Earlier today, Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Carolyn Maloney re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I am proud to serve in the Obama Administration, as this is one of so many policies important to women that the President strongly supports.
When I lived in Springfield, Illinois in 1978, I was transfixed by the ERA debate in the General Assembly. It amazes me that the ERA has been painted as a radical idea, not only upon its introduction in 1923, but even when it passed both houses of Congress in 1972. Its premise is quite simple: men and women shall have equal rights under the law. It is hard to imagine an argument against this basic concept. I remember wearing a 59 cent pin to represent the wage gap at the time — and to show my support for ratification. It was the first time I learned about the importance of public engagement, and saw firsthand some of the frustrations of the political process. In 1982, the ERA ultimately failed when it fell three states short of the 38 states required for ratification before the deadline. Since then, women have broken countless barriers, and we have taken huge strides to strengthen our position in society. But the fact remains: women are still underpaid and underrepresented in our country.
It is a source of pride for me and my colleagues that President Obama has a proven track record of supporting the ERA. As an Illinois State Senator, he was a sponsor of a joint resolution ratifying The Equal Rights Amendment, and as a United States Senator he was a cosponsor of the Women’s Equality Amendment. Under then-Senator Obama’s leadership, the 2008 Democratic Party Platform also reaffirmed support for the Equal Rights Amendment and laid out a strong stance to ensure women’s rights.
It is no secret that President Obama has placed an emphasis on supporting women and girls throughout his career and, in particular, since the day he took office. The first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and he created the White House Council on Women and Girls, whose aim is to ensure that the Federal Government takes the interests of women and girls into account, particularly as we consider and amend public policy.
Recently, President Obama said “History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.” This principle rings true in every country and every era. Of note, that recent quote originates from a speech he was making about the Middle East and North Africa. This basic truth resonates just as strongly at home. That is why this Administration is committed to protecting and advancing the role of women and girls in every aspect of society. From protecting women’s health to helping women realize their full economic potential; and from ending violence against women to promoting international women’s rights, I am gratified to know and report that this Administration is working each day to improve the lives of women and girls in the United States and around the world.
Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls