The wider meaning of #MeToo

A movement that has highlighted sexual harassment is beginning to resonate in areas such as equal rights and equal pay.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in Los Angeles Nov. 12.

The #MeToo movement is sending out ripples of change far beyond its original goal of making public and condemning sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

The spotlight now is turning to the need for equal rights and opportunities in employment, including equal pay. Even talk of reviving the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution has emerged.

This week “E! News” television host Catt Sadler quit her job after learning that cohost Jason Kennedy was earning about twice her salary, despite the two having similar qualifications and experience. Ms. Sadler said she was inspired to take her stand after hearing the experiences women shared through the #MeToo movement.

According to Pew Research figures, in 2016 women on average earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. (The gap has narrowed: The figure was 64 cents for women in 1980.)

In an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Rachel Vogelstein outlines the economic cost worldwide of laws that restrict women’s right to work. 

In 155 countries women face restrictions on working, such as “limitations on property ownership, spousal consent requirements for employment, and laws that prevent them from signing contracts or accessing credit,” she writes. 

While much has been made of the move to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive, she notes, the same Saudi regime still stops women from opening bank accounts, starting some kinds of businesses, applying for a passport, or traveling outside the country without permission from a male relative, “restrictions that are arguably more significant in limiting their full economic participation than the driving ban,” she says.

In a 2016 poll, 4 out of 5 Americans thought that the Constitution included an amendment that guaranteed equal rights for women. But the effort to enact such a provision stalled four decades ago.

The #MeToo movement may bring the need for an Equal Rights Amendment back into the public conversation, historian Leigh Ann Wheeler wrote recently.

“[D]o American women still need an ERA? In my opinion, yes,” Dr. Wheeler argues. “Today, threats to women’s equality are, in many ways, greater than ever as women confront ongoing and perhaps even increased sexual harassment and assaults on their bodies and rights. An ERA could establish a constitutional foundation for challenging discrimination that threatens women’s health, safety and very lives.”

In the 21st century, a nation's economy can't successful compete if it bars women from full and equal participation in the workplace. 

As #MeToo resonates ever more broadly, it highlights that half of humanity is still waiting for full recognition of their human rights.

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