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It’s time to bring equality home in the United States

Business and political leaders in the United States say women’s equality and empowerment are keys to success – and make them a priority for aid to other countries. Why aren’t they doing more at home?

Author: Shelby Quast, Americas Director at Equality Now

Funding equality and empowerment

I recently attended the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative led by the White House and USAID. Together, 10 U.S. departments and agencies, supported by bi-partisan members of congress, created partnerships with the private sector to leverage more than $260 million aimed at reaching 100,000 women around the world.

One of the three pillars of the initiative is identifying and reducing the legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers that constrain women’s full and free participation in the global economy, and promoting improved practices:

  • Ivanka Trump stressed that we must remove legal barriers that prohibit women’s full participation in society and proudly announced the U.S. support in changing the minimum age of marriage laws in Cote d’Ivoire to 18.
  • USAID Administrator Mark Green said equal opportunity is a U.S. value and underlined the need to change property laws so women can better control their lives and contribute to society. He emphasized that when women are girls’ rights are controlled, they are viewed as property – and property can’t own property.
  • Private sector representatives noted that empowering girls not only promotes human rights but grows the economy. Women’s rights are good business.
  • Congressional Representatives Frankel and McCaul provided bi-partisan support and noted Members of Congress leave party politics at the border – when they are abroad they are Americans.

A shining example of women claiming their future?

I walked away from the launch feeling conflicted. I am inspired and encouraged that the U.S. is working to promote women’s rights and equality abroad. But there is still so much to be done in the United States.

Absolutely: raise the minimum age of marriage in Cote d’Ivoire to 18 – and at the same time raise it to 18 across the U.S. too, and remove the federal exception to statutory rape if the rapist is married to the 12 – 15 year old child. Child marriage is currently legal in 48 states* (only Delaware and New Jersey have set the minimum age at 18 and eliminated all exceptions).

Can’t our government departments and agencies have the same enthusiastic promotion of women and girls’ rights here in the United States? Can’t private sector leaders see that women’s empowerment is good business here too? Can’t our representatives leave party politics out of protecting the rights of women and girls at home? Can’t we focus on removing the barriers that constrain women’s full participation in the domestic economy?

The arrest of Jeffrey Epstein was significant. I hope that the investigation into his and others’ criminal activity doesn’t fade away with his death. Why were so many powerful men involved in promoting and protecting buying girls for sex? Why are even more children being put at risk of sex trafficking and violence by being separated from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border seeking asylum? Why are states passing regressive laws on reproductive rights?

Why is it that despite more women than ever speaking up about workplace discrimination and harassment, U.S. laws and policies haven’t caught up with the scale of the problem exposed by #MeToo and #TimesUp?

Legal equality starts with the Constitution

The Constitution is the foundation of our government, of our legal framework, and our country. All the laws we make are held to its standard. Yet, something most people don’t realize is that women are not protected equally under our Constitution. How can we expect to fully address the challenges faced by women and girls if the Constitution does not protect them?

Pushing for better enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, more laws banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, or stronger protections against workplace discrimination and harassment – all these things will help, but quite simply, the most effective thing we can all do is to ensure the U.S. Constitution has an Equal Rights Amendment.

The most effective thing we can all do is to ensure the U.S. Constitution has an Equal Rights Amendment.

We need our representatives to be Americans at home, too, and leave party politics out of human rights. The ERA would protect all women and girls equally without regard to political party, religious, geographic, economic, race, ethnic, or other affiliation.

We must stand together, and leave partisan politics out of protecting women’s and girls’ rights. Let’s give the women and girls in our homes, our communities and across the U.S. at least the same protections and empowerment we are seeking to provide via the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.

Human rights are an American value – we need to bring human rights home and ensure we have equality in the U.S. Constitution. Equality Now is here, ready to work with our government and the private sector and hold them accountable, to make it happen for women and girls at home and abroad. We hope they will join.

>>Tell your Congressional Representatives that you want them to support an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

*UPDATE May 2020: After both Pennsylvania and Minnesota banned child marriage in May 2020, there are now 46 US states where child marriage is legal.