Equal Means Equal: the state of women’s rights in America

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On Thursday night a crowd of about 100 people gathered at SMU to watch a screening of the documentary film Equal Means Equal which was followed by a panel discussion addressing the challenges that women continue to face in the United States today and the renewed need for an Equal Rights Amendment now more than ever.

The senate approved the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, and the ERA was given a seven-year deadline to get the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment. By 1973, support for ratification started to wain and the Equal Rights Amendment fell short by three states. The film Equal Means Equal highlights the importance of reviving support for the Equal Rights Amendment in 2018.

Director Kamala Lopez conducted over 100 interviews and thousands of hours of research to show areas in which our current laws are failing to protect women. These areas include female poverty, rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, wage discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, female incarceration, child sex trafficking, and reproductive healthcare. Despite the flaws in our current system, Lopez remains optimistic that younger generations will demand equality for women.

“My hope is that the film will reach far and wide across the country and begin to educate the public on what I believe is the greatest civil and human rights violation of our time. And that once informed, the people, in particular, the younger generations who have been shockingly kept ignorant to their own direct economic detriment, will not put up with it,” Lopez wrote in her director’s statement.

After screening the film, a panel discussion was emceed by Syd Clark, an SMU senior. The panelists included JD Professor in SMU’s Dedman School of Law Joanna L. Grossman, Government Affairs Consultant Alejandra Aguirre , and Rick Halperin, who is PhD Director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

Joanna Grossman kicked off the discussion by noting how the constitutions of other countries like Canada and South Africa more effectively address equality.

“The U.S. does not typically ratify treaties that adopt affirmative rights, and in our constitution, we don’t have an affirmative guarantee of equality. If you look at South Africa or Canada’s constitution, the government can be called to task for not doing enough, not just for not being at fault; they’re supposed to be actively fostering equality,” Grossman said.

Alejandra Aguirre drew attention to the fact that our laws do not provide sufficient protection for women because they are, for the most part, not created by women. Aguirre cautioned that in the United States women make up only 23 percent of congress, yet they make up 50 percent of the population and 50 percent of the votes.

“When you look in the mirror the only person that can advocate for you and know what is hurting in your mind, your body, and your soul is someone that looks like you. And so, for me in the morning that is me, and that should be you,” Aguirre said. “If we can get more women in office, then we can continue to make legislation that is on the offense and not have to play defense every time someone is trying to take rights away from us.”

Rick Halperin of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, gave a powerful speech on why women’s rights should not be ignored in our society.

“We either believe that all people are entitled to all rights at all times, or we make excuses to justify why certain individuals or groups of people should be mocked, ignored, abused, laughed at, and discriminated against,” Halperin said.

Despite the current state of women’s rights in America, Halperin believes there is a bright future ahead for women in America. He believes that years from now, women will be treated as equals in the United States.

“I believe that in 50 years from now, when young people today get to be in their 60s, they’ll look back on how America used to be, and you won’t even recognize it. Because I truly do believe that a film like this will be outdated on the kind of America we live in,” Halperin said. That day is coming, and no force can hold it back. We’re not at the America we want to be, but it’s coming.”

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