Human Rights Careers

5 Essays to Learn More About Equality

“Equality” is one of those words that seems simple, but is more complicated upon closer inspection. At its core, equality can be defined as “the state of being equal.” When societies value equality, their goals include racial, economic, and gender equality . Do we really know what equality looks like in practice? Does it mean equal opportunities, equal outcomes, or both? To learn more about this concept, here are five essays focusing on equality:

“The Equality Effect” (2017) – Danny Dorling

In this essay, professor Danny Dorling lays out why equality is so beneficial to the world. What is equality? It’s living in a society where everyone gets the same freedoms, dignity, and rights. When equality is realized, a flood of benefits follows. Dorling describes the effect of equality as “magical.” Benefits include happier and healthier citizens, less crime, more productivity, and so on. Dorling believes the benefits of “economically equitable” living are so clear, change around the world is inevitable. Despite the obvious conclusion that equality creates a better world, progress has been slow. We’ve become numb to inequality. Raising awareness of equality’s benefits is essential.

Danny Dorling is the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford. He has co-authored and authored a handful of books, including Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration—and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives . “The Equality Effect” is excerpted from this book. Dorling’s work focuses on issues like health, education, wealth, poverty, and employment.

“The Equality Conundrum” (2020) – Joshua Rothman

Originally published as “Same Difference” in the New Yorker’s print edition, this essay opens with a story. A couple plans on dividing their money equally among their children. However, they realize that to ensure equal success for their children, they might need to start with unequal amounts. This essay digs into the complexity of “equality.” While inequality is a major concern for people, most struggle to truly define it. Citing lectures, studies, philosophy, religion, and more, Rothman sheds light on the fact that equality is not a simple – or easy – concept.

Joshua Rothman has worked as a writer and editor of The New Yorker since 2012. He is the ideas editor of newyorker.com.

“Why Understanding Equity vs Equality in Schools Can Help You Create an Inclusive Classroom” (2019) – Waterford.org

Equality in education is critical to society. Students that receive excellent education are more likely to succeed than students who don’t. This essay focuses on the importance of equity, which means giving support to students dealing with issues like poverty, discrimination and economic injustice. What is the difference between equality and equity? What are some strategies that can address barriers? This essay is a great introduction to the equity issues teachers face and why equity is so important.

Waterford.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving equity and education in the United States. It believes that the educational experiences children receive are crucial for their future. Waterford.org was founded by Dr. Dustin Heuston.

“What does equality mean to me?” (2020) – Gabriela Vivacqua and Saddal Diab

While it seems simple, the concept of equality is complex. In this piece posted by WFP_Africa on the WFP’s Insight page, the authors ask women from South Sudan what equality means to them. Half of South Sudan’s population consists of women and girls. Unequal access to essentials like healthcare, education, and work opportunities hold them back. Complete with photographs, this short text gives readers a glimpse into interpretations of equality and what organizations like the World Food Programme are doing to tackle gender inequality.

As part of the UN, the World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization focusing on hunger and food security . It provides food assistance to over 80 countries each year.

“Here’s How Gender Equality is Measured” (2020) – Catherine Caruso

Gender inequality is one of the most discussed areas of inequality. Sobering stats reveal that while progress has been made, the world is still far from realizing true gender equality. How is gender equality measured? This essay refers to the Global Gender Gap report ’s factors. This report is released each year by the World Economic Forum. The four factors are political empowerment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, and education. The author provides a brief explanation of each factor.

Catherine Caruso is the Editorial Intern at Global Citizen, a movement committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030. Previously, Caruso worked as a writer for Inquisitr. Her English degree is from Syracuse University. She writes stories on health, the environment, and citizenship.

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About the author, emmaline soken-huberty.

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

Why do equal rights matter?

People are not equal, but they are of equal value. They have equal rights and are equal before the law. These human rights are an important principle of any democratic society.

Human rights are also called fundamental rights. These are rights stipulate, for instance, that everyone has freedom of expression. That everyone may freely profess their religion or belief. That everyone has the right to privacy, the right to keep personal information private.

Why do these rights matter? Imagine that these rights did not apply to everyone. That in your country, a certain group of people would not be allowed to express themselves freely or to practise their religion freely. That a group of people, not suspected of any crime, would still be monitored by the government.

All this would make for a very unpleasant society. One in which one or more groups of people would repeatedly be slighted and discriminated against. An unliveable society. Would you want to live there?

Human rights are worth defending. And everyone can make a contribution!

Is unequal treatment always discrimination?

Where do we draw the line between freedom of expression and discrimination, is antisemitism a form of racism.

Center for American Progress

The Equal Rights Amendment: What You Need To Know

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Adopting the long-overdue Equal Rights Amendment could help bolster existing statutory protections under attack, making it a key element in the fight for gender equality.

equal rights for all essay

Building an Economy for All, Strengthening Health, Reproductive Justice, Women’s Economic Security, Women’s Health and Rights, Women’s Issues +4 More

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 (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebrated her 20th anniversary on the bench at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., August 2013.)

Author’s note: The author uses the term “sex discrimination” throughout this issue brief to match the language in the ERA’s text. This term is intended to be synonymous with other terms, such as “sex-based discrimination,” “gender discrimination,” or “gender-based discrimination,” all of which are intended herein to be comprehensive and inclusive beyond discrimination based solely upon sex assigned at birth to include discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation. The ERA would protect individuals against discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the same way that federal statutes such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 do. 1

One hundred years after women gained suffrage 2 —and with a growing number of women in the workforce, holding elected office, and running for president—the time for a constitutional amendment explicitly guaranteeing equal rights regardless of sex is long overdue. 3 Authored by legendary activists Alice Paul, Crystal Eastman, and others in 1923 and later revised, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) mandates that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” 4 Nascent efforts to pass the ERA grew out of a recognition that the commitment to equality rooted in the U.S. Constitution could not be fully realized without an explicit, meaningful commitment to equality regardless of sex. Now, as women and people across the gender spectrum increasingly face mounting attacks on their rights and autonomy, the current push for the ERA is a continued reminder that empty rhetoric and half-measures claiming to support and empower them are entirely inadequate.

When the ERA was written, women’s status in American society was often considered secondary to men’s. Legal restrictions—such as prohibitions against voting and property ownership—combined with long-standing stereotypes about women’s roles meant that women were relegated to certain defined spaces and not treated as full citizens. In particular, many women of color were further constrained by the compounding effects of entrenched racial, ethnic, and gender biases, reinforcing a societal hierarchy where they had diminished status when compared with white women. Although the ERA remains absent from the Constitution, many of the attitudes and practices that spurred its initial proposal have long since been rejected. The broader push for gender equality gained momentum over decades, and, even without the ERA, women and people across the gender spectrum have made enormous strides to elevate their status, secure important legal protections, and gain opportunities across society. But there is still work to do in order to ensure that women and people across the gender spectrum are treated equally and fairly and have the ability to live their lives as they want. The absence of an explicit prohibition against sex discrimination in the Constitution remains one key impediment undermining the fight for gender equality and women’s progress overall—and the ERA is an important tool to accomplish this progress.

Historical precedent in the fight for gender equality rooted in the Constitution

Neither “women” nor “sex” are words that appear in the Constitution, revealing the limits of the Founding Fathers’ narrow understanding of women as equal citizens. The Constitution was written by and for white men with means, which reserved its principle of equal justice under law for the sole benefit of the authors and their privileged peers. This meant that women and people of color, among others, were openly regarded as less than full citizens and thus excluded from many legal protections because of their sex, race, and/or ethnicity.

Even without an explicit mention of sex in the Constitution, many of the legal protections that seek to promote women’s equality—and equality across the gender spectrum—are rooted in the Constitution’s equality principles and a modern understanding of equality that has surpassed outdated prejudices and stereotypes. Strong majorities of the U.S. Supreme Court over more than four decades have made clear that the 14th Amendment, which guarantees “equal protection of the laws,” encompasses protections against sex discrimination; this is evident first in the 1971 landmark ruling, Reed v. Reed , followed by other cases such as Frontiero v. Richardson , which was argued by now-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 5 Despite this broad consensus, some conservative thinkers and theorists—such as Justice Antonin Scalia 6 —have rejected a reading of the 14th Amendment to include sex, arguing that such arguments are specious because they do not reflect the original intent of the nation’s founders. In the face of an increasingly conservative federal judiciary, arguments against sex discrimination rooted in the 14th Amendment are under threat, and existing protections are vulnerable to being rolled back. 7

Ratifying the ERA would affirm that sex discrimination is inconsistent with the nation’s core value of equal protection under the law, and it would send a clear message about a national commitment to the inherent equality of all people. The amendment also bolsters the argument that judicial review of cases alleging sex discrimination should utilize the highest level of legal scrutiny, requiring a compelling state interest to deem a particular sex-based action or practice constitutional. 8 Heightened scrutiny would make it harder to dismiss or reject sex discrimination claims and protections outright. Thus, the ERA has the potential to achieve vital progress, with its impact extending to a number of areas.

The modern-day push for the ERA

Boosted by activism of women’s rights and civil rights advocates, Congress passed the ERA in 1973 and initially gave states until 1979 to ratify it by a three-fourths majority. The deadline was extended to 1982, but the ERA fell three states short of the 38-state threshold. More recently, a groundswell of support for women’s rights led Nevada to ratify the ERA in 2017, followed by Illinois in 2018. In January 2020, Virginia became the historic and crucial 38th state to ratify the ERA. Pending legal challenges, however, mean the amendment’s future remains uncertain. 9

Understanding the potential implications

The ERA’s explicit prohibition of sex discrimination could help to sustain or expand critical protections that have been used to challenge a wide range of discriminatory conduct and practices. Ratifying the amendment would likely provide additional support for new and existing protections against sex discrimination in areas including gender-based violence (GBV), the workplace, and access to reproductive health care.

Violence Against Women Act

First passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 10 is landmark legislation that seeks to combat GBV 11 through a basic infrastructure for governmental and community supports for survivors. VAWA has been reauthorized three times—in 2000, 2005, and 2013—but in 2018, the House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support a reauthorization bill that has since stalled in the Senate. While VAWA has led to a significant drop in GBV and has vastly expanded resources and supports, there remains room for improvement and a need for expanded protections. It is crucial that Congress swiftly reauthorizes and expands VAWA.

In addition, ratifying the ERA could ensure that these and future protections are as strong as possible for survivors seeking justice in court. When VAWA was first passed, it included a provision that would have allowed survivors to sue their attackers in federal court for damages or other relief. A divided Supreme Court later struck down the provision, ruling that it exceeded Congress’ authority to regulate conduct that did not constitute interstate commerce. 12 Ratifying the ERA could pave the way to reexamine and restore this important provision, by bolstering arguments in support of Congress’ constitutional authority and thus giving more than 50 million survivors an additional pathway to justice. 13

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities and, thus, requires schools receiving federal funding to respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault on their facilities or campuses. 14 Survivors of sexual assault or harassment—whether at the collegiate, secondary, or elementary level—are at particular risk since the Trump administration weakened existing protections against sex discrimination under Title IX. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has rescinded more than 20 Obama-era anti-discrimination policy guidelines—signaling the current administration’s intent to weaken enforcement—and has proposed harmful rules that would make it harder for survivors to challenge and remedy sexual misconduct. 15 The ERA could provide additional legal support in cases challenging the government and its efforts to disadvantage survivors and to dilute much-needed protections that acknowledge, respect, and protect them.

Pay discrimination

The ERA could enhance existing statutory protections against pay discrimination and bolster individual legal challenges to discriminatory conduct. For example, although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits sex-based pay differences, it includes an affirmative defense framework that allows employers to put forward specific defenses to justify a pay disparity. Courts have interpreted one of these defenses—called the “factor other than sex” defense—so broadly that it has effectively become a loophole that allows some employers to successfully defend discriminatory pay practices that sound impartial or gender neutral on the surface. The ERA’s clear prohibition against sex discrimination could strengthen arguments to close this loophole. This additional support could be enormously helpful, particularly in the absence of comprehensive equal pay legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act. 16

Pregnancy discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was enacted more than 40 years ago, and while it has enabled more people to continue working—and for longer—while pregnant, it has not ended pregnancy discrimination all together. 17 This is in part due to courts interpreting protections under the PDA too narrowly, often ignoring the discriminatory effects of employer practices—such as limits on the availability of light-duty work options—that result in leaving many pregnant people without access to necessary accommodations. 18 The ERA could provide additional reasoning, grounded in constitutional protections, to challenge policies that effectively exclude individuals seeking pregnancy accommodations from the protection of the law, as well as to ensure equitable treatment and better conditions for pregnant workers.

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Reproductive health

Equality means elevating the oppressed to enjoy the same rights and protections as the most privileged. This includes the freedom to make choices about one’s own body. Foundational rulings protecting reproductive autonomy—including in cases such as Roe v. Wade, which affirmed the constitutional right to access abortion care, as well as Griswold v. Connecticut , Lawrence v. Texas , and Planned Parenthood v. Casey —have made clear that reproductive autonomy is central to people’s abilities to participate equally in society. 19 The ERA could further buttress these existing constitutional protections and help guard against the growing onslaught of attempts to restrict access to reproductive health care including abortion and contraception. For example, state courts in Connecticut and New Mexico have found that laws prohibiting Medicaid coverage of medically necessary abortions violate the ERA-type language in their state constitutions. 20

Opportunities for progress alongside the ERA

The ERA represents critical progress, but it is important to recognize that its passage alone will not end discrimination overnight or result in instant equality. The ERA, like other constitutional amendments, would expressly cover governmental and state actions but does not directly address the private sector. The amendment should be understood as just one fundamental element of the fight for gender equality, one that provides an extra layer of protection that could make a difference in undoing long-standing discriminatory practices. Thus, it does not supplant the critical role of policymakers to take robust action to combat all forms of discrimination in order to ensure equality and adequate protections for women and people across the gender spectrum. This work must be done with a deep understanding of the intersectional experiences of women of color and gender minorities, in order to recognize how a combination of factors such as racial and gender biases can erect unique discriminatory barriers. 21 At minimum, this includes:

  • Securing access to comprehensive, noncoercive reproductive health care: Lawmakers must ensure access to high-quality, culturally competent, affordable health care—including abortion care, contraceptives, family planning, and maternal health care.
  • Protecting and expanding access to abortion care: Lawmakers must eliminate harmful restrictions, such as targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws and the Hyde Amendment, as well as expand insurance coverage of abortion care.
  • Eliminating racial disparities in maternal health outcomes: Lawmakers must improve access to critical services; improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women; address maternal mental health; enhance supports for families before and after birth; and improve data collection and oversight, particularly with a focus on persistent racial disparities. 22
  • Reauthorizing and expanding VAWA: Lawmakers must reauthorize and expand VAWA to ensure protections and vital services for survivors.
  • Ensuring strong protections against GBV in educational settings: Lawmakers must protect and strengthen Title IX’s protections against sexual assault and harassment.
  • Combating workplace discrimination: Lawmakers must enact policies that improve protections against pay discrimination, enhance protections against workplace sexual harassment, and expand pregnancy accommodations and anti-retaliation protections for pregnant workers.
  • Increasing wages: Lawmakers must raise the federal minimum wage, eliminate the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities, and eliminate the tipped minimum wage.
  • Supporting workers who are caregivers: Lawmakers must implement comprehensive paid family and medical leave for all workers, secure paid sick days, and increase investment in universal child care.
  • Implementing a structural redesign for workforce equity: Lawmakers should consider redesigning a workforce system that utilizes high-quality skills training and employment services to combat occupational segregation and workforce inequality. 23

These additional legislative and executive actions—and many more 24 —are needed to hold private entities fully accountable for their conduct. Strong enforcement mechanisms are also essential to ensuring that the ERA is more than just an ideal.

The path forward

Opponents of the ERA have sought to undermine its passage using a variety of tactics, including by deploying alarmist language to argue that many areas where gender-specific programming exists—such as single-sex educational institutions or high school athletics—would be prohibited. But even without the ERA, specific parameters guided by Supreme Court and other legal precedent have been developed to determine when single-sex programs are permissible, such as when they are used to compensate for the historic, societal, and economic disadvantage of a particular class. Nothing in the ERA would alter this guidance. If anything, the ERA would provide additional support for this existing legal precedent. Furthermore, opponents point to the military draft as something women would have to contend with if the ERA is ratified. In reality, women are already commonplace in the military and have been allowed to serve in all combat roles since 2015. 25 Moreover, there is no clear indication that the United States plans on reinstating the draft in the future. The potential role of the ERA in this setting would simply be to ensure that all people serving in the military are treated equally regardless of sex.

Additionally, government and state officials who oppose the ERA, including a Trump appointee in the U.S. Department of Justice and three Republican state attorneys general, have argued that continued state efforts to ratify the ERA are moot given the initial deadline. 26 Thus, they claim, the entire process would need to restart for the ERA to be ratified. 27 ERA advocates argue that the ratification deadline—if even constitutional 28 —is nonbinding given that it was written into the preamble of the amendment and thus is not present in the language ratified by the states. Advocates also dismiss the attempts of five states to rescind their ratifications, given that such attempts with the 14th and 15th Amendments were considered to lack constitutional authority and were thus ignored. 29 Moreover, advocates argue that if Congress can impose and extend ratification deadlines, then it can also remove them. 30 Based on this argument, the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution to strike the time limit from the preamble of the ERA in November 2019. 31 The resolution awaits a vote by the full House, and there is also a bipartisan companion bill awaiting uncertain action in the Senate.

Ultimately, the decision on the ERA’s timeliness is up to Congress. According to legal precedent, Congress may set a time limit for ratification in a “reasonable” and “sufficiently contemporaneous” time frame to “reflect the will of the people.” 32 The interpretation of timeliness is a “political question … with the ultimate authority in the Congress.” 33 These rulings make clear that a time limit should not be the sole determining factor for ratification. Notably, the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified nearly 203 years after it was introduced in the first Congress. In a moment of unprecedented attacks by the Trump administration and others against women and the programs and policies upon which they depend—and the majority of American adults supporting the ERA—the amendment seems as ripe as ever for ratification. 34

Moving forward, the Constitution should reflect the nation’s future, one in which the United States is a leader—not a follower—on the world stage and where it upholds its central tenet of equality for all, regardless of sex or gender. While often portrayed as a world leader, the United States lags behind the 76 percent of countries around the world with constitutions that guarantee equal rights for women. 35 The federal government even falls short of the progress that has been made in many of its states, with 25 state constitutions in some way explicitly guaranteeing equal rights on the basis of sex. 36 When written, the U.S. Constitution reflected a moment in time when predominant views of women and women’s roles were vastly different than they are today.

The ERA has certain symbolic importance, communicating unequivocally that people across the gender spectrum are innately equal and deserving of constitutional protection. It would demonstrate fundamental respect for the value and support of women and people across the gender spectrum in the way that the country has done for the privileged and powerful since its founding. And yet, it is not a perfect, cure-all solution. The ERA will not immediately garner rights for women and people across the gender spectrum that they do not already have under law—rights that were secured by over 100 years of litigation and activism. What the ERA could do, however, is provide essential support in litigating sex discrimination by bolstering existing statutory protections that are currently vulnerable to attack by the Trump administration and conservative lawmakers.

Moreover, the effect of the ERA depends in large part on how it is interpreted and enforced. Constitutional protections against discrimination, and existing statutory protections for that matter, are hollow without vigorous enforcement. Therefore, in addition to ratifying the ERA, it is essential for the public to hold politicians accountable for the ERA’s promise of gender equality and to push for additional anti-discrimination policies that can reach spheres outside the ERA’s direct influence. Women and people across the gender spectrum still face myriad challenges—but recognition of their equal rights in the nation’s founding document should not be one of them.

Robin Bleiweis is a research associate for women’s economic security for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

The author would like to thank Jocelyn Frye, Shilpa Phadke, and Jamille Fields Allsbrook for their assistance with this issue brief.

  • Know Your IX, “Title IX Protections for LGBTQ Students,” available at https://www.knowyourix.org/college-resources/title-ix-protections-lgbtq-students/ (last accessed January 2020); U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Examples of Court Decisions Supporting Coverage of LGBT-Related Discrimination Under Title VII,” available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/lgbt_examples_decisions.cfm (last accessed January 2020).
  • Ratified in 1920, the 19th Amendment mandated that states could not deny voting privileges on the basis of sex—however, this right was enjoyed primarily by white women, while many women of color were not allowed to vote until many decades later when, for example, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted. See Jennifer Schuessler, “The Complex History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement,” The New York Times , August 15, 2019, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/arts/design/womens-suffrage-movement.html .
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the labor force: a databook” (Washington: 2018), available at https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2018/home.htm ; Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for American Women and Politics, “Women in Elective Office 2020,” available at https://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2020 (last accessed January 2020); Amanda Sakuma, “A historic number of women are officially running in 2020,” Vox, February 10, 2019, available at https://www.vox.com/2019/2/10/18219401/record-breaking-women-running-for-president .
  • Alice Paul Institute, “The Equal Rights Amendment: A Brief History,” available at https://www.alicepaul.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ERA-A-History.pdf (last accessed January 2020).
  • Reed v. Reed , 404 U.S. 71 (November 22, 1971), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/404/71 ; Frontiero v. Richardson , 411 U.S. 677 (May 14, 1973), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/411/677 . See also Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Sexual Equality Under the Fourteenth and Equal Rights Amendments,” Washington University Law Review 1 (1979): 161–178, available at https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2509&context=law_lawreview .
  • Paul Courson, “Scalia comments show need for new rights amendment, backers say,” CNN Politics, January 6, 2011, available at https://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/01/06/era.scalia/index.html .
  • Sam Berger, “Conservative Court Packing,” Center for American Progress, April 3, 2019, available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/news/2019/04/03/468234/conservative-court-packing/ .
  • Legal Information Institute, “Strict scrutiny,” available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/strict_scrutiny (last accessed January 2020). Strict scrutiny is often invoked in an equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment, when a law is challenged that “infringes upon a fundamental right or involves a suspect classification.” Sex is not currently a suspect classification; however, advocates argue that if the ERA is ratified, courts should invoke strict scrutiny in cases of sex discrimination, the way they often do in cases of racial discrimination.
  • Alabama, Louisiana, South Dakota v. David S. Ferriero , 7:19-cv-02032-LSC (December 16, 2019), available at https://aboutblaw.com/NE8 ; Equal Means Equal v. Ferriero , 1:20-cv-10015 (January 7, 2020), available at https://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/desktop/document/EqualMeansEqualetalDocketNo120cv10015DMassJan072020CourtDocket?1578596059
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence, “Violence Against Women Act,” available at https://nnedv.org/content/violence-against-women-act/ (last accessed January 2020).
  • The author defines “gender-based violence” to encompass the many forms of gender-based misconduct, including negative behaviors directed at an individual based on their gender, gender expression, or sex as well as behaviors that are sexual in nature, including but not limited to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking.
  • United States v. Morrison , 529 U.S. 598 (May 15, 2000), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/99-5P.ZO .
  • Sharon G. Smith and others, “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release” (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015), available at  https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf .
  • American Association of University Women, “Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault under Title IX,” available at  https://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-on-campus/campus-sexual-assault/  (last accessed January 2020).
  • Victoria Yuen and Osub Ahmed, “4 Ways Secretary DeVos’ Proposed Title IX Rule Will Fail Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault,” Center for American Progress, November 16, 2018, available at  https://americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/news/2018/11/16/461181/4-ways-secretary-devos-proposed-title-ix-rule-will-fail-survivors-campus-sexual-assault/ ; Jeannie Suk Gersen, “Assessing Betsy DeVos’s Proposed Rules on Title IX and Sexual Assault,” The New Yorker , February 1, 2019, available at https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/assessing-betsy-devos-proposed-rules-on-title-ix-and-sexual-assault .
  • National Women’s Law Center, “Paycheck Fairness: Closing the ‘Factor Other Than Sex’ Gap in the Equal Pay Act,” available at https://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/FactorOtherThanSex.pdf (last accessed January 2020).
  • Nora Ellmann and Jocelyn Frye, “Efforts to Combat Pregnancy Discrimination: Confronting Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Bias,” Center for American Progress, November 2, 2018, available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2018/11/02/460353/efforts-combat-pregnancy-discrimination/ .
  • Joanna L. Grossman and Deborah L. Brake, “Afterbirth: The Supreme Court’s Ruling in Young v. UPS Leaves Many Questions Unanswered,” Verdict, April 20, 2015, available at https://verdict.justia.com/2015/04/20/afterbirth-the-supreme-courts-ruling-in-young-v-ups-leaves-many-questions-unanswered .
  • Griswold v. Connecticut , 381 U.S. 479 (June 7, 1965), available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/381/479/ ; Roe v. Wade , 410 U.S. 113 (January 22, 1973), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113 ; Lawrence v. Texas , 539 U.S. 558 (June 26, 2003), available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/539/558/ ; Planned Parenthood v. Casey , 505 U.S. 833 (June 29, 1992), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/505/833 .
  • NARAL, “Connecticut Abortion Law,” available at https://www.prochoicect.org/laws-policy/connecticutabortionlaw/ (last accessed January 2020); NARAL, “State Laws: New Mexico,” available at https://www.prochoiceamerica.org/state-law/new-mexico/#abortion-policies-providers (last accessed January 2020).
  • Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1) (1989): 139–167, available at https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf .
  • Jamila Taylor and others, “Eliminating Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality: A Comprehensive Policy Blueprint” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2019), available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/02/469186/eliminating-racial-disparities-maternal-infant-mortality/ .
  • Livia Lam, “A Design for Workforce Equity: Workforce Redesign for Quality Training and Employment: A Framing Paper” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2019), available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/10/16/475875/design-workforce-equity/ .
  • For more policies that are key to securing equality for women and people across the gender spectrum, see Shilpa Phadke, Robin Bleiweis, and Nora Ellmann, “What Women Need: An Agenda to Move Women and Families Forward,” Center for American Progress, December 4, 2019, available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2019/12/04/478068/women-need-agenda-move-women-families-forward/ .
  • Service Women’s Action Network, “Women in the Military: Where They Stand” (Washington: 2019), available at https://www.servicewomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/SWAN-Where-we-stand-2019-0416revised.pdf ; Matthew Rosenberg and Dave Phillipps, “All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Defense Secretary Says,” The New York Times , December 3, 2015, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/us/politics/combat-military-women-ash-carter.html .
  • Steven A. Engel, “Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment,” Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel in Volume 44 (2020): 1–28, available at https://aboutblaw.com/N0D . See also Alabama, Louisiana, South Dakota v. David S. Ferriero , 7:19-cv-02032-LSC (December 16, 2019).
  • Equal Means Equal v. Ferriero , 1:20-cv-10015 (January 7, 2020). Plaintiffs argue that Congress cannot set ratification deadlines, given that the power is not explicitly mentioned in Article 5 of the Constitution and that ratification deadlines illegally restrict states’ rights.
  • House Judiciary Committee, “House Judiciary Committee Passes Resolution Removing Ratification Deadline for the ERA,” Press release, November 13, 2019, available at https://judiciary.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2147 . See also “Removing the deadline for the ratification of the equal rights amendment,” H.J.Res.79, 116th Cong., 1st sess. (November 8, 2019), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-joint-resolution/79 .
  • Dillon v. Gloss , 256 U.S. 368 (May 16, 1921), available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/256/368/ .
  • Coleman v. Miller , 307 U.S. 433 (June 5, 1939), available at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/307/433/
  • Kathy Frankovic, “Virginia could be the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and Americans approve,” YouGov, November 18, 2019, available at https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/11/18/equal-rights-amendment-poll ; ERA Coalition, “Americans—by 94%–Overwhelmingly Support the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA),” Press release, June 17, 2016, available at http://www.eracoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ERA-Polling-Press-Release-1.pdf .
  • Isabel Latz and others, “Equal Rights for Women and Girls in the World’s Constitutions” (Los Angeles: WORLD Policy Analysis Center, 2015), available at https://www.worldpolicycenter.org/sites/default/files/WORLD_Policy_Brief_Equal_Rights_For_Women_and_Girls_in_Constitutions_2015.pdf .
  • EqualRightsAmendment.org, “Frequently Asked Questions,” available at https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/faq (last accessed January 2020).

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here . American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Robin Bleiweis

Former Former Research Associate, Women’s Economic Security

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The Equal Rights Amendment Explained

Thirty-eight states have finally ratified the ERA, but whether its protections for women’s rights are actually added to the Constitution remains an open question.

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  • Equal Rights Amendment

On January 15, Virginia became the latest state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the Constitution that guarantees equal rights for women. The measure emerged as a top legislative priority after Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly for the first time in two decades, leading to the election of the first female speaker of the state’s House of Delegates. It received bipartisan support in both chambers. This historic vote follows recent ratifications by Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018 after four decades of inactivity.

The Constitution provides that amendments take effect when three-quarters of the states ratify them, putting the current threshold at 38 states. Virginia was the 38th state to ratify the ERA since Congress proposed it in 1972, technically pushing the ERA across that threshold. And yet, there are still hurdles in the ERA’s path. The ratification deadlines that Congress set after it approved the amendment have lapsed, and five states have acted to rescind their prior approval. These raise important questions, and now it is up to Congress, the courts, and the American people to resolve them.

What is the Equal Rights Amendment?

The Equal Rights Amendment was first drafted in 1923 by two leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. For women’s rights advocates, the ERA was the next logical step following the successful campaign to win access to the ballot through the adoption of the 19th Amendment. They believed that enshrining the principle of gender equality in our founding charter would help overcome many of the obstacles that kept women as second-class citizens.

While the text of the amendment has changed over the years, the gist of it has remained the same. The version approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states reads:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

Beginning in 1923, lawmakers introduced the ERA in every session of Congress, but it made little progress until the 1970s. It didn’t help that for most of the twentieth century, Congress was comprised almost entirely of men. In the nearly five-decade span between 1922 and 1970, only 10 women served in the Senate, with no more than 2 serving at the same time. The picture was only slightly better in the House.

In 1970, a new class of women lawmakers — including Reps. Martha Griffiths (D-MO) and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) — pressed to make the ERA a top legislative priority. They had to overcome the resistance of Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who had refused to hold a hearing on the ERA for over 30 years. Faced with increased pressure, Celler finally relented. In March 1972, the amendment passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support far exceeding the two-thirds majorities required by the Constitution. Congress promptly sent the proposed amendment to the states for ratification with a seven-year deadline.

Why wasn’t the ERA ratified by its original deadline?

Within a year, 30 of the necessary 38 states acted to ratify the ERA. But then momentum slowed as conservative activists allied with the emerging religious right launched a campaign to stop the amendment in its tracks. Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative lawyer and activist from Illinois who led the STOP ERA campaign, argued that the measure would lead to gender-neutral bathrooms, same-sex marriage, and women in military combat, among other things.

The opposition campaign was remarkably successful. Support for the ERA eroded, particularly among Republicans. Though the GOP was the first party to endorse the ERA back in 1940, GOP lawmakers cooled to the amendment, leading to a stalemate in the states.

By 1977, only 35 states had ratified the ERA. Though Congress voted to extend the ratification deadline by an additional three years, no new states signed on. Complicating matters further, lawmakers in five states — Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky, and South Dakota — voted to rescind their earlier support.

In 1982, following the expiration of the extended deadline, most activists and lawmakers accepted the ERA’s defeat. But in the four decades since Congress first proposed the ERA, courts and legislatures have realized much of what the amendment was designed to accomplish. A significant portion of the credit goes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who as the founding director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project found success in arguing for a jurisprudence of gender equality under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

And yet, despite these dramatic and important gains for women’s rights, pervasive gender discrimination persists in the form of wage disparities, sexual harassment and violence, and unequal representation in the institutions of American democracy.

Why is there revived interest in the ERA today?

In recent years there has been a resurgence of women’s activism, from the Women’s March on Washington to the #MeToo Movement to the record number of women elected to Congress and state legislatures in 2018. Amid this renewed focus on issues of gender equality, lawmakers and advocacy organizations like the ERA Coalition have put the amendment back on the nation’s agenda.

The renewed push to adopt the ERA captured public attention in 2017, when Nevada became the first state to ratify the measure since 1977. A key ERA champion, State Sen. Pat Spearman, explained, “This is the right thing to do, it’s the right time to do it, and so we just ought to do it.”

In 2018, the Illinois legislature followed suit. “This is our generation’s chance to correct a long standing wrong,” argued Illinois State Rep. Steven Andersson, a Republican who helped shepherd the measure. With each new ratification, there has been increased GOP support for the ERA.

Proponents argue that adoption of the ERA can advance the cause of equality in the twenty-first century, but key questions remain. Julie Suk, a sociologist and legal scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, has asked , “If ratified in the coming year, how should we construe the meaning of a constitutional amendment introduced almost a century ago and adopted half a century before full ratification?” 

Over the last year, Brennan Center experts were among those to weigh in on the debate.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the Brennan Center’s Women and Democracy Fellow, noted that the ERA would empower Congress “to enforce gender equity through legislation and, more generally, the creation of a social framework to formally acknowledge systemic biases that permeate and often limit women’s daily experiences.” And it would create consistency to address the patchwork ways gender and economic inequity are often addressed in our current laws. Among the “lingering legal and policy inequities the ERA would help rectify,” she identified the emerging issue of menstrual equity as a legal and policy issue “the ERA could further refine and bolster.” 

Brennan Center Fellow Wilfred Codrington (also co-author of this piece)  considered whether the ERA, framed as “an explicit, permanent constitutional provision outlawing gender discrimination,” is sufficient to meet the challenge of inequality today. “Lawmakers are justified in adopting the ERA,” Codrington argued, “even if it’s uncertain that the amendment would fully achieve its advocates’ desired ends.” But courts should also draw on their constitutional authority based in equity — defined as “recourse to principle of justice to correct or supplement the law” — which can reinforce their legal equality analysis and equip them to address “a broader spectrum of anti-discrimination cases … with greater nuance.” 

John Kowal, the Brennan Center’s Vice President for Programs, explored the legal and procedural questions for Congress, the courts, and the American people arising out of the ERA’s surprising revival after a long period of dormancy. Should the push to ratify the 1972 version of the ERA fail on procedural grounds, Kowal also considered the advantages of starting the amendment process anew given the amendment’s strong base of public support. “When a powerful social movement with deep popular support takes up the goal of constitutional change,” he said, “history shows that this is a battle that can be won.”

What are the key legal challenges today?

Does Virginia’s vote to ratify the ERA mean it will be adopted as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution? The answer hinges on two procedural questions with no settled answer.

First, can Congress act now, nearly 48 years after first proposing the ERA, to waive the lapsed deadline? ERA supporters have long argued that just as Congress had the power to set a deadline, they have the power to lift one. Senate Joint Resolution 6 , a bipartisan measure sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) which is currently pending in Congress, seeks to do just that. But while the ERA’s deadline was extended prior to the deadline, there is no precedent for waiving the deadline after its expiration.

Second, can states act to rescind their support of a constitutional amendment before it is finally ratified? Congress confronted this question twice, during the ratification of 14th and 15th Amendments in the years immediately following the Civil War. In each instance, Congress adopted resolutions declaring the amendments ratified, ignoring the purported state rescissions. But in 1980, a federal district court in Idaho ruled that the state’s rescission of the ERA was valid.

Who will decide these questions? Under a 1984 law, the Archivist of the United States is charged with issuing a formal certification after three-quarters of the states have ratified an amendment. When there has been doubt over the validity of an amendment, Congress has acted to declare it valid. This occurred most recently in 1992 when the states ratified the 27th Amendment , 203 years after Congress proposed it.

On January 8, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued an opinion arguing that the deadline set by Congress is binding and that the ERA “is no longer pending before the States.” Notably, the opinion rejects the conclusion of the 1977 OLC opinion, which approved of the earlier extension of the ERA’s ratification deadline. In response, the National Archives and Records Administration has said that the archivist of the United States, Daniel Ferriero, will not certify Virginia’s ratification or add the ERA to the Constitution until a federal court issues an order. (Ferriero had previously accepted the ratifications from both Nevada and Illinois.)

But would the courts have a say in this controversy? In a 1939 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the question of whether an amendment has been ratified in a reasonable period of time is a “political question” best left in the hands of Congress, not the courts. If Congress acts to waive the deadline, would the courts continue to honor that precedent? How much weight would they give to the view of the American people, who strongly support the ERA according to recent polls ?

In sum, Virginia’s vote to ratify the ERA has spurred an important legal and policy debate. However the disputes over the amendment’s validity are resolved, it is clear is that the conversation around the ERA, an amendment that is already nearly a century in the making, is not likely to end in 2020.

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The equal rights amendment's revival: questions for congress, the courts and the american people.

After a long period of dormancy, the campaign to ratify the ERA has sprung back to life. Are we just one state away from ratifying the Twenty-Eighth Amendment?

State-Level Equal Rights Amendments

Expert brief, the benefits of equity in the constitutional quest for equality, the era campaign and menstrual equity, equal rights amendment symposium 2018, informed citizens are democracy’s best defense.

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When Thomas Jefferson penned ‘all men are created equal,’ he did not mean individual equality, says Stanford scholar

When the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it was a call for the right to statehood rather than individual liberties, says Stanford historian Jack Rakove. Only after the American Revolution did people interpret it as a promise for individual equality.

In the decades following the Declaration of Independence, Americans began reading the affirmation that “all men are created equal” in different ways than the framers intended, says Stanford historian Jack Rakove .

equal rights for all essay

With each generation, the words expressed in the Declaration of Independence have expanded beyond what the founding fathers originally intended when they adopted the historic document on July 4, 1776, says Stanford historian Jack Rakove. (Image credit: Getty Images)

On July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted the historic text drafted by Thomas Jefferson, they did not intend it to mean individual equality. Rather, what they declared was that American colonists, as a people , had the same rights to self-government as other nations. Because they possessed this fundamental right, Rakove said, they could establish new governments within each of the states and collectively assume their “separate and equal station” with other nations. It was only in the decades after the American Revolutionary War that the phrase acquired its compelling reputation as a statement of individual equality.

Here, Rakove reflects on this history and how now, in a time of heightened scrutiny of the country’s founders and the legacy of slavery and racial injustices they perpetuated, Americans can better understand the limitations and failings of their past governments.

Rakove is the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and professor of political science, emeritus, in the School of Humanities and Sciences. His book, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution  (1996), won the Pulitzer Prize in History. His new book, Beyond Belief, Beyond Conscience: The Radical Significance of the Free Exercise of Religion will be published next month.

With the U.S. confronting its history of systemic racism, are there any problems that Americans are reckoning with today that can be traced back to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution?

I view the Declaration as a point of departure and a promise, and the Constitution as a set of commitments that had lasting consequences – some troubling, others transformative. The Declaration, in its remarkable concision, gives us self-evident truths that form the premises of the right to revolution and the capacity to create new governments resting on popular consent. The original Constitution, by contrast, involved a set of political commitments that recognized the legal status of slavery within the states and made the federal government partially responsible for upholding “the peculiar institution.” As my late colleague Don Fehrenbacher argued, the Constitution was deeply implicated in establishing “a slaveholders’ republic” that protected slavery in complex ways down to 1861.

But the Reconstruction amendments of 1865-1870 marked a second constitutional founding that rested on other premises. Together they made a broader definition of equality part of the constitutional order, and they gave the national government an effective basis for challenging racial inequalities within the states. It sadly took far too long for the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s to implement that commitment, but when it did, it was a fulfillment of the original vision of the 1860s.

As people critically examine the country’s founding history, what might they be surprised to learn from your research that can inform their understanding of American history today?

Two things. First, the toughest question we face in thinking about the nation’s founding pivots on whether the slaveholding South should have been part of it or not. If you think it should have been, it is difficult to imagine how the framers of the Constitution could have attained that end without making some set of “compromises” accepting the legal existence of slavery. When we discuss the Constitutional Convention, we often praise the compromise giving each state an equal vote in the Senate and condemn the Three Fifths Clause allowing the southern states to count their slaves for purposes of political representation. But where the quarrel between large and small states had nothing to do with the lasting interests of citizens – you never vote on the basis of the size of the state in which you live – slavery was a real and persisting interest that one had to accommodate for the Union to survive.

Second, the greatest tragedy of American constitutional history was not the failure of the framers to eliminate slavery in 1787. That option was simply not available to them. The real tragedy was the failure of Reconstruction and the ensuing emergence of Jim Crow segregation in the late 19th century that took many decades to overturn. That was the great constitutional opportunity that Americans failed to grasp, perhaps because four years of Civil War and a decade of the military occupation of the South simply exhausted Northern public opinion. Even now, if you look at issues of voter suppression, we are still wrestling with its consequences.

You argue that in the decades after the Declaration of Independence, Americans began understanding the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation that “all men are created equal” in a different way than the framers intended. How did the founding fathers view equality? And how did these diverging interpretations emerge?

When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” in the preamble to the Declaration, he was not talking about individual equality. What he really meant was that the American colonists, as a people , had the same rights of self-government as other peoples, and hence could declare independence, create new governments and assume their “separate and equal station” among other nations. But after the Revolution succeeded, Americans began reading that famous phrase another way. It now became a statement of individual equality that everyone and every member of a deprived group could claim for himself or herself. With each passing generation, our notion of who that statement covers has expanded. It is that promise of equality that has always defined our constitutional creed.

Thomas Jefferson drafted a passage in the Declaration, later struck out by Congress, that blamed the British monarchy for imposing slavery on unwilling American colonists, describing it as “the cruel war against human nature.” Why was this passage removed?

At different moments, the Virginia colonists had tried to limit the extent of the slave trade, but the British crown had blocked those efforts. But Virginians also knew that their slave system was reproducing itself naturally. They could eliminate the slave trade without eliminating slavery. That was not true in the West Indies or Brazil.

The deeper reason for the deletion of this passage was that the members of the Continental Congress were morally embarrassed about the colonies’ willing involvement in the system of chattel slavery. To make any claim of this nature would open them to charges of rank hypocrisy that were best left unstated.

If the founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, thought slavery was morally corrupt, how did they reconcile owning slaves themselves, and how was it still built into American law?

Two arguments offer the bare beginnings of an answer to this complicated question. The first is that the desire to exploit labor was a central feature of most colonizing societies in the Americas, especially those that relied on the exportation of valuable commodities like sugar, tobacco, rice and (much later) cotton. Cheap labor in large quantities was the critical factor that made these commodities profitable, and planters did not care who provided it – the indigenous population, white indentured servants and eventually African slaves – so long as they were there to be exploited.

To say that this system of exploitation was morally corrupt requires one to identify when moral arguments against slavery began to appear. One also has to recognize that there were two sources of moral opposition to slavery, and they only emerged after 1750. One came from radical Protestant sects like the Quakers and Baptists, who came to perceive that the exploitation of slaves was inherently sinful. The other came from the revolutionaries who recognized, as Jefferson argued in his Notes on the State of Virginia , that the very act of owning slaves would implant an “unremitting despotism” that would destroy the capacity of slaveowners to act as republican citizens. The moral corruption that Jefferson worried about, in other words, was what would happen to slaveowners who would become victims of their own “boisterous passions.”

But the great problem that Jefferson faced – and which many of his modern critics ignore – is that he could not imagine how black and white peoples could ever coexist as free citizens in one republic. There was, he argued in Query XIV of his Notes , already too much foul history dividing these peoples. And worse still, Jefferson hypothesized, in proto-racist terms, that the differences between the peoples would also doom this relationship. He thought that African Americans should be freed – but colonized elsewhere. This is the aspect of Jefferson’s thinking that we find so distressing and depressing, for obvious reasons. Yet we also have to recognize that he was trying to grapple, I think sincerely, with a real problem.

No historical account of the origins of American slavery would ever satisfy our moral conscience today, but as I have repeatedly tried to explain to my Stanford students, the task of thinking historically is not about making moral judgments about people in the past. That’s not hard work if you want to do it, but your condemnation, however justified, will never explain why people in the past acted as they did. That’s our real challenge as historians.

Equal Rights for All

青い地球を見つめる大勢の人々

Who would argue with the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal”?

But one immediately runs into trouble. What about the Declaration limiting it to “men”? Are women equal? They did not have the right to vote at the beginning. Yet, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders certainly believed women were morally equal and were covered under the generic term “men,” for mankind. Was that enough?

What about slaves—African Americans, in particular? Even Aristotle believed in natural inequality and slavery. As President Barack Obama noted at this year’s religious breakfast, Christian slave owners often quoted from the Bible to justify inequality. Indeed, Christians committed many “terrible deeds” against minorities “in the name of Christ.” Yet, as noted by columnist Eugene Robinson, Christians without an economic interest in slavery did not use the Bible that way, and those such as William Wilberforce, the abolitionists, and even Martin Luther King Jr. used the Christian idea of equality to justify stamping out the severe inequality of slavery.

Oxford and St. Andrews political philosopher Larry Siedentop has written a masterful tome to systematically investigate the roots of this idea we call “equality.” His Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism looks closely into various world civilizations, finding that the idea of individual equality did not exist until it slowly rose in Europe during the first millennium of the current era. Every civilization, including ancient Greece and Rome, vested what rights that were granted to collectives, predominately to the patriarchal family. Clearly, slaves had no rights but neither did women or resident aliens or, even for most property rights, younger sons.

The paterfamilias had all of the rights, which meant there was no equality. He exercised authority over an extended family as the owner of all its property and slaves. He was the spiritual leader of the clan, the only one allowed to maintain the sacred flame connecting the living to the ancestor spirits resting below his property, and to invoke their protection and good will. Even early cities were collections of powerful families, first heads of competing clans and later adding their family gods to a city of multiple gods, all contesting and sharing power. The new city was hierarchical and aristocratic, with a few patriarchal families dominating everything.

Siedentop finds no idea of individual equality anywhere in time or place until Paul of Tarsus, although he later gives Jesus some of the credit by placing the individual under God rather than the family (“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me,” Matthew 10:37). Paul offered a revised notion of humanity shaped by a faith based upon love for all persons equally because Jesus loved and died for all equally.

This overturned the aristocratic assumption upon which all ancient thinking was based, that of natural inequality. Now, writes Siedentop, social roles “become secondary” to the individual conscience. As Paul put it: “There is neither Jew nor Greek for all are one in Jesus Christ.”

Underlying social roles is the individual “human capacity to think and choose.” Paul’s insights were further elaborated by early church fathers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian, who developed this new synthesis of Greek and Jewish thought culminating in Augustine. In the real world of action, individualist conscience translated into martyrs and heroic church leaders like Anselm, who excommunicated an emperor and survived.

Even more surprisingly, Siedentop explicitly credits the reforming popes of the 10 th and 11 th centuries for institutionalizing individuality. Led by the Cluny, monastic abbots and popes—especially Gregory VII—translated the Christian sense of “a moral status (the soul) into a social role,” and this was the critical element in “the invention of the individual.” God’s law had to “apply to all equally. Hence it needed to be systematic.” So the development of church law required “the analysis of logical and textual inconsistencies,” and “fostering attempts at synthesis.” The accumulated laws of tradition had to be “tamed and reconciled with the moral intuitions generated by Christian beliefs.” For “if faith was the result of revelation and therefore ‘given,’ the task of reason was to explore it and try to understand it,” not to force a predetermined solution.

Canon law was the solution to tame a disorganized, post-Charlemagne Europe—to replace traditional Roman and German law with a rational law starting with the necessity of saving individual souls, especially substituting the need for intent rather than simply punishing failure to follow rules. For the first time, women were equally bound, for they had equally moral souls. The very rationality of the new, universal cannon law slowly won adherents as it kept forcing each claim to truth to be tested by increasingly well-trained theologians, and then philosophers, in new university settings all across Europe. Debate toughened a logic rooted in real-world issues of marriage, property, and inheritance decided by their separate courts.

“Consent and free will provided the basis for rules in each area” to apply to all equally, writes Siedentop. Betrothal replaced paterfamilias, contract rationalized tradition, and wills modified primogeniture. “The assumption of moral equality gave rise, in turn, to the claim to equal liberty. For if humans have an equal moral standing, then it follows that there must be an area in which their choices ought to be respected.”

The superiority of canon courts turned Europe to them rather than to traditional, baronial courts whose judgments were often based on “ordeals” by force or on historical prerogative. It occurred to kings that monarchical, secular courts could take allegiance from local barons, too. Sound law—now backed by power—could advance the nation-state as it did religion. What was instituted as a moral order by a relatively powerless clergy to save souls could be turned by state power into a guarantee of social justice in this world. So a canon law imposed by the moral authority of the church against state power in the earlier Middle Ages was adapted by the state to control, first, local power and then that of the church itself. Whereas Pope Gregory VII’s moral power could humble Henry IV to stand in the snow for three days in the 11th century, and Thomas a Becket’s murder could pressure Henry II to public penance in the 12th century, there were no such church victories after the 14 th century.

Canon law had won the battle but lost the war to secular power.

Perversely, by humbling the church and winning the support of the realm by promoting nationalism, monarchy weakened itself. “Divine Right” kings became limited by their bureaucracies and then by commercial and manufacturing power, and were finally replaced by parliaments and mass political parties.

By the 20 th century, the state was de-sacralized with Nazi, fascist and communist powers actually declaring war on individualism. World War II defeated the former and the fall of the Soviet Union the latter, apparently leaving Western democratic predominance and a generation of prosperity. Yet, by the early days of the second millennium, the democratic state was reeling from bureaucratic sclerosis, fettered markets, protracted wars, bankrupt states, declining populations, and no common conception of law. Rather than fixed individual rights beyond the reach of what secular courts could decide at any particular time, a flexible, positivist law was developed to adapt to circumstances. The idea was to base decisions on current opinion to assure popular support; but this produced the opposite effect in the divisive culture wars of the United States and other Western democracies.

The very idea of the individual became amorphous. Was a fetus human? Was assisted suicide acceptable? Were men and women different or precisely the same? Were human individuals the only ones with rights? The philosophical atheist Richard Dawkins led a movement to grant legal rights to Great Apes. A court case demanding rights for an orangutan in Argentina found that it was a “non-human person” with some rights, although the case was referred to a lower court without habeas corpus powers. In 2011, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit against Seaworld, the marine park operator, alleging that five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case but it was appealed.

In 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in the state of New York to establish the “legal personhood” of four chimpanzees to be relocated to outdoor sanctuaries. While intermediate appellate courts rejected the group’s argument, it is appealing to a higher court. Why do intelligent apes not have rights over cognitively limited humans, anyway? They seem human in many ways. Apes and orca certainly have life. So do bees and maggots, and some even claim so for viruses. Why should they not have equal rights?

Keith Mano’s classic The Bridge: A Novel about the Last Man on Earth (1971) took this to its logical conclusion. Mano pictures a civil war between forces supporting equality for all, in a biologically indiscriminate sense, and those favoring Christian, libertarian individualism. The twist is that the former really believe in equality, for all life including plants and animals. Stepping on grass is an act of assault. The victorious secular government first grants humans only a liquid chemical nutrient that is fully consumed with no waste and laced with narcotics to keep them quiescent, allowing only hand signals, since even noise harms other life. Ultimately, the equality forces ban humans totally to rid the earth of their offensive breath that kills and injures germs and viruses.

Siedentop argues that the idea of equal rights for all human individuals uniquely can only be supported upon, or borrowed from, the moral assumptions of the West. Indeed, the “incarnation is the root of Christian egalitarianism” since it places God within human existence, granting a divine-based worth to individuals, with only inferior rights granted to those not made in His image. In his God, Locke, and Equality , Cambridge’s Jeremy Waldron even insists that nonreligious liberals who believe individual rights can be justified by John Locke are out of bounds since Locke’s supposedly secular conception of rights depends wholly on his assumption of a Judeo-Christian Creator. Even Thomas Jefferson rested natural rights upon the assumption of a Deist creation.

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House Passes The Equality Act: Here's What It Would Do

Danielle Kurtzleben - square 2015

Danielle Kurtzleben

equal rights for all essay

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington where the Court on Oct. 8, 2019, as the court heard arguments in the first case of LGBT rights since the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Susan Walsh/AP hide caption

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington where the Court on Oct. 8, 2019, as the court heard arguments in the first case of LGBT rights since the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Updated Feb. 25, 4:39 p.m. ET

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also substantially expand the areas to which those discrimination protections apply.

It's a bill that President Biden said on the campaign trail would be one of his top legislative priorities for the first 100 days of his presidency. The House vote was largely along party lines, passing with the support of all Democrats and just three Republicans. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is unclear.

When House Democrats introduced the bill last week, Biden reiterated his support in a statement: "I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation," he wrote. "Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all."

But it's also controversial — while the Equality Act has broad support among Democrats, many Republicans oppose it, fearing that it would infringe upon religious objections.

Here's a quick rundown of what the bill would do, and what chance it has of becoming law.

What would the Equality Act do?

The Equality Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill has been introduced multiple times before and previously passed the House in 2019. However, the law's impact would be different in practical terms now than it was then.

That's because the Supreme Court ruled in June of last year , in Bostock v. Clayton County , that the protections guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex also extend to discrimination against lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans. The logic was that a man who, for example, loses his job because he has a same-sex partner is facing discrimination on the basis of sex — that, were he a woman, he wouldn't have faced that discrimination.

Supreme Court Delivers Major Victory To LGBTQ Employees

Supreme Court Delivers Major Victory To LGBTQ Employees

This act would explicitly enshrine those nondiscrimination protections into law for sexual orientation and gender identity, rather than those protections being looped in under the umbrella of "sex." However, the Equality Act would also substantially expand those protections.

The Civil Rights Act covered discrimination in certain areas, like employment and housing. The Equality Act would expand that to cover federally funded programs, as well as "public accommodations" — a broad category including retail stores and stadiums, for example.

("Public accommodations" is also a category that the bill broadens, to include online retailers and transportation providers, for example. Because of that, many types of discrimination the Civil Rights Act currently prohibits — like racial or religious discrimination — would now also be explicitly covered at those types of establishments.)

One upshot of all of this, then, is that the Equality Act would affect businesses like flower shops and bakeries that have been at the center of discrimination court cases in recent years — for example, a baker who doesn't want to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding .

In Narrow Opinion, Supreme Court Rules For Baker In Gay-Rights Case

In Narrow Opinion, Supreme Court Rules For Baker In Gay-Rights Case

Importantly, the bill also explicitly says that it trumps the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (commonly known by its acronym RFRA). The law, passed in 1993, set a higher bar for the government to defend laws if people argued those laws infringed upon religious freedom.

Under the Equality Act, an entity couldn't use RFRA to challenge the act's provisions, nor could it use RFRA as a defense to a claim made under the act.

What proponents say

Supporters say that the Equality Act simply extends basic, broadly accepted tenets of the Civil Rights Act to classes of people that the bill doesn't explicitly protect.

"Just as [a business] would not be able to turn away somebody for any other prohibited reason in the law, they would not be able to do that for LGBTQ people either. And we think that's a really important principle to maintain," said Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative at the ACLU.

The bill also would be national, covering states that do not have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, 27 states do not have those laws.

Supporters additionally say the bill would cement protections that could otherwise be left up to interpretation.

Biden Signs Most Far-Reaching Federal Protections For LGBTQ People Yet

"President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to appropriately interpret the Bostock ruling to apply not just to employment discrimination, but to other areas of law where sex discrimination is prohibited, including education, housing, and health care," the Human Rights Campaign wrote in support of the bill . "However, a future administration may refuse to interpret the law this way, leaving these protections vulnerable."

And with regard to RFRA, proponents argue that the bill would keep entities from using that law as a "license to discriminate," wording echoed by Human Rights Watch and many other Equality Act supporters.

What opponents say

The question of religious freedom is the main issue animating people against the Equality Act.

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, has criticized the Equality Act since its 2019 introduction. He told NPR in an email that the law is "less necessary" now, after the Bostock decision.

Furthermore, while he supports adding sexual orientation and gender identity to federal anti-discrimination statutes, Laycock believes that this bill goes too far in limiting people's ability to defend themselves against discrimination claims.

"It protects the rights of one side, but attempts to destroy the rights of the other side," he said. "We ought to protect the liberty of both sides to live their own lives by their own identities and their own values."

How The Fight For Religious Freedom Has Fallen Victim To The Culture Wars

How The Fight For Religious Freedom Has Fallen Victim To The Culture Wars

Another key fear among opponents of the Equality Act is that it would threaten businesses or organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ people, forcing them to choose between operating or following their beliefs.

Could it pass?

The Democratic-led House passed the Equality Act in 2019 with unanimous support from Democrats (as well as support from eight Republicans), and it passed in similar fashion in the current Democratic House.

The Senate is more uncertain. Democrats in the Senate broadly support the bill. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, among the most moderate Democratic senators, signed a letter in support of it last year .

But the bill would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins cosponsored the bill in 2019, but not all of her fellow, more moderate Republicans are on board. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, for example, told the Washington Blade that he won't support the act, citing religious liberty.

"Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it," his spokesperson told the Blade.

It's uncertain how other moderate Republicans might vote. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who supported the narrower Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in 2013, has yet to respond to NPR's questions about her support of the Equality Act.

And while Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who likewise supported ENDA, didn't give a definitive answer on his support, his response made it clear that he could object to it on religious grounds.

"Rob opposes discrimination of any kind, and he also believes that it's important that Congress does not undermine protections for religious freedom," his office said in a statement. "He will review any legislation when and if it comes up for a vote in the Senate."

equal rights for all essay

Introductory Essay: Continuing the Heroic Struggle for Equality: The Civil Rights Movement

equal rights for all essay

To what extent did Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice become a reality for African Americans during the civil rights movement?

  • I can explain the importance of local and federal actions in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • I can compare the goals and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLS), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Malcolm X and Black Nationalism, and Black Power.
  • I can explain challenges African Americans continued to face despite victories for equality and justice during the civil rights movement.

Essential Vocabulary

Continuing the heroic struggle for equality: the civil rights movement.

The struggle to make the promises of the Declaration of Independence a reality for Black Americans reached a climax after World War II. The activists of the civil rights movement directly confronted segregation and demanded equal civil rights at the local level with physical and moral courage and perseverance. They simultaneously pursued a national strategy of systematically filing lawsuits in federal courts, lobbying Congress, and pressuring presidents to change the laws. The civil rights movement encountered significant resistance, however, and suffered violence in the quest for equality.

During the middle of the twentieth century, several Black writers grappled with the central contradictions between the nation’s ideals and its realities, and the place of Black Americans in their country. Richard Wright explored a raw confrontation with racism in Native Son (1940), while Ralph Ellison led readers through a search for identity beyond a racialized category in his novel Invisible Man (1952), as part of the Black quest for identity. The novel also offered hope in the power of the sacred principles of the Founding documents. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun , first performed in 1959, about the dreams deferred for Black Americans and questions about assimilation. Novelist and essayist James Baldwin described Blacks’ estrangement from U.S. society and themselves while caught in a racial nightmare of injustice in The Fire Next Time (1963) and other works.

World War II wrought great changes in U.S. society. Black soldiers fought for a “double V for victory,” hoping to triumph over fascism abroad and racism at home. Many received a hostile reception, such as Medgar Evers who was blocked from voting at gunpoint by five armed whites. Blacks continued the Great Migration to southern and northern cities for wartime industrial work. After the war, in 1947, Jackie Robinson endured racial taunts on the field and segregation off it as he broke the color barrier in professional baseball and began a Hall of Fame career. The following year, President Harry Truman issued executive orders desegregating the military and banning discrimination in the civil service. Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall and his legal team at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) meticulously prepared legal challenges to discrimination, continuing a decades-long effort.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund brought lawsuits against segregated schools in different states that were consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka , 1954. The Supreme Court unanimously decided that “separate but equal” was “inherently unequal.” Brown II followed a year after, as the court ordered that the integration of schools should be pursued “with all deliberate speed.” Throughout the South, angry whites responded with a campaign of “massive resistance” and refused to comply with the order, while many parents sent their children to all-white private schools. Middle-class whites who opposed integration joined local chapters of citizens’ councils and used propaganda, economic pressure, and even violence to achieve their ends.

A wave of violence and intimidation followed. In 1955, teenager Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was lynched after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. Though an all-white jury quickly acquitted the two men accused of killing him, Till’s murder was reported nationally and raised awareness of the injustices taking place in Mississippi.

In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks (who was a secretary of the Montgomery NAACP) was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Her willingness to confront segregation led to a direct-action movement for equality. The local Women’s Political Council organized the city’s Black residents into a boycott of the bus system, which was then led by the Montgomery Improvement Association. Black churches and ministers, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, provided a source of strength. Despite arrests, armed mobs, and church bombings, the boycott lasted until a federal court desegregated the city buses. In the wake of the boycott, the leading ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) , which became a key civil rights organization.

equal rights for all essay

Rosa Parks is shown here in 1955 with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background. The Montgomery bus boycott was an important victory in the civil rights movement.

In 1957, nine Black families decided to send their children to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard to prevent their entry, and one student, Elizabeth Eckford, faced an angry crowd of whites alone and barely escaped. President Eisenhower was compelled to respond and sent in 1,200 paratroops from the 101st Airborne to protect the Black students. They continued to be harassed, but most finished the school year and integrated the school.

That year, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act that created a civil rights division in the Justice Department and provided minimal protections for the right to vote. The bill had been watered down because of an expected filibuster by southern senators, who had recently signed the Southern Manifesto, a document pledging their resistance to Supreme Court decisions such as Brown .

In 1960, four Black college students were refused lunch service at a local Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and they spontaneously staged a “sit-in” the following day. Their resistance to the indignities of segregation was copied by thousands of others of young Blacks across the South, launching another wave of direct, nonviolent confrontation with segregation. Ella Baker invited several participants to a Raleigh conference where they formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and issued a Statement of Purpose. The group represented a more youthful and daring effort that later broke with King and his strategy of nonviolence.

In contrast, Malcolm X became a leading spokesperson for the Nation of Islam (NOI) who represented Black separatism as an alternative to integration, which he deemed an unworthy goal. He advocated revolutionary violence as a means of Black self-defense and rejected nonviolence. He later changed his views, breaking with the NOI and embracing a Black nationalism that had more common ground with King’s nonviolent views. Malcolm X had reached out to establish ties with other Black activists before being gunned down by assassins who were members of the NOI later in 1965.

In 1961, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) rode segregated buses in order to integrate interstate travel. These Black and white Freedom Riders traveled into the Deep South, where mobs beat them with bats and pipes in bus stations and firebombed their buses. A cautious Kennedy administration reluctantly intervened to protect the Freedom Riders with federal marshals, who were also victimized by violent white mobs.

equal rights for all essay

Malcolm X was a charismatic speaker and gifted organizer. He argued that Black pride, identity, and independence were more important than integration with whites.

King was moved to act. He confronted segregation with the hope of exposing injustice and brutality against nonviolent protestors and arousing the conscience of the nation to achieve a just rule of law. The first planned civil rights campaign was initiated by SNCC and taken over mid-campaign by King and SCLC. It failed because Albany, Georgia’s Police Chief Laurie Pritchett studied King’s tactics and responded to the demonstrations with restraint. In 1963, King shifted the movement to Birmingham, Alabama, where Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor unleashed his officers to attack civil rights protestors with fire hoses and police dogs. Authorities arrested thousands, including many young people who joined the marches. King wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after his own arrest and provided the moral justification for the movement to break unjust laws. National and international audiences were shocked by the violent images shown in newspapers and on the television news. President Kennedy addressed the nation and asked, “whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities . . . [If a Black person]cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?” The president then submitted a civil rights bill to Congress.

In late August 1963, more than 250,000 people joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in solidarity for equal rights. From the Lincoln Memorial steps, King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He stated, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

After Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson pushed his agenda through Congress. In the early summer of 1964, a 3-month filibuster by southern senators was finally defeated, and both houses passed the historical civil rights bill. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, banning segregation in public accommodations.

Activists in the civil rights movement then focused on campaigns for the right to vote. During the summer of 1964, several civil rights organizations combined their efforts during the “ Freedom Summer ” to register Blacks to vote with the help of young white college students. They endured terror and intimidation as dozens of churches and homes were burned and workers were killed, including an incident in which Black advocate James Chaney and two white students, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered in Mississippi.

equal rights for all essay

In August 1963, peaceful protesters gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to draw attention to the inequalities and indignities African Americans suffered 100 years after emancipation. Leaders of the march are shown in the image on the bottom, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the center.

That summer, Fannie Lou Hamer helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as civil rights delegates to replace the rival white delegation opposed to civil rights at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Hamer was a veteran of attempts to register other Blacks to vote and endured severe beatings for her efforts. A proposed compromise of giving two seats to the MFDP satisfied neither those delegates nor the white delegation, which walked out. Cracks were opening up in the Democratic electoral coalition over civil rights, especially in the South.

equal rights for all essay

Fannie Lou Hamer testified about the violence she and others endured when trying to register to vote at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her televised testimony exposed the realities of continued violence against Blacks trying to exercise their constitutional rights.

In early 1965, the SCLC and SNCC joined forces to register voters in Selma and draw attention to the fight for Black suffrage. On March 7, marchers planned to walk peacefully from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. However, mounted state troopers and police blocked the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then rampaged through the marchers, indiscriminately beating them. SNCC leader John Lewis suffered a fractured skull, and 5 women were clubbed unconscious. Seventy people were hospitalized for injuries during “Bloody Sunday.” The scenes again shocked television viewers and newspaper readers.

equal rights for all essay

The images of state troopers, local police, and local people brutally attacking peaceful protestors on “Bloody Sunday” shocked people across the country and world. Two weeks later, protestors of all ages and races continued the protest. By the time they reached the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, their ranks had swelled to about 25,000 people.

Two days later, King led a symbolic march to the bridge but then turned around. Many younger and more militant activists were alienated and felt that King had sold out to white authorities. The tension revealed the widening division between older civil rights advocates and those younger, more radical supporters who were frustrated at the slow pace of change and the routine violence inflicted upon peaceful protesters. Nevertheless, starting on March 21, with the help of a federal judge who refused Governor George Wallace’s request to ban the march, Blacks triumphantly walked to Montgomery. On August 6, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act protecting the rights to register and vote after a Senate filibuster ended and the bill passed Congress.

The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act did not alter the fact that most Black Americans still suffered racism, were denied equal economic opportunities, and lived in segregated neighborhoods. While King and other leaders did seek to raise their issues among northerners, frustrations often boiled over into urban riots during the mid-1960s. Police brutality and other racial incidents often triggered days of violence in which hundreds were injured or killed. There were mass arrests and widespread property damage from arson and looting in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago, and dozens of other cities. A presidential National Advisory Commission of Civil Disorders issued the Kerner Report, which analyzed the causes of urban unrest, noting the impact of racism on the inequalities and injustices suffered by Black Americans.

Frustration among young Black Americans led to the rise of a more militant strain of advocacy. In 1966, activist James Meredith was on a solo march in Mississippi to raise awareness about Black voter registration when he was shot and wounded. Though Meredith recovered, this event typified the violence that led some young Black Americans to espouse a more military strain of advocacy. On June 16, SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael and members of the Black Panther Party continued Meredith’s march while he recovered from his wounds, chanting, “We want Black Power .” Black Power leaders and members of the Black Panther Party offered a different vision for equality and justice. They advocated self-reliance and self-empowerment, a celebration of Black culture, and armed self-defense. They used aggressive rhetoric to project a more radical strategy for racial progress, including sympathy for revolutionary socialism and rejection of capitalism. While its legacy is debated, the Black Power movement raised many important questions about the place of Black Americans in the United States, beyond the civil rights movement.

After World War II, Black Americans confronted the iniquities and indignities of segregation to end almost a century of Jim Crow. Undeterred, they turned the public’s eyes to the injustice they faced and called on the country to live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and to continue the fight against inequality and discrimination.

Reading Comprehension Questions

  • What factors helped to create the modern civil rights movement?
  • How was the quest for civil rights a combination of federal and local actions?
  • What were the goals and methods of different activists and groups of the civil rights movement? Complete the table below to reference throughout your analysis of the primary source documents.

equal rights for all essay

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Essay on Human Rights: Samples in 500 and 1500

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  • Updated on  
  • Dec 9, 2023

Essay on Human Rights

Essay writing is an integral part of the school curriculum and various academic and competitive exams like IELTS , TOEFL , SAT , UPSC , etc. It is designed to test your command of the English language and how well you can gather your thoughts and present them in a structure with a flow. To master your ability to write an essay, you must read as much as possible and practise on any given topic. This blog brings you a detailed guide on how to write an essay on Human Rights , with useful essay samples on Human rights.

This Blog Includes:

The basic human rights, 200 words essay on human rights, 500 words essay on human rights, 500+ words essay on human rights in india, 1500 words essay on human rights, importance of human rights, essay on human rights pdf.

Also Read: List of Human Rights Courses

Also Read: MSc Human Rights

Also Read: 1-Minute Speech on Human Rights for Students

What are Human Rights

Human rights mark everyone as free and equal, irrespective of age, gender, caste, creed, religion and nationality. The United Nations adopted human rights in light of the atrocities people faced during the Second World War. On the 10th of December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Its adoption led to the recognition of human rights as the foundation for freedom, justice and peace for every individual. Although it’s not legally binding, most nations have incorporated these human rights into their constitutions and domestic legal frameworks. Human rights safeguard us from discrimination and guarantee that our most basic needs are protected.

Did you know that the 10th of December is celebrated as Human Rights Day ?

Before we move on to the essays on human rights, let’s check out the basics of what they are.

Human Rights

Also Read: What are Human Rights?

Also Read: 7 Impactful Human Rights Movies Everyone Must Watch!

Here is a 200-word short sample essay on basic Human Rights.

Human rights are a set of rights given to every human being regardless of their gender, caste, creed, religion, nation, location or economic status. These are said to be moral principles that illustrate certain standards of human behaviour. Protected by law , these rights are applicable everywhere and at any time. Basic human rights include the right to life, right to a fair trial, right to remedy by a competent tribunal, right to liberty and personal security, right to own property, right to education, right of peaceful assembly and association, right to marriage and family, right to nationality and freedom to change it, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of movement, right of opinion and information, right to adequate living standard and freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence.

Also Read: Law Courses

Check out this 500-word long essay on Human Rights.

Every person has dignity and value. One of the ways that we recognise the fundamental worth of every person is by acknowledging and respecting their human rights. Human rights are a set of principles concerned with equality and fairness. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our lives and develop our potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination.

Human rights can broadly be defined as the basic rights that people worldwide have agreed are essential. These include the right to life, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to health, education and an adequate standard of living. These human rights are the same for all people everywhere – men and women, young and old, rich and poor, regardless of our background, where we live, what we think or believe. This basic property is what makes human rights’ universal’.

Human rights connect us all through a shared set of rights and responsibilities. People’s ability to enjoy their human rights depends on other people respecting those rights. This means that human rights involve responsibility and duties towards other people and the community. Individuals have a responsibility to ensure that they exercise their rights with consideration for the rights of others. For example, when someone uses their right to freedom of speech, they should do so without interfering with someone else’s right to privacy.

Governments have a particular responsibility to ensure that people can enjoy their rights. They must establish and maintain laws and services that enable people to enjoy a life in which their rights are respected and protected. For example, the right to education says that everyone is entitled to a good education. Therefore, governments must provide good quality education facilities and services to their people. If the government fails to respect or protect their basic human rights, people can take it into account.

Values of tolerance, equality and respect can help reduce friction within society. Putting human rights ideas into practice can help us create the kind of society we want to live in. There has been tremendous growth in how we think about and apply human rights ideas in recent decades. This growth has had many positive results – knowledge about human rights can empower individuals and offer solutions for specific problems.

Human rights are an important part of how people interact with others at all levels of society – in the family, the community, school, workplace, politics and international relations. Therefore, people everywhere must strive to understand what human rights are. When people better understand human rights, it is easier for them to promote justice and the well-being of society. 

Also Read: Important Articles in Indian Constitution

Here is a human rights essay focused on India.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It has been rightly proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Created with certain unalienable rights….” Similarly, the Indian Constitution has ensured and enshrined Fundamental rights for all citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion, colour, sex or nationality. These basic rights, commonly known as human rights, are recognised the world over as basic rights with which every individual is born.

In recognition of human rights, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was made on the 10th of December, 1948. This declaration is the basic instrument of human rights. Even though this declaration has no legal bindings and authority, it forms the basis of all laws on human rights. The necessity of formulating laws to protect human rights is now being felt all over the world. According to social thinkers, the issue of human rights became very important after World War II concluded. It is important for social stability both at the national and international levels. Wherever there is a breach of human rights, there is conflict at one level or the other.

Given the increasing importance of the subject, it becomes necessary that educational institutions recognise the subject of human rights as an independent discipline. The course contents and curriculum of the discipline of human rights may vary according to the nature and circumstances of a particular institution. Still, generally, it should include the rights of a child, rights of minorities, rights of the needy and the disabled, right to live, convention on women, trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation etc.

Since the formation of the United Nations , the promotion and protection of human rights have been its main focus. The United Nations has created a wide range of mechanisms for monitoring human rights violations. The conventional mechanisms include treaties and organisations, U.N. special reporters, representatives and experts and working groups. Asian countries like China argue in favour of collective rights. According to Chinese thinkers, European countries lay stress upon individual rights and values while Asian countries esteem collective rights and obligations to the family and society as a whole.

With the freedom movement the world over after World War II, the end of colonisation also ended the policy of apartheid and thereby the most aggressive violation of human rights. With the spread of education, women are asserting their rights. Women’s movements play an important role in spreading the message of human rights. They are fighting for their rights and supporting the struggle for human rights of other weaker and deprived sections like bonded labour, child labour, landless labour, unemployed persons, Dalits and elderly people.

Unfortunately, violation of human rights continues in most parts of the world. Ethnic cleansing and genocide can still be seen in several parts of the world. Large sections of the world population are deprived of the necessities of life i.e. food, shelter and security of life. Right to minimum basic needs viz. Work, health care, education and shelter are denied to them. These deprivations amount to the negation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Also Read: Human Rights Courses

Check out this detailed 1500-word essay on human rights.

The human right to live and exist, the right to equality, including equality before the law, non-discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and equality of opportunity in matters of employment, the right to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, movement, residence, the right to practice any profession or occupation, the right against exploitation, prohibiting all forms of forced labour, child labour and trafficking in human beings, the right to freedom of conscience, practice and propagation of religion and the right to legal remedies for enforcement of the above are basic human rights. These rights and freedoms are the very foundations of democracy.

Obviously, in a democracy, the people enjoy the maximum number of freedoms and rights. Besides these are political rights, which include the right to contest an election and vote freely for a candidate of one’s choice. Human rights are a benchmark of a developed and civilised society. But rights cannot exist in a vacuum. They have their corresponding duties. Rights and duties are the two aspects of the same coin.

Liberty never means license. Rights presuppose the rule of law, where everyone in the society follows a code of conduct and behaviour for the good of all. It is the sense of duty and tolerance that gives meaning to rights. Rights have their basis in the ‘live and let live’ principle. For example, my right to speech and expression involves my duty to allow others to enjoy the same freedom of speech and expression. Rights and duties are inextricably interlinked and interdependent. A perfect balance is to be maintained between the two. Whenever there is an imbalance, there is chaos.

A sense of tolerance, propriety and adjustment is a must to enjoy rights and freedom. Human life sans basic freedom and rights is meaningless. Freedom is the most precious possession without which life would become intolerable, a mere abject and slavish existence. In this context, Milton’s famous and oft-quoted lines from his Paradise Lost come to mind: “To reign is worth ambition though in hell/Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”

However, liberty cannot survive without its corresponding obligations and duties. An individual is a part of society in which he enjoys certain rights and freedom only because of the fulfilment of certain duties and obligations towards others. Thus, freedom is based on mutual respect’s rights. A fine balance must be maintained between the two, or there will be anarchy and bloodshed. Therefore, human rights can best be preserved and protected in a society steeped in morality, discipline and social order.

Violation of human rights is most common in totalitarian and despotic states. In the theocratic states, there is much persecution, and violation in the name of religion and the minorities suffer the most. Even in democracies, there is widespread violation and infringement of human rights and freedom. The women, children and the weaker sections of society are victims of these transgressions and violence.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights’ main concern is to protect and promote human rights and freedom in the world’s nations. In its various sessions held from time to time in Geneva, it adopts various measures to encourage worldwide observations of these basic human rights and freedom. It calls on its member states to furnish information regarding measures that comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whenever there is a complaint of a violation of these rights. In addition, it reviews human rights situations in various countries and initiates remedial measures when required.

The U.N. Commission was much concerned and dismayed at the apartheid being practised in South Africa till recently. The Secretary-General then declared, “The United Nations cannot tolerate apartheid. It is a legalised system of racial discrimination, violating the most basic human rights in South Africa. It contradicts the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter. That is why over the last forty years, my predecessors and I have urged the Government of South Africa to dismantle it.”

Now, although apartheid is no longer practised in that country, other forms of apartheid are being blatantly practised worldwide. For example, sex apartheid is most rampant. Women are subject to abuse and exploitation. They are not treated equally and get less pay than their male counterparts for the same jobs. In employment, promotions, possession of property etc., they are most discriminated against. Similarly, the rights of children are not observed properly. They are forced to work hard in very dangerous situations, sexually assaulted and exploited, sold and bonded for labour.

The Commission found that religious persecution, torture, summary executions without judicial trials, intolerance, slavery-like practices, kidnapping, political disappearance, etc., are being practised even in the so-called advanced countries and societies. The continued acts of extreme violence, terrorism and extremism in various parts of the world like Pakistan, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Somalia, Algeria, Lebanon, Chile, China, and Myanmar, etc., by the governments, terrorists, religious fundamentalists, and mafia outfits, etc., is a matter of grave concern for the entire human race.

Violation of freedom and rights by terrorist groups backed by states is one of the most difficult problems society faces. For example, Pakistan has been openly collaborating with various terrorist groups, indulging in extreme violence in India and other countries. In this regard the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva adopted a significant resolution, which was co-sponsored by India, focusing on gross violation of human rights perpetrated by state-backed terrorist groups.

The resolution expressed its solidarity with the victims of terrorism and proposed that a U.N. Fund for victims of terrorism be established soon. The Indian delegation recalled that according to the Vienna Declaration, terrorism is nothing but the destruction of human rights. It shows total disregard for the lives of innocent men, women and children. The delegation further argued that terrorism cannot be treated as a mere crime because it is systematic and widespread in its killing of civilians.

Violation of human rights, whether by states, terrorists, separatist groups, armed fundamentalists or extremists, is condemnable. Regardless of the motivation, such acts should be condemned categorically in all forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomever they are committed, as acts of aggression aimed at destroying human rights, fundamental freedom and democracy. The Indian delegation also underlined concerns about the growing connection between terrorist groups and the consequent commission of serious crimes. These include rape, torture, arson, looting, murder, kidnappings, blasts, and extortion, etc.

Violation of human rights and freedom gives rise to alienation, dissatisfaction, frustration and acts of terrorism. Governments run by ambitious and self-seeking people often use repressive measures and find violence and terror an effective means of control. However, state terrorism, violence, and human freedom transgressions are very dangerous strategies. This has been the background of all revolutions in the world. Whenever there is systematic and widespread state persecution and violation of human rights, rebellion and revolution have taken place. The French, American, Russian and Chinese Revolutions are glowing examples of human history.

The first war of India’s Independence in 1857 resulted from long and systematic oppression of the Indian masses. The rapidly increasing discontent, frustration and alienation with British rule gave rise to strong national feelings and demand for political privileges and rights. Ultimately the Indian people, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, made the British leave India, setting the country free and independent.

Human rights and freedom ought to be preserved at all costs. Their curtailment degrades human life. The political needs of a country may reshape Human rights, but they should not be completely distorted. Tyranny, regimentation, etc., are inimical of humanity and should be resisted effectively and united. The sanctity of human values, freedom and rights must be preserved and protected. Human Rights Commissions should be established in all countries to take care of human freedom and rights. In cases of violation of human rights, affected individuals should be properly compensated, and it should be ensured that these do not take place in future.

These commissions can become effective instruments in percolating the sensitivity to human rights down to the lowest levels of governments and administrations. The formation of the National Human Rights Commission in October 1993 in India is commendable and should be followed by other countries.

Also Read: Law Courses in India

Human rights are of utmost importance to seek basic equality and human dignity. Human rights ensure that the basic needs of every human are met. They protect vulnerable groups from discrimination and abuse, allow people to stand up for themselves, and follow any religion without fear and give them the freedom to express their thoughts freely. In addition, they grant people access to basic education and equal work opportunities. Thus implementing these rights is crucial to ensure freedom, peace and safety.

Human Rights Day is annually celebrated on the 10th of December.

Human Rights Day is celebrated to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UNGA in 1948.

Some of the common Human Rights are the right to life and liberty, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom from slavery and torture and the right to work and education.

We hope our sample essays on Human Rights have given you some great ideas. For more information on such interesting blogs, visit our essay writing page and follow Leverage Edu .

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Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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The Equal Society: Essays in Theory and Practice

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George Hull (ed.), The Equal Society: Essays in Theory and Practice , Rowman and Littlefield, 2015, 354pp., $100.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781498515719.

Reviewed by Valentin Beck, Freie Universität Berlin

What would be the central characteristics of a society in which its citizens are truly treated as equals? While egalitarian thinkers are united in their affirmation of the value of equality, they notoriously have -- for centuries -- disagreed about its interpretation. Egalitarianism now is a dominant current within Western moral and political philosophy, but it is also very broad and multifaceted. There is a wide range of mutually inconsistent egalitarian conceptions, ranging from libertarian and meritocratic positions to social liberal, communitarian and socialist ones. Therefore, the decisive question is not whether one should be an egalitarian, but what kind of egalitarian one should be, and how to interpret the central tenet of equal treatment more concretely in political theory and practice.

The anthology under review sheds light on this question. It offers a fascinatingly rich collection of original essays from a diverse group of scholars, some of whom have been shaping egalitarian discourse for decades. An introduction by George Hull and a helpful index complete a collection that will surely be indispensable for those wishing to take stock of recent developments in egalitarian thought. The book's more theoretical first part is dedicated to expansions and revisions of the concept of equality. It focuses on theoretical innovations concerning, among other topics, the interpretation of "social" or "relational" equality, and methodological issues such as the relation of non-ideal to ideal theory. The second part contains contributions on more applied issues, namely equality in higher education (Ann E. Cudd), the challenges to equality posed by the gendered division of labour (Gina Schouten), workplace democracy (Pierre-Yves Néron), modern constitutionalism (David Bilchitz) and historical redress claims (Daryl Glaser). The division of the book into two parts should not be misinterpreted, however. All of the contributions in one way or the other address the theoretical challenge of fleshing out the tenet of equal treatment. And while the articles in the second part have a more specific focus, those in the first also contain more concrete references to what the tenet of equal treatment implies in practice.

The volume does not take stock of the entire range of egalitarian theories, but rather assembles a variety of innovative positions and perspectives. At least six such areas receive in-depth treatment in the volume: first, the idea of "social" or "relational equality", as opposed to "distributional equality" (Jonathan Wolff, Miranda Fricker, Tom P. S. Angier, Lucy Allais, Néron and Daniel Putnam); second, the focus on race as a neglected category in egalitarian thinking (Charles W. Mills and Glaser); third, reflection on capabilities as metric of justice and wellbeing (Fricker, Bekka Williams and Hull); fourth, the importance of rectificatory justice for establishing more equal societies (Mills and Glaser); fifth, African-communitarianism as a distinct egalitarian current (Thaddeus Metz); and sixth, a negativist methodology, according to which specific inequalities or injustices should be the starting point of egalitarian theorizing, rather than the affirmation of an abstract ideal (particularly Wolff, Mills and Fricker). The treatment of this array of topics is generally very stimulating and deserves to be studied in detail. Without wishing to neglect any of these areas or essays in particular, I will limit my more extensive comments to the essays of Mills, Fricker and Wolff, in which several of the above-mentioned innovative concepts are concerned. At the end of this review, I will briefly reflect on why the present volume, which is up-to-date on an impressive number of issues, excludes any treatment of international and global economic inequalities as well as intergenerational environmental inequalities.

In "Racial Equality" Mills addresses race as a neglected category as well as the issues of methodological negativism (see Hull's introduction, p. 3, for this term) and corrective justice, which are interlinked. Mills has gained prominence by arguing that contemporary political philosophy, and particularly its contractualist strand, does not adequately address racial inequalities in liberal societies. In this essay, he argues that race is an essential category and shows the extent to which it has been neglected in what he calls "mainstream social justice theory, particularly Rawlsianism" (p. 44). Beyond this deconstructive concern, however, Mills also demonstrates how egalitarian theorizing can better incorporate issues of racial inequalities. He points to different positions on the metaphysics of race, ranging from simple eliminativism, according to which race does not exist in any sense, to variants of anti-eliminativism, including the constructivist variant to which Mills himself subscribes. Anti-eliminativist constructivism holds that races do not exist biologically, but as "socio-political constructs brought into existence through discriminatory socio-political processes" (p. 44).

From this angle, Mills analyses different forms of racism in "racist societies", which are distinguished from "overtly racist regimes" such as the U.S. under Jim Crow, Nazi Germany or South Africa under apartheid, because they lack features such as an "overtly racist ideology" or de jure discriminations (see p. 49). What matters is that racist societies still structurally advantage whites to a very significant extent, even in the absence of formal discrimination. Mills sets aside racism of the interpersonal kind, embodied in individual actions, since it is deemed "not relevant for racial inequality as a broad social phenomenon" (p. 45). Alternatively, one might argue that individual racist behaviour is relevant and could be integrated into the structural analysis that Mills is championing, since structural injustices likely influence the forms that interpersonal racism takes. Be that as it may, Mills focuses on "socio-institutional" racism (see p. 45) as the more fundamental phenomenon and which can exist even in the absence of interpersonal racism. He holds that racially unequal societies possess a "racialized basic structure" (p. 54), which discriminates against black people even while they possess formal equality with white people. These distinctions allow for the observation that ideal theory of the Rawlsian kind, which justifies principles for societies that are at least approximately just, cannot address racial discriminations of the kind that are typical for Western societies, since they simply do not exist in this framework.

This is where methodological negativism comes into play. Mills states that, instead of focusing on scenarios of roughly full compliance, theorists should start by designing principles of non-ideal theory with the aim of establishing transitional justice. This will lead to substantially different principles and priority rules, compared for example to the well-known principles that are discussed by Rawls under the notion of justice as fairness. Ideal theory does not become altogether obsolete in this variant of methodological negativism, however. Its proper function is to illustrate the ideal of a just society, which could one day be realized if principles of non-ideal theory are implemented. So despite his harsh criticism of Rawlsian ideal theory, Mills acknowledges a need for ideal theory next to non-ideal theorizing. Within his framework of "modified Rawlsianism" (p. 66), his use of the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory is also broadly in line with Rawls' usage.

Fricker, too, is renowned for addressing a category that has hitherto been neglected in egalitarian thought, namely that of epistemic injustice (2007). In "Epistemic Contribution as a Central Human Capability", Fricker builds on central themes of her groundbreaking monograph. Her goal is to show that any society dedicated to furthering human well-being has to take seriously the ways in which it enables or constrains the capacities of its members to contribute to commonly shared knowledge. In order to enhance the well-being of their members, societies must realize their capability of epistemic contribution, understood as a "combined capability" in the sense coined by Martha Nussbaum (that is, as both an internally developed and an externally enabled capability). Fricker affirms and significantly extends the capabilities metric developed by Sen and Nussbaum. Her work is more closely aligned with Nussbaum than with Sen, since she emphasizes her sympathies for the project of formulating a "list of capabilities that might at least roughly capture workable universal characterisation of human well-being" (p. 77). However, Nussbaum's list is incomplete according to Fricker, because it displays a bias towards capabilities of practical as opposed to theoretical reason (see p. 75). In going back to Wolff and Avner de-Shalit (2007, p. 45), Fricker defends a "two-directional conception of human well-being" (p. 76), reminding us that "while it is good to receive it is also good to give " (p. 75). Fricker posits that the capability of epistemic contribution consists in being able to "contribute to the pool of shared epistemic materials -- materials for knowledge, understanding, and very often for practical deliberation" (p. 76).

It is not Fricker's aim to show that we can sometimes be morally obliged not to withhold knowledge from others, which would be a relatively easy and straightforward task depending on the concrete type and context of concealment in question. She instead aims to show that it is good and even essential for their wellbeing for individuals to contribute knowledge to society. Individuals' capabilities of epistemic contribution can be constrained or enabled by certain types of interpersonal behaviour as well as by societal structures. To justify why the protection of this capability of theoretical reason is important, Fricker draws on the value of non-domination in the sense of liberty from arbitrary interference made famous by Philip Pettit. Pettit argues that freedom from arbitrary interference can only be secured through public institutions which allow members of society to publicly contest such interferences. For such contestation, however, the capability of epistemic contribution must in turn be realized (see p. 86).

Beyond introducing a concept that deserves the concern of egalitarians in theory and practice, Fricker sheds light on a number of other hotly debated issues, such as the critique of recipient-oriented approaches to equality and the conceptualization of relational equality. Fricker also has interesting things to say on what she calls a "failure-first methodology" (p. 74), which informs her account of epistemic injustice and her concept of epistemic contribution. Her methodology is similar to Mills', in that it places an emphasis on starting with the negative. But it diverges at least in one respect: for Fricker, starting with the negative is not necessarily tied to non-ideal theorizing, since the concepts of "justice" and "equality" need to be comprehensively interpreted by taking into account the "endemic pressures for collapse into injustice and inequality" (p. 73). Fricker therefore emphasizes that a failure-first-methodology is conceptually distinct from the dichotomy of ideal and non-ideal theorizing and can yield fruitful results within either framework.

In "Social Equality, Relative Poverty and Marginalised Groups", Wolff answers these methodological questions differently. Wolff's aim is to analyze how absolute and relative poverty prevent the achievement of a (truly) equal society, which he defines as one that is free from asymmetrical relations and from relations of estrangement and alienation. His methodology for this enterprise is set out at the start of the essay. Like Mills and Fricker, Wolff emphasizes the importance of "starting from problems with the actual world rather than a depiction of an ideal world" (p. 24). But unlike Mills and Fricker, who each acknowledge the significance of ideal theory when appropriately combined with non-ideal theory, Wolff completely rejects ideal theory. He holds that "an ideal theory of social equality is hard to sustain, because it is very difficult to give precise and unique content to an ideal of social equality" (p. 22). Instead, there are "many different ways in which a society could count as a 'society of equals' . . . . Quaker Society, a Kibbutz, and a 1960s Californian Hippy community may all, if things go well, count as small-scale societies of equals" (p. 23). In place of the term of non-ideal theory Wolff suggests that of "real-world political philosophy" (p. 22), because it avoids any connotation of dependence on ideal theorizing.

Looking at the work of Mills, Fricker, and Wolff, we can distinguish three variants of methodological negativism. Mills' variant is placed within the classical Rawlsian understanding of ideal and non-ideal theory, but displays a much greater emphasis on the latter as opposed to the former. Fricker's approach underlines the distinctness and complementarity of the negativist methodology by stating that it can be applied to either non-ideal or ideal theorizing. Wolff's methodological negativism transcends the classic distinction of ideal and non-ideal theory by rejecting the focus on ideals for political theory altogether. Mills' and Fricker's approaches to methodological negativism are in principle compatible, but Wolff's approach cannot be reconciled with them, due to his complete rejection of ideal theory.

Methodological concerns are not the only focus in Wolff's article. His two main themes are providing an account of different forms of poverty, and reflecting on how to tackle them from a perspective that values the idea of "social equality" (widely treated as synonymous with "relational equality"). This idea has gained steam in recent years since being affirmed in the writings of thinkers such as Elizabeth Anderson, Samuel Scheffler and Tim Scanlon, and it is also treated in a number of other contributions to the volume (compare the third paragraph above; see also Fourie/Schuppert/Wallimann-Helmer 2015). Wolff dedicates particular attention to the notion of relative poverty and how it is connected with that of social (in)equality. Poverty is dependent on what is customary in a given society, Adam Smith noted when he wrote that "in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt" (Smith 1776, book 5, ch. 2). According to Wolff, "one is in relative poverty if one lacks the consumption and household goods customary in one's society, or lacks resources sufficient to allow a social life, or is unable to purchase what is needed to avoid shame" (p. 26). While this tripartite notion of relative poverty has material implications, it is preferable to purely monetary definitions (e.g. defining poverty as receiving an income below 60 percent of the median income). Numerical definitions of poverty scratch only at the surface of what it means to be poor, and fail to distinguish between material inequalities, as problematic as they may otherwise be, and poverty. Wolff's definition shows how relative poverty and social inequality are connected yet distinct phenomena. They are not identical because there can be other forms of inequality that are not reflected in a lack of resources to participate in customary social practices -- such as asymmetric race or gender relations. Wolff analyses different constellations of deprivation that result from the desire to "fit in", such as when people spend resources on status goods such as mobile phones despite lacking the resources for basic necessities (see p. 29). Fighting poverty effectively might also be complicated by the fact that "fitting in" to a local community might require different resources or efforts than fitting in to society more broadly.

Wolff's account of poverty is illuminating. It shows how relative poverty may be interpreted from a social egalitarian perspective, according to which equal distributions of specific goods are not of ultimate, but only derivative egalitarian concern. His essay should be of interest not only for normative and empirical theorists, but also for policy-makers and others who deal with the goal of poverty-alleviation in practice.

The articles by Mills, Fricker and Wolff are representative of a collection that embodies the state of the art of contemporary egalitarian theory in many respects. Two important subjects, however, are missing from the otherwise multifaceted picture. There is no engagement with economic inequalities beyond the nation state. Neither does this work treat intergenerational environmental inequalities resulting from environmental degradation and man-made climate change. These two concerns give egalitarians reason to question the fairness and legitimacy of the international order. To start with, the distribution of income and capital across nation states remains highly unequal, which increases incentives for those who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances to seek better living conditions abroad. Furthermore, while trade with resources, goods and services has never been more global and interdependent than today, it may be argued that the current system has primarily benefitted the world's wealthy and powerful, and that it rests on practices that are highly environmentally destructive and which violate the basic human rights of labourers and affected populations. Finally, past and present generations have contributed to environmental degradation and fossil fuel consumption to a much larger degree than future generations will, assuming they act in such a way as to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes.

What should we make of the absence of these topics in an anthology that seeks to shed light on contemporary egalitarian theorizing? An uncharitable reading may trace it back to an unexpressed particularism. It would be hard to argue that demands of equal treatment stop at national or communal borders or generational confines -- at least not in a highly interdependent world like ours. Neither could the widely shared social (or relational) egalitarian perspective plausibly attach any such categorical constraints to egalitarian demands. New technologies now allow an increasing number of the world's least well-off individuals to compare themselves to more privileged individuals across national boundaries, which in turn affects what they seek to achieve in life and what they will regard as justified or unjustified inequalities. A more charitable interpretation is that a single anthology simply cannot cover all of the issues that are currently at the forefront of egalitarian theory. However, it should be clear that while it remains important and rewarding to reflect on the conditions of "The Equal Society", an egalitarian should certainly not stop there. Instead, she should also ask what it would mean to transform transnational and transgenerational relations in a way so that all humans are (truly) treated as equals.

Carina Fourie, Fabian Schuppert, Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (eds.), Social Equality: On What It Means to Be Equals , Oxford University Press 2015.

Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice: Power & the Ethics of Knowing , Oxford University Press 2007.

Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [1776], edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press 1976.

Jonathan Wolff/Avner De-Shalit, Disadvantage , Oxford University Press 2007.

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Equal Rights for All Citizens in America

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  • Essay on Women

Free Essay About Equal Rights

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women , Men , United States , Democracy , Politics , Women's Rights , Feminism , Workplace

Words: 1600

Published: 12/07/2020

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Initially, the women's movement arose in North America during the war for Independence (1775-1783). Of course, the question of on the unequal position of the “weaker sex” arose earlier. In the seventeenth century, the first works that proved that the woman was fully human appeared. These works had the idea that a woman is born with the same ability to be free, complete personality as a man. The war for independence and the political crisis in America did not only politicize consciousness of women, but also the content of their private life. Women who were not previously interested in politics, quickly joined the political thought and became involved in political discussions. In their letters and diaries educated women of the late eighteenth century often touched the political issues. However, a cultural tradition that separated the female sphere of activities from the socio-political, again and again forced them to make excuses for their insolence. For a long time a married American woman could not own property, sign contracts on her behalf and even to dispose her own salary. At the end of XVIII – early XIX centuries many early supporters of feminism considered marriage as the main instrument of oppression of women. Representatives of feminism demanded gender equality through socio-economic and legal reforms. They wanted not only natural, but also about the social rights for the women, right for freedom, education, labor. 1848 is considered the year of the beginning of a long struggle for women's right in the USA, when the Congress was held in the town of Seneca Falls, NY, where about three hundred men and women complained and made a list of necessary actions. Elizabeth Stanton made a Declaration of Feelings, sometimes also referred to as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, signed during the convention. The basis of the document was adopted from the United States Declaration of Independence, and Stanton has decided that "all men and women were created equal" and made 18 charges against men is exactly the same amount as the American colonists charged George III. As expected, the Conference was not approved by the society and the press. Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist, suffragist, speaker and public figure, a former slave, wrote in "the Northern Star: "A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of women."(1848). Despite inconveniences caused by the indignation of the public, Stanton remained faithful to her beliefs. When New York Herald ironically published the full text of the Declaration of Feelings, she was happy to see the attention of the press, even no matter it was distorted. "It will start women thinking, and men too; and when men and women think about a new question, the first step in progress is taken." she said. (Stanton at al., 1969). At that time many women in New England began to leave their homes. Someone actively lectured, someone entered politics by participating in the women's antislavery societies, thousands of women have found employment outside their homes – on textile factories. In addition, women even opened several universities. In the report “Woman in the nineteenth century,” Margaret Fuller wrote that “Many women are considering within themselves what they need that they have not, and what they can have if they find they need it. Many men are considering whether women are capable of being and having more than they are and have, and whether, if so, it will be best to consent to improvement in their condition. (Fuller, 1848). Yet then, and only then, will human beings be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for woman, as much as for man, shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession. (Myerson, 2000, p. 394). The theoretical foundation strengthened the position of feminism. It became diverse in form and content. By the beginning of XX century suffragettes, who championed political and legal equality of women; socialists who defended the idea of equal payment of women's work and women's participation in trade unions; radical feminists, promoting the ideas of conscious maternity and birth control; the Christian women's benevolent society became very active. As a result of slow conquest of all these feminist threads,by the end of XIX – beginning of XX century, social attitudes and norms allowed the woman to go outside the home to get an education, work. Women gradually won back their economic importance, that was lost in prehistoric times, as they started leaving the house and working at the factory, participate in the production. Such transformation became possible only because of the machines, since the difference in physical strength between male and female workers in most cases disappeared. Because a sharp jump of industry required much more manpower than male workers could offer, attraction of women became necessary. This is that great revolution in the nineteenth century that opened a new era for the women. Suffragism of the beginning of the XX century played an important role in the development of the ideas of feminism – movement for women's voting rights that would provide them access to political activity and social equality. It was believed that women did not need the vote to protect themselves, because the families were always supported by men. It is known at that time a large number of women were earning money for their whole life. They were forced to work in shops and factories for a pittance. Women workers were employed in various fields, from time to time they united in trade unions and held strikes to seek justice from their masters in the same way, as men did. But there is no records about any successful performance of women. The emergence of numerous feminist organizations in several countries in the second half of XIX – early XX century say about the relevance of their requirements. In 1888. the International Council of women was created. In the early twentieth century it included the United States, Britain, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands. In 1904 the International Alliance for women's voting rights was created. One year before, the League of women's unions was formed. With its help representatives of the middle class fought for improving of working conditions. The League supported the strikes held by women, provided substantial assistance to the strikers in the protection of the rights of arrested, the organization of pickets, free kitchens and social benefits. As a result, the U.S. Congress authorized the conduct of a detailed study on the situation of working women and children. A report was made “Women and children employed in the USA”, which was studied from 1908 to 1911, consisted of 19 volumes. This led to the founding the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of labor in 1920. Slowly but surely women were fighting for their rights. In the period of World War I 1914-1918 feminists ceased their operations everywhere, resuming them briefly after the war. In 1925 Committee of women's organizations was created. The movement for women's equality in several countries in Asia began in the 1920-ies. In 1918 the United States passed the law on the Federal constitutional amendment on women's suffrage in the House of representatives, but the Senate rejected the amendment. And only thanks to the efforts of the activists of the movement, a year later, and in some states a little later, on August 26, 1920. the 19th amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution after ratification by thirty-six states. Getting the electoral rights and the growth of employment of women in the U.S. and Europe has led to the recession of the feminist movement, which started to become more active again after the end of World War II. The impact of political, economic and social changes in the status of women was very controversial. Traditionally, the woman was lifted to the podium, saw its role primarily in the creation and preservation of the family hearth, in the upbringing of children. But this did not prevent to use the labor of women in heavy work and turn a blind eye to the inequality in payment between men and women. When the demand for labour increased, women joined the ranks of employees. And despite the fact that for a long time, a married woman still could not own property, sign contracts on her behalf and even to dispose her own salary.

It took centuries before in the developed countries of Europe and America proclaimed equal rights of citizens regardless the sex.

Society gradually started to move away from hard binding of the specific economic and behavioral norms based on sex, from the traditional notion built on a gender division of household, parental responsibilities and labour activity outside the home. The equality of men and women is the question of equality of human existence. Discrimination between men and women is prohibited. Historical experience needs to treat everyone as individuals, to respect human rights regardless the gender.

Douglass, Frederick. (1848). The North Star. The Rights of Women. Retrieved 13 July 2015, from http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abwm03dt.html Fueller, Margaret. (1848). The Great Lawsuit. Retrieved 13 July 2015, from http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/fuller/debate.html Myerson, J. (2000). Transcendentalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 394. Stanton, E., Anthony, S., Gage, M., & Harper, I. (1969). History of woman suffrage. New York: Arno Press/New York Times., p.728.

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Equal Rights for All Animals Essay

The issue of animal rights within the realm of ethical studies has been of great significance during the last several decades. The application of philosophical theories and principles to the issue of animals’ rights is becoming increasingly important in the modern world, where the interests of all species are being considered as ethically relevant. The article by Richard Pérez-Peña “Elephants to Retire From Ringling Brothers Stage” was published in The New York Times and delivers the news story about the Ringling Brothers Circus freeing the elephants.

Such a momentous decision is a result of long-lasting disputes and now has triggered more discussions in the circles of animal rights organizations. The problem of the way different animals are treated in circuses might be applied with such concepts and theories as speciesism, anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism, and equal consideration of interests.

The dispute between the circus owners and animal rights activists has been going on for many decades. The core of their disagreement is in the way the animals are treated in the circuses for training purposes. The transparency, which is a common thing in the modern world driven by easy access to information, enables people to see how the animals are treated in circuses. On the one hand, animal rights activists state that cruelty and brutality are the critical elements in elephant training.

On the other hand, the circus owners and animal trainers argue that the use of sticks and other equipment is justified by the importance of discipline and human safety (Pérez-Peña). Besides the cruel treatment of animals, other species are exposed to physical control, stress from continuous traveling, and separation from their families when they are babies. All these issues are used by different animal protection organizations to fight for the rights of the species trapped in the entertainment business.

According to the theory of speciesism, different animals are treated unequally with privileges given to certain species. As the article by Pérez-Peña demonstrates, this theory has been an influential part of the conflict between the circus owners and animal rights protectors. Indeed, many countries have enacted special legal documents forbidding the use of wild animals for entertainment, including holding them in a circus environment.

However, the elephants are vastly used in American circuses because they are differentiated from other species. As it is discussed in the article, Asian elephants are not regarded as “fully wild, because people have put them to work for millenniums” (Pérez-Peña par. 11). It is unethical to apply such blurred terms as “not fully wild” to separate one species from the others. Speciesism implies inherent inequality among animals and exposes some of them to a hostile living environment and physical suffering under the cruel treatment in circuses.

The overall basis of circus owners’ argument deals with anthropocentrism that places a human at the center of everything. From this point of view, animals are treated as a supplement to entertaining human life and are not attributed to any rights. Since people have more access to information about the real conditions of animals’ being in the circus facilities, how they travel, and how they suffer when trained, the number of strikes increases.

The increased public’s opposition to circuses’ usage of animals, including elephants, complicates the work of the circuses, such as Ringling Brothers. Consequently, the anthropocentric approach prevails even in the decision-making process when the company decided to retire its elephants, calling it “purely a business decision” (Pérez-Peña par. 6). Thus, even in the circumstances of the rising importance of animal rights, business owners adhere to the principles of anthropocentrism.

However, the rise of research on animals’ experiences has provided a scope of ideas contributing to the protection of animal rights. The theory of anthropomorphism is at the center of such investigation since the experiences animals have are perceived from the point of view of their similarities and differences of those humans have. In other words, animals are treated via the reflection of human feelings and experiences, thus entitled to be applied with the same ethical considerations as humans. From this perspective, the elephants that are kept in hostile conditions in circuses are exposed to stress, suffering, emotional pain, physical injuries, and lack of freedom just as humans would be.

At the same time, it is imperative to provide equal rights for all animals. It is impossible to do under the guidance of speciesism, but equal consideration of interests provides such an opportunity. It is one of the philosophical, theoretical bases that might help in further resolving of disputes considering animal rights. In their attempts to protect animals, people need to prioritize the interests animals have without reasoning. However, the example of elephants’ retirement for the Ringling Brothers stage shows that it takes a lot of precise consideration, reasoning, and disputes to make a change in the ethical treatment of animals.

In conclusion, the news article about the retirement of animals from a circus implies a considerable shift in the perception of animal rights by the modern entertainment business. However, at the same time, it demonstrates the ambiguity in the application of basic philosophical concepts to the resolution of the problem. While animals are being treated from the perspective of anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism, and speciesism, equal consideration of interests fails to apply. It is vital to prioritize animals’ interests to ensure the preservation of their ethical rights.

Pérez-Peña, Richard. “ Elephants to Retire From Ringling Brothers Stage. ” The New York Times . 2015. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, July 29). Equal Rights for All Animals. https://ivypanda.com/essays/equal-rights-for-all-animals/

"Equal Rights for All Animals." IvyPanda , 29 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/equal-rights-for-all-animals/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Equal Rights for All Animals'. 29 July.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Equal Rights for All Animals." July 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/equal-rights-for-all-animals/.

1. IvyPanda . "Equal Rights for All Animals." July 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/equal-rights-for-all-animals/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Equal Rights for All Animals." July 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/equal-rights-for-all-animals/.

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‘Architecton’ Review: Victor Kossakovsky’s Magnetic Film Essay Reflects On Man’s Relationship With Nature – Berlin Film Festival

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Architecton documentary

In a haunting prolog, we see the ruins of a housing estate in what is presumably war-torn Ukraine (Kossakovsky doesn’t always tell you where his cameras are pointing). A drone soars above the carnage, revealing the extent of the damage to buildings where people once lived. The evidence of their having been there now seems almost pathetic; these spaces seem barely adequate for existence, let alone survival. It’s the ugly, ignominious end of an ugly, ignominious building, but Kossakovsky’s seemingly cryptic tone-poem film is just dangling that idea in front of us as an aperitif.

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The film itself starts with a very strange ritual; an unnamed architect (later revealed to be Michele De Lucchi, another Italian) is building a stone circle in his garden. There is no purpose to this object other than to be a human-free zone: once completed, only De Lucchi’s dog is to be allowed within it.

While all this is going on, Kossakovsky’s roving eye takes us around the world, in a travelogue that shows us the resilience of the old world versus the transience of the modern. It shows the poetics of ruin, but it is a cycle with diminishing returns; the debris of the Romans and Greeks still has a grandeur and majesty that is missing from the shabby detritus of the modern world, as we see in the aftermath of the earthquake that laid waste to Turkey in the summer of last year.

It’s all very gnomic, but Kossakovsky can’t help but blurt his thoughts out in the epilogue, with a thesis that is really very simple: “Why do we build ugly, boring buildings when we know how to make beautiful ones?”

De Lucchi, a wonderfully lugubrious presence, knows this very well, and speaks quite candidly about his own complicity in this increasingly prevalent anti-aesthetic, saying that, as a global entity, we need to think about “what we build that nourishes the planet and what we build that will destroy it… Architecture is a way to think about how we live, how we behave.”

Such a concept isn’t all that new — it’s over 100 years since Le Corbusier declared that “a house is machine for living in” — but Kossakovsky’s fascinating, magnetic film essay does help us to reassess what we’ve lost over the centuries. And, best of all, it isn’t depressing; like Reggio’s film, it is a warning sounded in the good faith of being heard in the nick of time.

Architecton verbalizes something we are all thinking in the modern age of war and climate change: what will we leave behind, and what will it say about us to future generations? We can only pray that they’ll think of us kindly.

Title: Architecton Festival:   Berlin (Competition) Distributor: A24 Sales agent: The Match Factory Director: Victor Kossakovsky Running time:  1 hr 38 min

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