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While steps have been taken to outlaw discrimination at the federal and state levels, the fight to have an amendment to the United States Constitution, known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), has been in the works for almost 100 years. We can’t let the COVID-19 pandemic overcome our efforts to finish this fight for constitutional equality.

We now have the thirty-eight states required to ratify the ERA, but Congress set an arbitrary deadline of 1982 for state ratification. On February 13, 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.J. Res 79 that removes that deadline. Now the Senate must do the same by passing Senate Joint Resolution 6, introduced with bipartisan support, including Montana Sen. Tester.

The League of Women Voters applauds Sen. Tester and calls upon Sen. Daines to vote “yes” on Senate Joint Resolution 6 to ensure the final ratification of the ERA. It’s time this amendment becomes part of our constitution and affirms our values as a nation.

COVID-19 is disproportionately hurting women workers and reminding us that work performed primarily by women is undervalued. Women perform a majority of the front line jobs that are considered to be essential but are paid less than men doing the same work. At the same time, women have experienced 56% of the jobs lost due to the lockdowns that were imposed to fight the pandemic. Finally, women are shouldering most of the additional house work and childcare duties that come with school and child care closures.

Despite laws prohibiting discrimination in Montana, women make about 73 cents for every dollar men make for equal work. During this pandemic, women in Montana are risking their lives every day while being valued at three quarters of a man.

Women have made significant progress toward equality over the years. However, women continue to battle systematic discrimination in the form of unequal pay, limited career advancement and workplace harassment. Tackling these issues will take more than reactionary legislative solutions that can be undone by later legislation. We must address the root cause of inequality by amending the U.S. Constitution. The ERA will pave the way for further legislative progress towards gender equality and will allow the courts to closely scrutinize sex-based discrimination.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote was passed 100 years ago, shortly after the country came through the horrors of World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic. Back then, women’s service alongside men and in traditionally men’s jobs during the war, provided the final moral argument for extending the right to vote to women. Today, women are serving on the front lines of the war against COVID-19, but without the protection of equal rights. It is time to correct this moral injustice.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy and voter information organization founded 100 years ago. The League of Women Voters has always fought for equality in our citizen-led democracy, and we believe that ensuring equal rights under the law for all sexes is an important step in making our democracy stronger and more inclusive.

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Rosanne Nash, President

League of Women Voters of the Bozeman Area