Sunday, January 21 , 2018, 10:54 am | Fair 57º


Equal Rights for Women Still Not a Thing

To commemorate Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) and Santa Barbara Public Library invite the public to a free screening of the documentary Equal Means Equal.

The film, which explores gender inequality in the U.S. and discusses what can be done to move the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to ratification, will be at 6:15 p.m. in the downtown Santa Barbara Public Library's Faulkner Gallery.

A panel discussion will follow.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” — Proposed text of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Almost a century after gaining the right to vote, women still do not have the equal protection under the U.S. Constitution that the ERA would provide.

Many Americans assume such a basic assurance is contained within our federal laws, as it is included in some state constitutions and in the federal law of many other countries around the world. Sadly, this is not the case.

Although the ERA was proposed decades ago as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure equality, it failed to pass after falling only three states short of ratification.

When presented with the reality that we don’t have this basic protection, many react with understandable shock and confusion: How could this be?

Without the ERA, the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee the rights it protects are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex.

The right to vote, granted in 1923, is the first — and still the only — right specifically affirmed as equal for women and men.

An amendment to the Constitution is needed to affirm at a national level that the bedrock principles of our democracy ("all men are created equal," "liberty and justice for all," "equal justice under law," "government of the people, by the people, and for the people") apply equally to women.

For young women, especially, who may not have been fully aware of (or alive for) the initial ERA campaign, the amendment’s elusiveness is confounding.

Such basic protection is expected by young women, many of whom have grown up with the promise that they can be anything they want to be. However, the realities young women face in the world often fail to live up to these expectations.

And, while the long fight and previous failures demonstrate the difficulty of securing equal protection under the law, young women are increasingly unwilling to settle for the status quo, getting involved in greater numbers in events like the Women's March and organizations like the Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee.

In the last few years, a renewed effort to ratify the ERA has gained momentum.

Political volatility means federal protection of equality is needed now more than ever, and women like Kamala Lopez, director of the film Equal Means Equal, aim to make that abundantly clear.

Equal Means Equal explores the gender inequality that persists in the U.S. — revealing the inadequacy of present laws that claim to protect women, and urging the swift ratification of the ERA.

It is a call to action to amend our Constitution and recognize all people are created equal in dignity and in rights.

It reminds those who remember the ERA’s beginning that the fight is not over for such a critically important cause, and introduces the otherwise unaware to a tangible and necessary step toward equality in America.

The screening of Equal Means Equal is the first in a series of events organized by SBWPC that focus on the theme A Seat at the Table.

The theme emphasizes the importance of women in policy-making positions and in leadership roles where they can influence issues important to the quality of life for all women and families.

— Catherine Swysen for the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee.

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