Congresswoman Backs New Equal Rights Amendment; Points to Afghanistan, China as Models

By Penny Starr | July 21, 2009 | 5:50pm EDT

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) (left) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to show their support for the re-introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment. ( Penny Starr)

( – Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told activists rallying on Capitol Hill in support of the newly reintroduced Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), that the United States should join 27 other countries that have equality guarantees for women, including Rwanda, Algeria, China and Afghanistan.
“It does make a difference if an Equal Rights Amendment is in place or not,” Lee told the people who gathered outside of the Capitol on Tuesday.
“Twenty-seven other countries, including Rwanda, Afghanistan, Algeria and China have equality provisions,” Lee said.
Lee said she’s worked with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) to ensure that the new Democratic government in Afghanistan addressed women’s rights.
“Even though we have many strides to make in Afghanistan that the women would at least have a place holder,” Lee said. “We know we are still fighting for equality and justice, but we insisted on a placeholder.
“Is America any less, that we should have more than a placeholder with the equal rights amendment?” Lee said.
According to the State Department’s 2008 report on human rights, the four countries cited by Jackson Lee are in fact described as nations where women face grave injustices, including rape, domestic abuse, and trafficking for prostitution.
In Algeria, the latest report paints a bleak picture of the treatment of women in that country.
“Rape, spousal and nonspousal, occurred. Nonspousal rape is illegal; spousal rape is not. Prison sentences for nonspousal rape range from one to five years,” the report says.
“Claims filed by women for rape and sexual abuse continued to face judicial obstacles; however, women's rights activists reported that law enforcement authorities have become more sensitized to the issue. During the year, women's rights activists reported a significant increase in reports of violence against women,” the report added.
“Spousal abuse occurred,” the report says. “The penal code states that a person must be incapacitated for 15 days or more and present a doctor's note certifying the injuries before filing charges for battery. Because of societal pressures, women frequently were reluctant to endure this process.”
The report notes that the constitution “provides for gender equality” but cites the restrictions on women, including those who divorce.
“Custody of children normally is awarded to the mother, but she may not make decisions on education or take the children out of the country without the father's authorization,” the report says.

Activists at the rally in support of the newly reintroduced Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ( Starr)

The State Department 2008 report on China says that the government’s one-child policy results in forced abortions and that there is no national law that criminalizes domestic abuse.
In Rwanda, the State Department reports there are no laws against domestic violence or sexual harassment.
“Despite the election in September of a Chamber of Deputies with a female majority, women continued to have limited opportunities for education, employment, and promotion,” the 2008 report on Rwanda says.
The State Department says disparities are still widespread in Afghanistan, despite the overthrow of the Taliban and a democratically elected government.
“NGOs and human rights activists noted societal violence, especially against women, was widespread; in many cases security forces did not prevent or respond to the violence,” the 2008 report says.
“The Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and NGOs reported police frequently raped female detainees and prisoners,” the report says.
The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed by Alice Paul in 1921. It has been reintroduced in Congress every year since 1923. It was passed by Congress in 1972, but only 35 of the required 38 states needed to ratify the amendment had passed it by the July 1982 ratification deadline.
The 54-word amendment, House Joint Resolution 40, was re-introduced by Maloney and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and is co-sponsored by more than 50 House legislators, most of whom are Democrats.
Critics charge, however, that the amendment will open the door to federally funded abortion on demand, because women should have the same access to medical procedures they want as men and not funding the procedure would also be discriminatory.
The National Right to Life Committee has called on the House to add abortion-neutral language to the amendment first proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) in 1983: “Nothing in this article (the ERA) shall be construed to grant, secure or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof.”

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