05:56 - Source: CNN
Equal Pay for Women

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It is essential for Congress to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, authors say

Women have waited over 200 years for equal rights in the United States, they say

Editor’s Note: Rep. Ted Lieu represents California’s 33rd Congressional district. He is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and president of the Freshman Democrats in Congress. Patricia Arquette is an Academy Award winning actress. The views expressed are their own.

CNN  — 

One hundred and sixty-eight years ago today, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spearheaded the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. More than 300 men and women gathered over the course of two days, protesting the mistreatment of women in society and calling for equal treatment under the law. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed 72 years later, guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote. And while women have come a long way since the Seneca Falls Convention, their struggle for equal rights continues.

Ted Lieu
Patricia Arquette

Women today comprise more than half the world’s population, making up about half the labor work force in the United States, yet they are still not guaranteed equal pay for equal work. In 2015, female workers made an average of only 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man; a gender wage gap of 21 percent amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,762. So what does the wage gap mean for America’s women? On average, women in the United States lose a combined total of nearly $500 billion every year. This impacts women and their families as well as our economy.

That is why now more than ever, it is essential for Congress to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA would give women the resources to challenge discrimination in instances of pay inequity.

More importantly, the ERA would rightly enshrine the equality of men and women in our Constitution. Americans overwhelmingly support ratification of the ERA because it’s not just a women’s issue – it’s an equality issue.

Patricia Arquette

Not many people realize that the ERA, which proposes banning discrimination based on sex, was never ratified. First introduced in Congress by Alice Paul in 1923, it passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in 1972 and was sent to states for ratification. However, it did not receive approval from enough states for it to be ratified. While states like California have since passed equal rights legislation at the state level, legal protection is still needed at the federal level.

As parents and as Americans, our country must address the lack of equal rights for women and realize how this is affecting them. Our mothers, wives, daughters, and future generations of women deserve to know that they matter, that women’s rights matter. We can no longer sit idly by and continue to withstand the many injustices women continue to face every day.

For example, statistics show that 91 percent of rape and sexual assault victims are female, yet there are thousands of rape kits that have either gone untested or have been thrown away. Where is the justice for these female victims? Perhaps if this were a male issue, we would see swifter action to remedy this crisis. The issue of addressing rape kit backlogs is something that every husband, father, and brother would want to see changed. Furthermore, if the ERA were in the Constitution, unprocessed rape kits could fall under sex discrimination.

What we continue to learn from around the world is that when women have access to health care, are educated, protected, paid equally, treated equally, and are free from violence, they and their families are able to succeed, which in turn allows them to enhance their community and nation overall.

For too long, we have stalled on these fierce and urgent issues. At a time when the election of America’s first woman president is a very real possibility, it is ironic that she will not have full equality under the law. Now is the time to guarantee equal rights for women once and for all. It is critical for us to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.” Women have waited over 200 years for equal rights in the United States. When women succeed, America succeeds, and it is time we tell the rest of the world that equal finally means equal.