Speak up for women in the crusade for amends to people whom society has exploited and neglected. If anyone or any group deserves compensation for evils committed against them by men in power, women stand front and center.

Females represent more than half of the nation’s population and include every “protected class” that the federal government has vowed to shield from discrimination on account of factors such as sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin and religion. However, women continue to confront bias, abuse and harassment.

The bottom line is that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) must be ratified quickly to advance the status of women, the most underestimated segment of our society.

Female equality has remained shockingly elusive, despite heroic efforts by dedicated lobbyists, advocates and supporters. Equality for women is far from a new undertaking and repeatedly has stalled over the decades, succumbing to myths, misconceptions and falsehoods. Contrary to what opponents would have everyone believe, the ERA does not legislate abortion, women in the military or unisex restrooms.

At the outset, male-focused legislative priorities kept the Founding Fathers from including women’s rights when they put to paper the guiding principles of this great land.

A long 243 years later, women in the most free-thinking nation in the world still lack constitutional equality. That fact by no means signifies a lack of trying.

Fresh off success in obtaining the right to vote for women after ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, suffragist Alice Stokes Paul promoted equality under the Constitution as the next great breakthrough in the advancement of women.

The dynamic push by the National Organization for Women (NOW) was rewarded by congressional approval in 1972, subject to ratification by 38 states. Following a lull since Indiana ratified in 1977, the ERA again emerged victorious with approval by Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018.

Arizona today would stand proudly as that milestone 38th state to ratify, if not for the blatant disregard for the will of the people among lawmakers in both state houses. A collection of self-righteous politicians persist each year in imposing their own prejudices to block the ERA from legislative discussion and vote.

Forward-thinking lawmakers in all the lagging states would be well-served to increase their endorsement among women, who embody 52 percent of the nation’s population, 47 percent of the work force and 60 percent of college graduates. The nation’s women and their male supporters — sons, fathers and grandfathers — comprise an election-tipping ratio of the population. Every one of them has or had a mother and grandmother, and many also are or were blessed with sisters who paved the way for them.

Make no mistake: Ratification of the ERA is a vote for family. When men and women stand up for equality, they help ensure the economic well-being of children and families. Financial health matters — immensely.

The impacts of poverty among single-family households headed by women persist from youth to old age because chronic lower pay translates to financial insecurity and results in lifelong earnings disadvantages spanning generations. Disturbingly, many women end up relying on social services in their later years.

And here’s why. For every dollar paid to Arizona’s working men, 81.8 cents on average is earned by the state’s women. The average annual salary difference between Arizona’s men and women is $7,000, accruing to an annual wage gap of $6 billion.

Career earnings tell an even more appalling story nationwide. Consider the compounded value of lost wages to women and their families over a typical 47-year career. A female high school graduate earns $700K less than male counterparts, while a female college or university graduate is paid $1.2 million less, and a woman with a master’s, law or medical degree loses out on $2 million in lifetime earnings.

For anyone under the mistaken impression that wage disparities can be attributed to factors such as college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, grade-point average (GPA), college selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status and motherhood, the American Association of University Women reports a 7-percent salary difference between males and females just one year after graduating from college. The deck is stacked against women from the beginning, and the imbalance magnifies over time.

The most meaningful longterm gains in equality for women will arise from the ERA’s ratification to become the law of the land. Equality for women resonates with lobbyists, advocates and average citizens because economic security is paramount to a vibrant society.

The ERA is our nation’s conduit to everyone — male and female — reaching full human potential. The injustice to women and families stops here and now, when we raise our voices in unison and compel lawmakers to ratify the ERA. Let freedom ring and equality reign.

Sue Marceau is with the ERA Task Force AZ.

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