July is a special month in my country because we celebrate the founding of our nation, the birth of the idea of this free country. And really, the experiment that is the United States of America and its Constitution has had a profound influence on the world. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence starts off with what may be the most recognizable statement in governance: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While it is certainly true that these ideals have not always been practiced, they are still the hope, the dream, and the goal to which we aspire.
That is why when Americans hear the name of a piece of legislation called “The Equality Act,” we want it. Who would be against Equality? Doesn’t everyone in the world hope that every individual will be treated fairly? Don’t we want to eliminate discrimination in all its forms? Of course we do! And in a recent survey which was co-sponsored by Big Ocean Women, this was found to be the case. We do not want people to be discriminated against. That is simple. However, there are intricacies of and consequences to the language of this proposed amendment to the Civil Rights Act that could have implications that the voting public does not support.
For most of human history, women have been relegated to a second-place position. I like to think that much of this resulted from well-meaning but poorly implemented desires to protect mothers and daughters, but regardless of the intent, the results were and still are in some places much like bondage. When we live in a world that still has femicide in the form of honor killings and sex-selective abortion, in a world that still has places where menstruating women are “banished into ‘menstruation huts,’” in a world where women have to fight for the right to an education and opportunity to join in the governance of their countries, it is important to recognize that the fight for equality for the women of the world has not ended.
It is also important to remember that while men and women are equal in their value and ability to contribute to society, there are still biological differences that make women more vulnerable. For this reason, for safety from physical harm and mental trauma after physical harm has been endured, women-only spaces are essential. The respondents to the survey also recognize this fact. When asked if female-only group shower accommodations, prisons, and homeless or domestic violence shelters should be banned, they overwhelmingly disagreed. These are spaces that need to be safe for women to be without fear of exposure, harassment, or harm from men who might gain access by claiming to be women.
There is another thing that is wonderful about my country which was included in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This was a radical idea in 1789, that there would be no laws establishing religion or limiting free speech. People have the right to think and act for themselves and to share their thoughts and opinions without fear. This was also included in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Article 19. Sections 1 & 2 state:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Interestingly, we have recently seen Twitter suspending accounts of users who believe that human beings cannot change sex. Some of these accounts included charitable organizations that promote traditional, religious family values, and women’s rights campaigners. When the survey participants were asked if they approved or disapproved of Twitter’s decision to suspend those accounts, 53% said they disapproved. While I cannot know the reasoning of the other respondents who either were unsure or approved, more than half of the voting public, it seems, still thinks that people should be able to express their beliefs without fear of censorship from the platform. There were 21.71% who strongly approved of Twitter’s actions, however, and I personally find this concerning. Are people so afraid of ideas that are different from their own that they want them silenced? I don’t know that Twitter is the best place for conversation, but restricting access to people based on their ideas seems discriminatory, and that is what we’re all trying to fight against.
I will be celebrating the birth of my country and the ideals it stands for this July. I know there have been great atrocities and many injustices that have had to be overcome. I know that there is still work to do to keep the freedoms we have and improve our society so everyone feels safe and is treated equally. But I also think that the solution to our problems is not more legislation, restrictions, or mandates that might infringe on the rights of others. I know the solution starts in caring about and listening to our neighbors, especially those who have different life experiences and views. Equality is about respect and opportunity. Everyone deserves the right to Life, Liberty, and the equal pursuit of Happiness.