THE EQUAL RIGHTS Amendment was not ratified by the Virginia legislature this year, but women did score some important victories. Legislation was enacted to make both the inheritance laws and the divorce laws more equitable to women, particularly to those whose career has been marriage and the family.
During the last decade, while public attention has been focused on the ERA, great advances have been made throughout the nation by legislation and by court decision. Because changes have occurred in a piecemeal fashion, the impact of each victory has not been large. But when the whole picture is assessed, it is clear that the women's lobby has succeeded on many fronts.
The Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, both passed in the early '60s, laid the groundwork for women's entry into every level of the work force. More recently, women have won significant improvements in the fringe benefits that are a vital component of compensation. Federal legislation now mandates inclusion of pregnancy coverage in employer health and disability policies. Tax credits are allowed for child care expenses, and employers are encouraged, through tax incentives, to provide day-care facilities. Flexible time schedules have made jobs outside the home possible for many mothers with school-age children. The courts have recognized that women are often the primary breadwinners, even when a husband is in the home. Thus, Social Security survivors' benefits can be paid to widowers as well as widows, and members of the Armed Forces receive medical benefits for husbands as well as for wives.
Meanwhile, women have been running for elective office--and winning--in unprecedented numbers. At the state level, a sizable and talented crop of women now sits in the legislatures. Chicago, San Francisco and Houston now have women mayors, as will New York if Mayor Koch wins the governorship. These women and an increasing number in Congress will be in place whether or not the ERA is ratified. They will be working to preserve the gains that have been won since the amendment was sent to the states, and they will be addressing economic issues that affect women, particularly displaced homemakers and low-income women who suffer disproportionately when the economy turns bad. There's a great deal left on the women's agenda, but whatever the fate of the ERA, a great deal has already been done.