The Equal Rights Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to guarantee equal rights to all regardless of sex, was first proposed in the 1920s and came close to passing in the 1970s. With gender issues dominating headlines, the #MeToo movement shining an intense spotlight on the issue of sexual violence and harassment, and women fighting more openly for equal pay and equal rights, the ERA has taken on a new relevance. At a discussion at Harvard Kennedy School, panelists discussed the ERA, the long battle for ratification, and the renewed campaign to add it to the Constitution.

The panelists were Katie Packer Beeson, a deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a founding partner of Burning Glass Consulting; Lina Esco, an activist and actress whose work includes S.W.A.T., Kingdom, and Free The Nipple; Jane Mansbridge, Charles F. Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values and the author of Why We Lost the ERA; and Johanna Maska, CEO of Global Situation Room and director of press advance for Barack Obama from 2007 to 2015. Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program, moderated the discussion.

Packer-Beeson

It shouldn’t be controversial. This should be sort of a no-brainer. … It doesn’t matter where you stand on any of these other policy issues: you can be for the Equal Rights Amendment. And there’s no reason for anybody to be opposing it.”

Katie Packer-Beeson

Lina Esco

“I believe there’s nothing more important than women being protected under federal law. …The majority of countries around the globe have provisions in their constitutions that men and women are equal. … Hopefully the ERA will be the 28th amendment by 2020.”

Lina Esco

Jane Mansbridge

“We were bipartisan back in the day. The Republican Party first put the ERA on the platform back in the 1940s. It was always really a bipartisan act. And [today] it might be that something like this could cut across the polarization that’s driving us all crazy.”

Jane Mansbridge

Johanna Maska

“Our goal is to ratify the ERA by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. … Language is power, and our language needs to reflect our values.”

Johanna Maska

Victoria Budson

“When we look at women and our roles in leadership, we are nowhere near equal. In the public sector, women hold roughly 20 percent of the seats in Congress, both in the House and the Senate. When we look at CEOs, we’re still in single-digit numbers looking at Fortune 500 companies. We have a long way to go. But it’s not just cultural: it is within the law. The ERA is a way of stating not just an aspirational goal, but a floor—that women have to have the same equality that men do.”

Victoria Budson