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Almost 60 Years After the War, U.S. Women Lag Behind Japan

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Fifty-nine years ago this week in 1945, President Truman announced Japan's surrender in World War II. It was three years and eight months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and only days after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The war in the Pacific was over, but now Japan had to be rebuilt, including changes to the constitution. Though the most attention was paid to the provision that forever prohibited Japan from maintaining a military force, there was one other historic change that was unheard of in Japan, and to this day goes beyond even the U.S. Constitution: women were given equal rights with men.

How did it happen? A woman on the drafting committee of course. Beate Sirota Gordon was a 22-year-old military aide working under Genera MacArthur in a top secret project to revise the Japanese constitution. Japan's women were subjected to arranged marriages, had no inheritance rights, no rights to choose where they lived, and no rights to work or an education.

Unlike our founding document, the new Japanese constitution guaranteed equality before the law and outlawed discrimination against Japanese citizens based on "race, creed, sex, social status or family origin." Equality between the sexes in marriage was also explicitly spelled out, and girls specifically guaranteed the same rights to education as boys. Beate Gordon's women's rights provisions live on today.

Meanwhile, U.S. women still wait -- we do not have equal rights in our Constitution. Oh sure, we have some statutes outlawing discrimination, but they've already been weakened by the courts and can be overturned outright at any time by an increasingly hostile Congress.

Though it's been introduced in every Congress since 1923, the only time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was sent to the states for ratification, in 1972, it failed three states 2014-04-01-yourvoicesmallest3.JPGshort of the 38 required before the clock ran out on an artificially imposed deadline. We need to pass it now more than ever.

The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision curtailing women's rights to birth control coverage has sparked new interest and new legislation. Before Congress went out for it's long summer's nap, Representative Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. long-time ERA champion in the House, and congresswomen Jackie Speier, D-CA, were joined by advocates in a 1970s-style ERA rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. "[The Court] could not have made the Hobby Lobby ruling with an ERA," Maloney declared.

The Congresswomen have sponsored two bills aimed at getting the amendment ratified. Maloney's measure affirms that enforcement of the constitutional prohibition of sex discrimination is a function of both federal and state levels of government. Speier's would simply remove the deadline contained in the preamble to the original ERA, and declare it ratified after three more states give it the nod (Illinois may ratify this fall).

After almost 60 years, isn't it time American women catch up with their sisters in Japan?

Listen to Carolyn Maloney's radio interview here: