Many will observe Mother’s Day this weekend, recognizing the mother figures in our lives who have nurtured us, believed in us, and protected us. While commodified by companies and often indelicately emphasized in our churches, the holiday originated in the U.S. as a call for peace and reconciliation in the wake of the Civil War. The voices of mothers, of women, and all who have mothered us have long been essential in movements for justice. That work continues, as we are closer than ever to winning the 100-year battle to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would protect women and LGBTQ people from discrimination on the basis of sex and gender-based violence. But until the Senate acts, the amendment will not move forward.
Today, opponents of the ERA argue the amendment is unnecessary because they say the U.S. has already achieved gender equality. Others say women are already protected through the Equal Protection Clause or existing laws like the Civil Rights Act or Title IX.
However, the lived experiences of millions — and the data around violence and systemic inequities faced by of women and LGBTQ people — are strong evidence that these patchwork laws are not enough. For example, when schools and child care centers went virtual or closed due to the pandemic, mothers of young children had to reduce their work hours by four to five times more than fathers of young children. Those reduced work hours have more than doubled the difference in hours worked by women and by men.
As we celebrate the mother figures in our lives, let’s ask: What does gender equality look and feel like for them — for you?
For many mothers, gender equality feels like ending the assumption that women are solely responsible for the family and ensuring that parents and children who care for family members have the support they need. Yet, the U.S. has no laws for paid family leave nor sufficient protections for pregnant workers.
Gender equality looks like society recognizing that in-home work is just as valuable as any other paid work. Paid preschool and child care are a good start, but imagining a future not beholden to a mandatory 40-hour work week would be better. For many parents, the increased time with their children during the pandemic was eye-opening and transformative. What would it take to let parents be present in the daily lives of their children for more than a few of their waking hours? The ERA would lay the groundwork to challenge workplace policies and practices that discriminate against people with family responsibilities.
Gender equality also looks a work culture where mothers, women, and LGBTQ people are valued and given the same leadership opportunities and professional development as their male counterparts. It also means that mothers, women, and LGBTQ people receive the same quality education without added barriers, harassment, or the stress from microaggressions.
For many mothers, gender equality looks like equal pay for equal work. Among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the U.S., white women earn 79 cents, Black women 63 cents, Indigenous women 60 cents, and Latina women 55 cents for each dollar paid to white men, according to a 2020 report. The ERA addresses systemic sexism by promoting equal pay for equal work.
Gender equality also feels like safety. It feels like mothers knowing that the people our daughters or LGBTQ children date won't harm them, and that they will be able to seek safety and justice if they are in a dangerous situation. More than 1 in 3 U.S. women will experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Women of color are disproportionately more likely to experience domestic violence, and 50 percent of Black transgender and non-binary individuals experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. The Equal Rights Amendment would strengthen laws protecting all women and LGBTQ people from gender-based violence.
Until we add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, mothers — and all women and LGBTQ people — will continue to suffer gender-based violence and workplace harassment and discrimination without sufficient and reasonable avenues to seek safety, justice, and equity. The ERA creates constitutional grounds to challenge policies that discriminate without needing to show proof that the policies were intended to discriminate.
Last week, Sojourners held a virtual postcard writing party where advocates wrote Mother’s Day postcards asking senators to give the gift of gender equality by adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. One participant’s grandmother had been part of the women’s suffrage movement. Just one generation later, that participant’s mother became one of the first female senators in her state. That participant’s presence was a good reminder of how recent these fights for basic rights and representation are. It is also a reminder of how quickly we can see the fruits of our efforts when we act for justice.
Let us honor the ways our mother figures have advocated for each one of us. One way to do so is to email our Senators urging them to cosponsor Senate Joint Resolution 1 to remove the deadline so the Equal Rights Amendment can finally be added to the Constitution.
We can observe Mother’s Day by working together to create a world where the image of God in each person — regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation — is given equal respect and opportunity. When we do, we also honor the work of so many women over the years who have fought for gender equality.