Nov. 15, 2018

UVA Hosts Stop on Virginia Ratify ERA Bus Tour

Batten Professor Sally Hudson moderates panel discussion as part of the 10-day tour

Batten Professor Sally Hudson with MPP students Care Shoaibi, Hannah Sullivan, and Maria Loverde.
 

On Wednesday morning, Nov. 14th, students, faculty, staff, and members of the community gathered in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. They were waiting for a bus—but not just any bus: the VA Ratify ERA Bus. The event, “Mobilizing for the ERA: Lessons from the Past and Present,” was part of a 10-day statewide tour aimed at educating Virginians on the absence of gender equality in the U.S. Constitution and highlighting bipartisan statewide support for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

The event featured a panel discussion with Batten Professor Sally Hudson serving as moderator to Virginia House Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Shenandoah Valley Supervisor Dennis Morris, and Professor Bonnie Hagerman from UVA’s Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality.

“I would like to think Jefferson would like this event,” said Hudson, highlighting the event’s location of the Dome Room. “But in reality, most of the people in this room would not have been permitted [to attend].”

And she’s right. Women were first admitted to the University of Virginia just 50 years ago. And less than a 100 years ago, women were given the right to vote.

In 1972, the ERA was passed by the U.S. Senate and sent to the states for ratification. A total of 38 states (three-fourth majority) are required to approve what could become the 27th Amendment. During the mid-1970s, however, a conservative backlash against feminism galvanized by ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly eroded support for the ERA ratification and divided women on the issue of equal rights.

Because of the rejection of the ERA, gender equality, except when it pertains to the right to vote, is not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Virginia remains one of the few states that has failed to ratify the Amendment, making this bus tour all the more pressing.

The panel discussion commenced with a short history of suffrage and the ERA by Professor Hagerman and later segued into a conversation about the important role state and local officials play in a national legislative movement; and how Virginia has a historic opportunity to be the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

“We have some unfinished business,” said Foy. “Women are not entitled to equality in the U.S. Constitution. Being allowed to do something should not be the standard. We have to move the conversation forward—equality is for everyone and everyone should be for equality. Things do not really have truth unless there is a constitutional backing. Think of the Civil Rights Act.”

As the first African-American woman to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Foy is no stranger to adversity. “Virginia has been on the wrong side of history too many times,” she said. “But now we have a great historic opportunity to solidify women’s rights and inscribe it into our Constitution.”

For Foy and the other panelists, grassroots movements of this nature are key to spreading awareness, gaining support and funds, encouraging student involvement and, most importantly, pressuring elected officials.

“This event was eye-opening to me in learning that not only has the [ERA] not been ratified in the U.S. Constitution but also that we are one state away from sparking the process of national ratification,” said Batten student Hannah Sullivan (MPP ‘19). “It was inspiring to hear Delegate Foy speak about her own experiences being the first black woman to graduate from VMI. Something that really stuck with me was when she said that merely ‘being allowed to do something shouldn’t be the standard.’ She made the point that we need to go one step further and ensure equality under the law.”

The bus tour emerges at a critical juncture for women in America, where gender inequality still persists. Issues of unequal pay, sexual harassment, and access to education are just some of the issues American women struggle with on a daily basis. Propelled by the momentum of the #MeToo movement and the women’s marches in Washington D.C., the topic of women’s rights may be a hard one to ignore today. Yet, the ERA movement and the failed ratification seem to be mere footnotes in our history. For students of public policy, this is an important moment as the push for ratification gains momentum once again in Virginia. Having learned from the lessons of the past and with an eye to future generations, perhaps this time equality between men and women can be achieved.

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