How Gen Z is taking up the mantle in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

By Ava Lee-Green

I was born in 2005, around 80 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced. I was fourteen when Virginia, the 38th and final state, ratified the amendment. To this day, the ERA has yet to be enshrined in the United States Constitution. In just the past two years alone, the world has experienced so many “unprecedented events” that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all. Yet, what these uncertain times have shown us, is that despite the past hundreds of years of fighting for equality and equity, the disparities between the majority and minorities remain. 

Congress finally passed the ERA in 1972. This was 50 years after the amendment was written to state, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction”. Now, almost exactly 99 years since its introduction, the ERA has finally met all of its requirements as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. The past century of fighting for gender equality has not been easy. The world and the movement have both undergone change. Throughout the history of the feminist movement, the exclusion of racial minorities has caused critical issues and divisions. For example, the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. The convention was heavily criticized for solely focusing on white women instead of all women, especially women of color. 

Women of all races still face discrimination on a daily basis. Though there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve complete equality, society has made strides in improvement. This work is being done by a new generation, whose dedication to the movement has been recognized as the fourth wave of feminism. Five generations of feminists have fought for the ERA, and it’s finally time for Generation Z to pick up the mantle.

This new wave of feminism has had a strong focus on intersectional and systemic issues, which have divided the movement in the past. Intersectionality recognizes that the multiple different parts of a person’s social identity are influenced by each other. How an individual experiences life and is perceived by society is impacted by this. Feminism and the Equal Rights movement no longer just focus on equality for white, middle class women, but intersectional equality for all. Intersectionality is at the core of the fourth wave of feminism and has become a crucial conversation made by the younger generation of activists. For example, we know that for every dollar a white man makes, on average a white woman makes 80 cents and a Black man makes 87 cents. Yet, for the same position, a Black woman only makes 70 cents. In order for Black women to be treated equally, many systems of oppression need to be changed. 

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with unlimited access to knowledge and current events through the internet. This new wave of young activists has shown how useful technology can be in raising awareness around the world. The Women’s March in 2017 was shared to millions of people on all continents through social media and was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Social media has brought women of all different identities, races, and nationalities together to fight for equal rights. 

Despite the threats equal rights currently face in the U.S., things are looking up. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team recently reached a $24 million settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation after years of fighting for equal pay. President Biden just nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court as the first Black female Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history. The Equal Rights Amendment, although still not enshrined in the Constitution, is now in effect. People are finally listening to our demands to be treated equally.

Members of Gen Z are emerging as leaders in the fight for equality. Generation Ratify, an organization founded by and for young people, is one of the organizations at the forefront in the fight to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution. Their mission, “is to build a coalition of young people across the country leading an intersectional feminist revolution that empowers and advocates for the full equality of young women, non-conforming, non-binary, femme, and Queer folx.” When asked about their work, here’s what Belan Yeshigeta, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Generation Ratify, had to say about the ERA’s importance.

What does the ERA mean to you?

The Equal Rights Amendment is one of the final steps we need to take as a nation to guarantee equality for all under the law. This amendment is the product of decades of hard work from generations of women and LGBTQ+ leaders. Certifying this amendment into the Constitution would be the beginning of a new chapter for the gender equality movement.

Why is Generation Ratify fighting for the ERA to be published and recognized in the constitution?

There is both symbolic and legal significance to the certification of the Equal Rights Amendment. It would send a powerful message to our country, and to the world, that the United States is dedicating itself to true, universal and explicit equality by enshrining these protections into our foundational document. Legally, the explicit nature of the ERA will serve as a powerful backing to reproductive rights arguments, which have become increasingly crucial in the last few years, and any variety of defenses to attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Why is this fight important to you? 

As a first generation American and young woman in the United States, the Equal Rights Amendment represents an integral part of the American ideal of equality and offers me a sense of security as I step more fully into the world. As a black woman, it’s incredibly important for me to amplify the voices and stories of other people of color, who have been historically sidelined, in the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Generation ratify has provided me with the opportunity to directly engage underrepresented people in this movement and continually work to make this space more inclusive.

What are you doing to help move the ERA forward? 

In less than three years, Generation Ratify has made significant strides in engaging Gen-Z in the movement to certify the Equal Rights Amendment. With 10,000 members across the country and chapters in every state, Generation Ratify organizers are working on state and federal levels to push the ERA forward. On January 27th, the two year anniversary of the ERA’s ratification, we organized a “Slumber Party” direct action outside the Department of Justice, following the Department’s statement of “neutrality”, to demand action on the ERA.

On March 14th, we will be organizing a youth lobby day on Capitol Hill to advocate for SJ Res 1, a bill to remove the deadline on the ERA and HR 891, a bill affirming the House’s support for the ERA to be in effect and in the Constitution. This event is just one of countless lobbying days we have organized on the state and federal level over the past few years in support of the ERA. All of which are organized and carried out by young people.

Last summer, we filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiff in the Commonwealth of Virginia, State of Illinois, and State of Nevada, V. David S. Ferriero, in his official capacity as Archivist of the United States. Following the case’s appeal, we filed an updated brief this January (read the brief and see more here).

So why does the ERA still matter even 100 years later? Many, who are familiar with legislation such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, would argue that the US has already achieved gender equality. Yet, pay discrimination still exists between genders, and continues to marginalize women of color. In a time where both politicians and peers are forcing the country backwards by opposing equal rights, I believe that the ERA is one step in the right direction. Politics is constantly changing in the US; putting the ERA in the Constitution will help ensure politicians cannot get rid of equal rights for the benefit of their own agenda.

Since speaking with some of my peers about the ERA, I have realized how important it is to educate the younger generation about the amendment. All of my friends are in favor of equal rights, but were unfamiliar with the ERA. After some explaining, they were surprised that it was not already part of the Constitution. I am currently an intern at the ERA Coalition and help create social media posts to raise awareness about the ERA and women’s rights in general. I hope that through the work of the ERA Coalition and similar organizations, like Gen Ratify, more and more young people will have the opportunity to learn about the ERA.      

The oldest members of Gen Z, are now becoming adults and entering the workforce. By enshrining the ERA into the U.S. Constitution, we can help ensure that this generation and future generations of young people are seen as equal.  

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