'We Need Equal Rights and We Need It Now': Patricia Arquette Explains Why She Started a New Equal Rights Amendment Petition

The Oscar winner discusses her part in the campaign to ratify the nearly 100-year-old Equal Rights Amendment

Photo: Araya Diaz/Getty

Want to help make equal rights a reality? Sign Patricia Arquette‘s recently launched petition to make it so.

Why the need for this petition and advocacy? The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by Alice Paul. Although the Senate and House of Representatives eventually passed the amendment in 1972, it was never ratified – a shocking fact for many, and a key component to filmmaker Kamala Lopez’s new film, Equal Means Equal, which examines the startling effects of gender inequality in the United States, the inadequacy of current laws in place and the dedicated advocates who’ve been fighting for decades to rectify the situation.

“People think it’s a women-only issue but it’s not,” Arquette tells PEOPLE. “It’s an equality issue. If I were to hear that men didn’t have equal rights in the United States I would think, ‘That is not acceptable.’ The truth is, when you start talking about these issues like women’s rape kits not being processed for decades or being thrown in the trash can, every dad out there wants that changed. Every husband out there wants that changed. This is a broken system in multiple areas and we have multiple things that are affecting women, we have rape, we have gender wage discrimination, socioeconomic costs and it’s all bubbling down. The people there at the bottom of the barrel can’t take it anymore.”

The outspoken Oscar winner, who made headlines and brought new attention to the gender pay gap with her infamous 2015 Oscar speech, says that the goal of the petition is to garner public support and the attention of lawmakers in order to ratify the ERA once and for all.

“The petition will end up going to lawmakers and also governors, we need nonpartisan support for this,” Arquette says. “It was originally introduced by a Republican and had very strong Republican support and we want that back. We need to get our politicians talking more about it during the election cycle, because we are 51percent of the population. We want equal rights in America and we don’t have it, it’s not up for debate.”

Arquette and Equal Means Equal director Lopez emphasize the fact that ratifying the amendment will have immediate positive effects on multiple areas of gender inequality.

“We know for a fact that gender wage discrimination would be eliminated,” says Lopez. “If you eliminate that, that has a domino effect into foster care, child sex trafficking, even domestic violence because most of the time women stay with their abusers because of the economic reality that they can’t leave with their kids.”

“They are saying the gender pay gap at this rate will not close until 2058,” adds Arquette. “That means a young woman who starts work tomorrow, her whole life span, her whole earning years, it will take years longer to pay back a college loan, years longer to buy a house and save up for the down payment, years longer to pay off her car and everything else. She’ll have $400,000 less in her retirement, or if she has higher education she will have lost two million dollars in her lifetime. I’m not accepting that. I think we have to get this done. I’m giving us a two year limit.”

Arquette says she is feeling hopeful about the momentum behind the ERA, despite negativity from naysayers.

“A lot of people don’t want any change,” she says. “They say there is no pay equality, they say that I only care about actresses having equal pay or white woman, none of that is true. But I do feel good about [the momentum]. I know there will be a resistance, there’s always resistance to change we just have to keep pushing through it until it becomes sort of ridiculous. Because it is ridiculous.”

“We need equal rights, and we need it now,” she continues. “And we need to say to the world, women have equal rights in America, all people have equal rights.”

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