Charlotte Maloney: Time to hold elected officials responsible for equal rights

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kelly Jones, left, and Jody England Hansen dress up as Silent Sentinels (women who protested outside the White House a century ago for suffrage), as they attend the legislative session on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, to encourage Utah legislators to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women do not have the same protections under the United States Constitution as their male counterparts. This is true for all women, whether they are a stay-at-home mother, single head of the household, small business owner, CEO or young student.

It is time for this to change.

Today is Women’s Equality Day. The 19th Amendment officially became law on Aug. 26, 1920. White women finally won the right to vote, while women of color were precluded from voting rights for another four decades. As we mark this centennial anniversary, all women are still fighting for their equality here in Utah and across the country.

As Utah legislators celebrated women’s suffrage this past session, those same lawmakers refused to consider Rep. Karen Kwan’s bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. When polls indicated that more than 70% of Utahn’s (71% of active LDS) support Utah ratifying, lawmakers refused to support it. As women stood in front of lawmakers every single day of the session asking for the bill to be heard, asking for equality, asking for their rights, lawmakers ignored them.

This is an election year. If your representatives were not advocating for equality, it is time to hold them accountable. If they did not support women in words and actions, it’s time to vote for lawmakers who will.

As we celebrate the long struggle and eventual victory of women attaining the vote, consider the value of that vote. How will you use it? Will you use it to support someone who refused to stand up for women? Ask the candidates where they stand. Ask if they will support women in their actions, not just words. Ask if they will support Utah ratifying the ERA.

Men, stand up for women and do the same.

Our vote is powerful. We have the opportunity to elect officials who truly support and represent us.

Across the country, Hispanic women make 58%, Black women 66% and white women 80% of what their white male counterparts are paid. Over time, this means that women earn much less throughout their lives and into retirement.

Utah women continue to advocate for wage equality. We believe that our daughters should not earn less than their male coworkers.

We have made great strides in improving equality for women through local, state and federal legislation. However, these can easily be rolled back or allowed to lapse, as we experienced just last year with the Violence Against Women Act, and this month with the change in Title IX that strengthens the rights of the accused on college campuses, while making it more difficult for the victims of sexual assault.

Because the ERA is a constitutional amendment, it is the only permanent guarantee of equality. It would reinforce sex discrimination cases and require laws treating the sexes differently to meet a higher level of scrutiny. Women deserve to find justice in the courts as well as the marketplace.

As we celebrate this centennial, we also celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Let us remember and celebrate the women of color suffragettes who fought for the right to vote, but had to wait decades before seeing it realized for themselves.

Black women, like Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, waited until 1965. Chinese women, like Mabel Pin-Hua Lee, were excluded from voting until 1943 (the Chinese Exclusion Act prevented them from becoming citizens). And, Native American women, like Zitkala-Sa, could not vote until 1962 (the Snyder Act of 1924 granted them citizenship, but some states still prohibited Native Americans from voting for several decades).

Alice Paul, suffragist and author of the ERA, said, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” Our democracy remains unfinished until all women, irrespective of difference, receive full constitutional rights. Join in the fight for full equality. Vote equality.

Charlotte Maloney

Charlotte Maloney serves on the executive committee of the Utah ERA Coalition, a nonpartisan group of individuals and organizations working to educate Utah citizens about the Equal Rights Amendment. The coalition supports the fundamental notion that everyone deserves to be legally protected in the United States Constitution.