Published on The Daily Femme – Thursday, Mar. 17, 2011
Contributed by Annamarya
On March 1, and in honor of Women’s History Month, the White House released a comprehensive report on the state of women in America, titled “Women in Amercia: Indicators of Social & Economic Well-Being,” in support of the White House Council on Women & Girls, established by President Obama. This report is the first of its kind since 1963 when the Commission on the Status of Women , established by President John F. Kennedy and headed by Eleanor Roosevelt, released its report on, you guessed it, the status of women.
The new White House report focuses on five key ares: People, Families & Income; Education; Employment; Health; and Crime & Violence. The results were compiled based on work done by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Management & Budget, the Economics & Statistics Administration, and federal statistics agencies. Valerie Jarrett, chair of the Council on Women & Girls, said“Women in America” is not only a look at the past but will also serve “as a guidepost to help us move forward.” The purpose of “Women of America,” the White House has said, is to provide facts that will help the White House Council on Women & Girls initatives, inform evidence-based policy-making, and pursue an “all-government and all-agency approach to addressing special issues affecting Americans.”
But the findings are troublesome. While there have been some improvements across the board, there are also discouraging facts. For example, the percentage of women enrolled in college has caught up with male attendance, with women in the 24-35 age range receiving more college degrees than their male counterparts. But, girls are scoring lower on math tests (while excelling in reading) compared to boys, and women are less inclined to pursue fields in science & technology. Another example: the number of working women has increased dramatically in the mid-1990s and nearly equalized in recent years, but women only earn 75 percent of the salary earned by men (that’s 80 cents to the dollar). Additionally, only 27 percent of women earn more than their male spouses, and dual incomes makes up 57 percent. Also, while there’s this female workforce increase, the positions women take are generally in lower-earning “traditional roles,” like domestic work and medical assistance. They are also less likely to perform paid labor, are more inclined to volunteer, and are more likely to work part-time and tend to household needs. What’s more problematic: higher rates of poverty exist among women, particularly those of color, not only because of economic inequality, but also the higher likeliness to solely care for children and family members if divorced or single (note: a growing number of women are raising kids sans partner).
That’s not all. While the female life expectancy is longer than that of men, and women have lower rates of diabetes and heart disease, they are more likely to suffer from certain health issues like mobility impairment, depression, and obesity. Furthermore, one of seven women in the 18-64 age group lack a consistent form of health insurance, a number that increased over time. And, while women use health & preventive care more, many still lack access to preventive care like pap smears and vaccines.
As for violence, women are less likely to be targets of violent crimes like assault, homicide and robberies, but still exceed men in victim rates of intimate partner violence and stalking, despite the decline of reported attacks since theViolence Against Women Act was passed in 1994. Also, women are more likely to be arrested for non-violent crimes, and are more likely to commit crimes than in the past. But, on a “positive” note, the women prison population is less than men, although the number of black & Hispanic women imprisoned exceeds that of white women.
If groups in the public and private sectors actually pay attention to these perturbing statistics, then I have no doubt efforts can be implemented to develop effective programs that advance the success and achievements of women & girls, ensure their safety, provide tools to prosper in education and work, and simplify access to health & preventive care. But that’s an idealistic viewpoint. Much like the recent disparity between the Obama administration and Congress over the defense of the Defense of Marriage act, there is no guarantee that anything of substance will come out of this report. It seems our government, no matter the administration, is slow to realize that the success of women & girls is critical to the success of America. Think about the unrelenting conservative onslaught on women’s rights on the state and federal levels that, if successful, will not only make women second-class citizens but give the government control of their bodies against their will. Think about the recent push to defund Planned Parenthood & Title X and how, despite Senate’s rejection, there is stillthis massive conservative call for PP’s downfall. Think about the recent battle over unions and collective bargaining rights in the Midwest that puts lower-income women & families in a struggling economic and educational position. Think about how, if these budget cuts pass a second time around, it will strip women of necessary and valuable access to health & preventive services, and family planning. If the conservatives advance, which is entirely possible in this current climate of fear, desparation and frustration, think about how we will lose power over ourselves and our choices in all sectors of life. There’s a chance that, when another report of this nature is released in another 50 years, the improvements of women and girls will be just as disheartening, just as slowly progressive or, worse, a climb down the economic and social ladders. And that’s a potential outcome that deeply troubles me. While our situations are “better” than those of our mothers, what will we say of our daughters? What will be the legacy we leave behind?
Which brings me to the most valuable point: While there are a slew of non-profit organizations working to improve the lives of women & girls, like She’s the First, we can no longer rely solely on the initiatives of companies and the government. We, individual citizens, need to continue to take a strong, proactive approach to advancing not only our personal lives but the lives of our fellow women & girls. This can be done through volunteering, creating grassroots operations, or simply starting blogs that spread ideas and ideals. Whichever action is taken, we need to take our future in our hands.