Over 165 countries in the world guarantee constitutional gender equality and America is not one of them. The unintended consequences of excluding gender equality have been deadly. In 2018, America ranked as the 10th most dangerous country in the world for women and we tied for third place with Syria for riskiest environments of sexual violence, harassment, and coercion into sex.
I am a fourth generation Republican from North Dakota now living in Virginia. I came to Virginia for college, nay weather, and last year I led Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, helping my adopted state catch up to my home state.
My family was in the seed business for generations, literally invested in the farming and financial success of the whole state. For years, Republicans running for office would visit my grandfather, Tod Gunkelman, seeking an endorsement. What they would get first, was his kitchen table test.
At the kitchen table he simply observed the candidate to see if he (always a he) addressed my grandmother directly and treated her as an equal. My grandparents were a team and any candidate that ignored or minimized my grandmother was not worth endorsing. Because of this familial expectation, up until now, I have thought of North Dakota as a place that values gender equality.
But the current North Dakota Legislature is spending taxpayer time and money to make sure nobody mistakenly believes this great state supports constitutional gender equality.
If the so-called leaders of North Dakota’s Legislature have not been forthcoming, let me highlight the legal precedent: rescissions are ignored. The 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments were all added despite a handful of states “changing their minds.” Ratification is a one-way street.
The Equal Rights Amendment is 24 simple words affirming gender equality: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Why would some North Dakota legislators want to protect their ability to discriminate?
In their rush to “send a message to Washington, D.C.” some North Dakota Republicans send the wrong message to their own districts. They join a national anti-equality crowd to spread misinformation full of fear, false equivalence, and a general distrust of future lawmakers and the courts.
This issue should be simple: do your legislators believe in equality for everyone?
Daily inequalities that matter to North Dakotans would be improved with the Equal Rights Amendment: sexual assault, the military justice system, pay equity, women’s exclusion in government funded health care studies, paternity leave, lack of enforcement for protective orders, and more.
As much as anti-equality advocates would like to do it, gender equality cannot be boiled down to the political hand grenade: abortion. My team and I are motivated by our rapes, abusive ex-boyfriends/husbands, misogynistic working environments, and the injustice of gender discrimination not receiving the same judicial standard as discrimination based on race, religion, or country of origin. The pandemic within this pandemic has been women and children trapped at home with abusers.
Gaining constitutional gender equality is still a bit of a journey before us, but women have been told “no” so often we have learned to ignore it. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
Moving toward an equitable future is what all leaders should prioritize. It’s 2021 and our Constitution should include equality for all. For decades our gender equity rankings have fallen and we no longer rank in the top one-third for gender equality in multiple studies. Fixing the gender gap in our founding document is a necessary and immediate step to a more equal future.
Kati Gunkelman Hornung is the co-founder and director of Vote Equality, a nonpartisan grassroots effort promoting equality for all Americans.