By Belan Yeshigeta •
Women have often been given the short end of the stick when it comes to equal rights, and it is no secret that African Americans are still prejudiced against to this day. The unique experience of being apart of both of these marginalized communities is one that is too often overlooked. The voices of Black women are frequently smothered. Even when looking back at the Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, arguably the two most important social movements in American history, it is apparent that the narratives and contributions of Black women are now largely forgotten. For a long time, I was unaware that they even existed. This erasure has followed Black women into the present, where their unique challenges continue to go unaddressed. After generations of taking on the brunt of social revolution and simultaneously being repressed with in it, it is critical that Black women take the lead in the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul at the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention. It was proposed with the intent to guarantee equal legal rights to people of all sexes and genders by eliminating all legal distinctions between sexes in regard to divorce, property, employment and more. Since then it has gone through many changes, both in the title and wording, but the sentiment remains the same: the American people demand gender equality. The 14th amendment precedents explicit government elimination of legal discrimination, although this amendment excludes sex. The 19th amendment precedents explicit government elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex, but on regards to voting rights. The ERA marries these two concepts and will bring an end to age-old injustices. To ratify a constitutional amendment, three-fourths of the states, or 38, must pass the amendment in their legislatures. The ERA has received 37 of the necessary ratifications over a course of over 45 years. Virginia is poised to be the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA. It failed to achieve this goal by one vote in the last legislative session, but in the heat of this current election season, the success of the ERA is a strong possibility.
In regard to Black women, the ratification of this amendment would address inequalities such as the wage gap, sex-based harassment and violence, and even incarceration disparities. Although many would argue that there is already legislation in place that covers all of these issues, it is apparent that the effect of this legislation is not profound as it could be. Having the right to gender equality affirmed in the Constitution, however, will undoubtedly serve as strong legal defense of gender discrimination. In addition to legal rewards, the moral message the Equal Rights Amendment will deliver is equally advantageous. Affirming a right in the Constitution is the highest form of validation. This is especially necessary in the wake of the Me-Too Movement and the Women’s March. The Success of the ERA in not just Virginia’s legislature but that of every state and Congress would be the culmination of hundreds of years of work and millions of women’s rights activists.
As a new generation rises up and takes on this fight, it is important that Black women are not pushed aside again. This amendment is as much ours as it is anyone else’s, and we must be allowed the space and opportunity to leave our mark.
Belan Yeshigeta is a proud African-American and passionate youth activist and writer. She is also the Assistant Director of Generation Ratify, the youth-led movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.