Because women have been able to make such great strides toward equality in society, it’s easy to assume that women have equal rights enshrined in the constitution. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: There is no constitutional amendment that guarantees a safeguard from gender-based discrimination. Yikes.
The Trump administration has already demonstrated why it’s dangerous to leave gender equality out of the constitution. On Monday (yes, just a day before Equal Pay Day), the president rolled back president Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order, NBC News reports.
Obama’s 2014 order was signed to demand that companies receiving federal contracts complied with labor and civil rights laws, according to NBC. The need for this order arose after a 2010 investigation revealed that many companies who were violating these laws had received millions in government contracts (which means taxpayers were paying companies who were not complying with labor and civil rights laws. Not a good look).
NBC further explains that the two aspects of Obama’s order that impacted women were laws related to sexual harassment, and equal wages. But now this Obama-era mandate is gone, and there’s nothing compelling companies to comply with labor and civil rights laws in order to receive government contracts.
Not only is the Trump order a blow to labor and women’s rights, but Obama’s order shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. As the order notes, it went into place to enforce laws that already exist, but were not being followed. Some of these laws protecting working women have been around since the Kennedy administration.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is one example. Under this law, it is illegal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work. This law has been around for over 50 years, and yet fair wages for women remained a big enough problem all these years later that Obama needed to enforce it with an executive order.
And that is one of the core issues with leaving gender equality out of our constitution. According to the Alice Paul Institute, a not-for-profit dedicated to gender equality, laws that protect women are at risk of being overturned (as we’ve just seen with Trump) or simply ignored without constitutional protection.
This amounts to huge consequences for women’s earnings and recourse for gender-based discrimination at work. According to the Economic Policy Institute, women’s wages are still lower than men’s for comparable work, women are less secure in their retirement years due to a lifetime of unfairly lower wages, women are disproportionately represented in low-earning jobs, and women are less likely than men to have benefits provided by their employers than men.
In sum: Women are getting cheated out of earnings because of gender discrimination, and there’s nothing in the constitution that says this isn’t okay.
So why isn’t anyone doing something about this?
Well, women have been trying to do something about this for nearly a century. In 1923 (94 years ago!), Alice Paul (the woman for whom the institution mentioned above is named) suggested the Lucretia Mott Amendment, which later was called the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The premise of the ERA is simple: Equality of rights should not be applied or denied based on sex.
Since it was introduced, the ERA has received support (even bi-partisan support at times), but somehow never enough to be ratified to the constitution. As Roberta W. Francis, chair of the ERA task force with the National Council of Women’s Organizations, writes in her history of the ERA, the Amendment even made it through the Senate and the House in 1972, but faced opposition from individual states (all of which get a say in the ratification of new amendments).
The ERA never got the required support from the 38 states it needed in the 1970s, but it was reintroduced to Congress in 1982, and still remains viable for ratification. In fact, ERA bills have been presented every session of Congress since 1982, but several states have yet to ratify it.
Without constitutional protections, women will continue to unfairly suffer the lifelong consequences of gender discrimination in the workplace. Especially with politicians who have aligned themselves against important women’s rights issues (ahem), it’s vital that women have recourse in the highest law of the land to protect from discrimination.
For anyone concerned with the lack of constitutional protection for women’s rights, the Alice Paul Institute runs EqualRightsAmendment.org, which lists a lot of resources on the history and current activism surrounding the ERA. Those who live in a state that has yet to ratify the ERA can give a call to their legislator and ask what they are doing in regards to the ERA, and encourage them to ratify the Amendment.
What do you think about Trump’s rollback on labor and women’s rights and the ERA? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Images via Pexels + Wikimedia Commons + Kheel Center/Flickr; Getty)