it will  hold up in court.

Four Congress members – two House and two Senate – have introduced resolutions

to extend or renew the issue.  They’re sitting in the respective Judiciary Committees

with no sign of movement.  Given the legislative emergencies brought to us by the

wars, economy, and Republican malicious agenda, they probably won't move

and will expire at the end of this year.

Recent progress in women's legal rights is not enough.  Congress can repeal or change

those laws at any time.  Only men's rights are guaranteed by the Constitution.  Given the times, we need it in writing.

For those who may have forgotten, or never knew, this is what it says:
The Equal Rights Amendment
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.

That's all there is.  And opponents mounted massive, expensive community organizing campaigns to keep this from happening.  In the seventies, Phyllis Schlafly made a career running around the country telling women that we don’t deserve to have careers.  And they will do it again.  

Yes, they want to prevent you, or your mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters from controlling our own lives and from contributing to our culture, our economy, and our society.

I was moved to tears when I visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, and stood on the spot where those brave women started our movement.  Let’s keep the spirit of that first convention.  Thank the women in your life. 

Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.
They did it.  You can do it too.  Teach your children well.

For more information:
National Organization for Women
Ms. Foundation for Women
Declaration of Sentiments

Alice Paul Institute
New ERA proposals
National Women’s Rights Historical Park
Welcome Your Rosa Parks Moment

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Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting    ~    Community Matters
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