This year, amid unprecedented “off-year” voter turnout, it doesn’t come as a surprise that women again have won, taking 41 of 140 seats in the Virginia legislature.
Even with these record electoral gains, women make up just 23 percent of the U.S. House and 24 percent of the U.S. Senate. In Virginia, women legislators fare slightly better — but still hold just 29 percent of seats. In the more than 200 years since our founding, our country has never had a female president. Women continue to make less money than men, occupy fewer leadership positions in the workforce and take on a disproportionate amount of work at home. And the kicker is that gender discrimination not only still exists, but also it is sanctioned by our own government.
In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal legal rights for Americans regardless of sex. It would require states to intervene in cases of gender violence, prohibit pregnancy and motherhood discrimination and guarantee equal pay. A constitutional amendment needs to be ratified by 38 states. Forty-seven years after its passage in Congress, the ERA still has not met that threshold. House Democrats may eliminate the deadline for states to adopt the amendment, which expired in 1982.
Virginia has the opportunity to be the proud 38th state to ratify the ERA, but the previous Republican-held legislature repeatedly blocked its ratification, most recently in February. That came as no surprise: Only 11 percent of the entire Republican caucus is women. It is a sad truth that not everyone agrees that women should be treated equally, but the outcome of this election makes clear that those folks do not speak for the majority. Now is the time to enact the will of the voters and make progressive strides on issues that directly affect women.
And the new Democratic majority in Virginia should start by taking decisive action to ratify the ERA.
We are two of the women in this fight to push the moral arc of the universe toward justice. We both spent the first half of our careers as public defenders, and then we both changed the course of our lives after the 2016 election to fight for fair representation in Virginia and across the country. We also both have twin boys who are still too young to grasp the stakes of this work but who we hope will never know a world where women are treated as less than. Now, we are ready to bear witness to another historic leap on the journey to equality.
We’ve learned here in Virginia that elections have consequences. This election cleared the way for us to recognize, once and for all, that women are equal to men. The voters are ready for our country to live up to its worthy assertion that we are all created equal. There is no time to waste.