L-R: (front) Laurel G. Bellows, president of the ABA; Julie C. Suk, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School; Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne distinguished professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania and Patricia Lee Refo, National Law Day chairwoman (back) Kim Askew, chairwoman of the Standing Committee on Public Education; John Milewski, managing editor and host of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars radio and television program Dialogue; Jo Freeman, scholar, writer and attorney; David E. Kyvig, distinguished research professor emeritus, Northern Illinois University
Distinguished scholars joined American Bar Association leaders on Law Day 2013 to discuss gender equality in America, and ABA President Laurel G. Bellows framed the conversation by underscoring that the goal has not been achieved.
“We have yet to fully realize equality for all,” she said at the Leon Jaworski Public Program in Washington, D.C. “Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Women and minorities are grossly underrepresented in positions of real power, influence and leadership.”
ABA President Laurel G. Bellows said it is time for a social gender equality movement.
Bellows highlighted historical events that led to human and civil rights achievements, but she challenged the audience and panelists not to grow complacent.
“Women are paid on average less than men for comparable work,” Bellows added. “Although slavery is thought to be a thing of the past, human trafficking — modern slavery — exists around the globe and even within the borders of our country.”
John Milewski, managing editor and host of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars radio and television program Dialogue at the Wilson Center, served as moderator for the discussion. He read from a book written by Mary Frances Berry, Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women’s Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution, and asked the panel to assess progress on the issue of gender equity given that the Equal Rights Amendment never became reality.
“I think that we have achieved in this country about 95 percent of what the amendment would have achieved had it been ratified in the 1970s,” said Jo Freeman, a scholar, writer and attorney. “We’ve achieved that largely because of pressure by the women’s movement, secondly because society has changed significantly to make the idea of equality between the sexes a reasonable idea and thirdly because I believe our judiciary has addressed these issues with less of a bias. It doesn’t mean there aren’t problems left — there are.”
David E. Kyvig, a distinguished research professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, disagreed.
“The Constitution has a unique place in our national psyche. It is the fundamental document of our political and governmental organization. The sixth section of the Constitution defines it as the supreme law of the land, and certainly there are many things it doesn’t cover, but when an effort is made to amend the Constitution and that fails, we are left with the residue of that failure and that, it seems to me, speaks volumes to the fact that we have not yet fully embraced female equality.”
Patricia Lee Refo, chair of National Law Day, welcomes participants at the Leon Jaworski Public Program held in Washington, D.C.
Rogers Smith, the Christopher H. Browne distinguished professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, said institutional policies and practices that “still assign disproportionate responsibility to child care, home care and elder care to women” are the model for hindrances to achieve full constitutional and civic equality.
Julie C. Suk, professor of law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and visiting professor at Harvard Law School, shared how other countries are confronting issues of equality and what they are doing differently from the United States.
Suk said that parents in Sweden receive paid parental leave and that incentive-based efforts encourage fathers to take paternity leave, although some still do not.
Members of the audience asked about the world’s view of the U. S. given that it has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. The international agreement, adopted in 1979 by the United Nations, guarantees basic human rights and equality for women around the world.
Smith said U.S. inaction on CEDAW sends a clear message that our country is not dedicated to equality.
Bellows noted that the ABA is in favor of CEDAW and called on audience members to join in a virtual march to demonstrate that “we believe in equality.”
The “Click Your Heels” campaign to end gender-based wage discrimination is one of many efforts Bellows has initiated as ABA president to draw attention to gender equity challenges.
The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking focuses its efforts on raising awareness and changing the legal community’s approach to end modern-day slavery. The ABA Gender Equity Task Force and the ABA Commission for Women in the Profession work to address gender equity issues, such as equal pay, in the legal profession and in society.