It is “insane” that the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has still not been ratified nearly a century after it was first proposed, one of the nation’s leading voices for the United States said on Saturday evening. women’s rights at the Richmond Forum.
“The constitution was written by guys for guys – white people,” said Gloria Steinem, author, journalist and political activist for women’s rights. “It has always been necessary to make it inclusive, as it is supposed to be. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy.”
“We’re still fighting this battle, including in this state, which is absolutely critical to the Equal Rights Amendment,” Steinem said.
An estimated 2,100 subscribers attended the Richmond Forum in person at the Altria Theater and another 1,000 domestic subscribers watched the program via live stream.
The Equal Rights Amendment, which states that “equal rights under the law shall not be denied or restricted by the United States or any state on the basis of sex” was proposed for the first passed through Congress in 1923, but was not passed by both houses of Congress until 1972.
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In 2020, Virginia, under Democratic control of the House and Senate, became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, reaching the four-fifths of states required to approve it. But that far exceeded the 1982 deadline set by Congress.
On Friday, Virginia officially withdrew from a federal lawsuit seeking to certify the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office pointed to legal opinions saying Virginia’s ratification came too late, rendering it void.
Steinem, leader of the women’s movement since the 1960s, joked that every airport should have a notice board welcoming international visitors with the message: “Welcome to the only democracy in the world that doesn’t include women in the constitution”.
An Equal Rights Amendment “is crucial and affects a lot of different things,” Steinem said. “It affects insurance rates and how we vote in state legislatures. There are a lot of obscure reasons why this happened [the failure of the amendment so far] but there are overwhelming, sensible reasons why it should happen.”
“It’s just insane that we’re just the democracy in the world that doesn’t assume people are citizens, regardless of gender,” she said.
Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972 and is the author of several bestselling books. She helped found the Women’s Action Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Steinem was interviewed by Zainab Salbi, author, journalist and founder of Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization.
A longtime reproductive rights activist, Steinem said she is “both worried and not worried” about the erosion of abortion rights in the United States.
“I remember a few years ago I was in the Kalahari Desert with women who lived hundreds of miles from anything we could consider a town or city, and they were showing me the herbs which they used as abortifacients. [that induces abortion] and also to increase fertility,” she said. “I think that knowledge has always been there, whether it was with the first citizens of this continent or any other continent.
She added, “I don’t think we can have democracy without men and women controlling their own physical selves. I think controlling women’s bodies is a first hint of authoritarianism.”
At 87, Steinem said she stayed healthy “because I got to do what I love, and it’s very healthy.”
Steinem said that as the United States becomes more diverse, younger generations understand better now than in the past that race, gender and class are not “overwhelming determinants,” but it is understood that the diversity of points of view is important.
“I think there’s a better understanding that, on a very practical level, if we’re sitting with a group that’s somewhere discussing or making decisions, that should sound like the group that the decisions will affect” , she said. “It’s not rocket science.”