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One Scholar’s Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment: ‘We Can Fix It’

Professor Julie Suk has spent more than 10 years studying the Equal Rights Amendment, tracking its progress in the U.S. and similar amendments in European countries. Now, she’s sharing her wealth of knowledge with the world in her forthcoming book, We the Women: The Unstoppable Mothers of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“The absence of equal rights for women in our Constitution says something shameful about the Constitution that we have,” Suk, the dean of master’s programs at The Graduate Center, CUNY,  tells SUM. “We can fix it though.”

In January, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, which means the amendment is finally approved by enough states to be made part of the Constitution. This comes nearly a century after members of the National Woman’s Party wrote the original amendment in 1923 — and almost 50 years since it was passed by Congress in 1972.

But there’s still a long way to go before gender equality becomes an official part of the U.S. Constitution. In We the Women, Suk chronicles the history of the ERA, highlighting the stories of the women who drove it forward and fought for its ratification.

“I realized that everything that I had written for an academic audience I needed to write in an accessible format for non-lawyers, high school teachers, just ordinary citizens,” Suk says.

“So they could read it and understand the history of not having gender equality in the Constitution and what to do about it.”

As the nation observes Women’s History Month, Suk notes the significance of how far women have come in the country. The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the constitutional right to vote. And Virginia’s decision in January marked a historic moment for the ERA.

“If we have something that’s so morally unassailable and that women have been trying to get for decades and decades, why is it not part of our Constitution?” Suk says.

“Why? What are the mechanisms in the Constitution in our political structure that have made it so difficult for this amendment to make it into the Constitution.”

The history of the ERA is filled with women going above and beyond to make change in the country.  Patsy Mink, an Asian American woman who was the first woman of color ever elected to Congress, and Shirley Chisholm — a CUNY alumna — who was the first African American woman ever elected to Congress both had a hand in moving the ERA forward.

Over the decades, the ERA has failed, faced setbacks, and states have even attempted to rescind their ratifications. Still, Suk says, women have not given up.

“Women are resilient and resourceful beings,” Suk says. “The movement for the ERA really helped develop strong women in Congress who advocated for it and used it. Even though the ERA didn’t succeed, they used that political moment to advocate for other things that did succeed and are very important.”