Are Women Considered Equal to Men in the Real World? Not Yet

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

UNITED STATES - For those who are following the United States' election cycle, Donald Trump’s misogyny brings to the forefront of the national stage an often convoluted and hidden issue of anti-women’s rights sentiment. Trump is not unique in this sentiment, he simply doesn’t care enough to hide his negative opinion of a woman’s worth. He constantly assigns women to lower positions, and has asserted that women are incapable of operating at a high-level in any field, and deserve be judged upon their physical appearances versus their abilities.

 Is he alone in thinking this way? Not at all. Despite the fact that women’s role in society has exponentially improved compared to the rigid roles that were afforded to them in the last century, there is still a vast gap in access to higher education. Education is a prerequisite to securing high-paying jobs that would afford women the financial freedom to achieve upward mobility for themselves and their families.

EDUCATION

In fact, data shows young girls are routinely steered away from STEM education curriculum.  In 2012 an article written by Erik B. Robelen for Education Week, statistics indicated that “Despite the gains, experts say some gender divides are still apparent, especially with participation in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” His articles continues by stating that “Concern remains widespread about the relative lack of women pursuing advanced study and careers in STEM fields. Recent federal data show just one-quarter of people working in those fields are women; one in seven engineers is female. Also, women trailed men in earning doctorates in many STEM fields, as of 2009, including computer science, engineering, chemistry, and math.”

"Computing has one of the worst gender representations of any STEM discipline," said Lucinda M. Sanders, the chief executive officer and co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, based in Boulder, Colo. "When you do find computing in high school, and it is rigorous, girls are very seldom represented in the classroom." (Source: Education Week, Gender Gap Persist in STEM Subjects

Three years later in an article written by Janine Ingram, “IX Reasons STEM Needs Title IX: Lessons from Center Court,” listed ten reasons why girls participation in STEM based curriculum is important, of those, the two below are most applicable to this article:

  1. Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the US Economy, they fill less than 25% of STEM jobs. So why is that a big deal? Read #2 …
  2. Women with STEM jobs earn 33% more than women with non-STEM jobs (.92 cents for every male dollar compared to .77 cents for every male dollar in non-STEM jobs).

Now I’m not thrilled to know I am being out-earned by 8 cents simply by virtue of a missing ‘y’ chromosome — but it beats 23 cents." (Source: Huffington Post)

Thus, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses, are necessary to succeed in the increasingly, sophisticated technological world. Even though this is common knowledge, girls and women continue to be unfairly steered into educational opportunities that make them less competitive and less likely to secure scholarships to top-tier universities. Without scholarships post-secondary education is increasingly outside the grasps of the average American for whom the specter of huge student loans represents a deterrent because of the reality of being unable to pay these loans back given the current job market and the opportunities afforded women who graduate with less competitive degrees.

JOB MARKET

According to Inter-Parliamentary Union research data, There are only three countries in the world where female representation equals or is more than males. These are Cuba (49 percent), Bolivia (53 percent) and Rwanda (64 percent). Though these figures are high, the average representation of women in parliaments globally tops out at about 22 percent. It is worth noting that there are countries with no female representation in their parliament. But, even more unjust is the fact that there are still countries where women cannot even vote.

One would think with a former female Senator, Secretary of State, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton running for president, that America is doing better when it comes to women in elected positions, especially in the U.S. House and Senate. With 88female members in U.S. House of Representatives, and 20 in the U.S. Senate, the United States takes the 95th place on the IPU’s women in Parliaments list, since female representatives only comprise about 20 percent of the Congress which is slightly below world average.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, of the data collected from individuals over 16-years-old, 57 percent of women participate in the workforce in the United States, yet women comprise only 46 percent of the total work force. Additionally, though the member countries of the European Union are considered as having one of the most developed and progressive economies only 62 percent of the women were employed in 2012, by comparison of 74 points for men.  According to research results from National Bureau of Economic Research, in 1990 the United States was identified as number one in terms of women in the workforce. This figure has declined to17th among the world’s 22 richest countries.

The predominance of men in both the public and private sector in senior management and executive positions continues to be the norm. Though there are many powerful women who are heads of major organizations like Christine Lagarde, the CEO of the International Monetary Fund, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany,  Carly Fiorina, former 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, and Oprah Winfrey, American billionaire media mogul, to name a few. However, by and large the average woman lacks access to the finances, education, social contacts to push through the discrimination that persists and hinders their advancements despite many gains in women’s rights.

WOMEN’S HEALTH AND FAMILY LIFE

According to Laura Bassett in her article titled “The U.N. Sent 3 Foreign Women to the U.S. To Assess Gender Equality. They Were Horrified.”  A delegation of human rights experts from Poland, the United Kingdom and Costa Rica spent 10 days touring the United States so they can prepare a report on the nation’s overall treatment of women. The three women, who lead a United Nations working group on discrimination against women, visited Alabama, Texas and Oregon to evaluate a wide range of U.S. policies and attitudes, as well as school, health and prison systems.

The delegates were appalled by the lack of gender equality in America. They found the U.S. to be lagging far behind international human rights standards in a number of areas, including its 23 percent gender pay gap, maternity leave, affordable child care and the treatment of female migrants in detention centers.” (Source: Huffington Post)

Their  3 women delegation’s overall negative assessment of the treatment of women was punctuated by a disturbing experience at an abortion clinic. They recounted how women who had chosen to exercise their reproductive rights afforded them by Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision were verbally berated, spit upon, and physically blocked as they tried to enter abortion clinics. The United States Supreme Court ruled 7–2, on January 22, 1973 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion. The right must be balanced against the state's two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women's health and protecting the potentiality of human life.

But, women continue to be systematically denied the right to exercise control of their reproductive rights. Now, in addition to making one of the most difficult decision of a woman’s life, the decision to terminate a pregnancy, they are increasingly at risk of losing access to securing abortions in safe, clean, medical facilities with trained practitioners. According to NARAL Pro-Choice research, in 2015, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures.

“Arkansas enacted the most anti-choice legislation in 2015, with seven measures. Indiana and Texas followed, enacting four anti-choice measures each, and Oklahoma enacted three anti-choice measures. Since 1995, states have enacted 876 anti-choice measures.”

On the contrary, 19 states and District of Columbia passed 31 pro-choice measures in the same year. Currently, across the United States, religious conservatives have successfully waged battle against Planned Parenthood, one of the only organizations which provides free wellness care to women - including annual breast exams, pap smears, contraceptive, and STD treatment and awareness.

Planned Parenthood, dating back to 1923, has been one of the unique organizations in the United States, providing contraception and other health services to women and men, funding research on birth control and educating specialists; and educating the public about the results of advancing access to family planning. As the presidential election cycle took off, the organization has become one of the main targets of the Republican presidential candidates after the Center for Medical Progress released its video footage of its undercover investigation on selling the human body parts by Planned Parenthood officials.

In many cases, although these services are not as widespread in many countries other than United States, there are other organizations such as International Planned Parenthood Federation continue to educate and help people in need.  

A woman’s right to control her reproductive rights is not the only area in which women are routinely discriminated against because of their sex. According to a report from International Labor Organization, United States is one of only the three countries in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for the working women. The other two are Papua New Guinea and Oman. Most of the developed countries mandate by law that employers grant maternity and paternity leave without risk of losing their jobs. In addition, employers must provide latitude to employees in cases where a family emergency arises by guaranteeing job security for employees who may require time off for illness. Some companies must also provide stipends to help employees more easily support preschool education for their children.

With regard to recognizing the importance of family, and that the quality of work and happiness quotient for employees is very much lacking in the United States. It is so rare that in 2015 Forbes featured the Top 10 Companies Doing the Most to Make Their Employees Happier. Some of the benefits afforded to these companies employees are common in the E.U., but so foreign in the U.S. workforce as to be noteworthy. A research conducted by White House showed in today’s America, in 60 percent of the families, both father and mother are working. In 1965 this was 40 percent. Despite this increase in 50 years, The United States failed to develop policies to enhance family unity as well as providing healthcare, the smallest unit of the society. On the other side, many of the European countries have started the basics of health insurance as early as 19th century. A World Health Organization report on transition towards universal health care coverage shows Austria resolving the issue as early as 1967, Belgium by 1969, Germany by 1988.

Until two years ago, national health insurance wasn’t easily available or affordable, and not guaranteed to every individual in the United States while in the E.U., U.K., and Canada, a national healthcare system provides mandatory care to the citizens. Although Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has provided health insurance to many people who has never had insurance before, a recent Gallup Poll showed that 12 percent of the American people were not covered as of the end of the first quarter of 2015. It is an unfortunate fact that despite the spirit of the law, employers found ways to exploit the loopholes that exists in the law to justify not insuring their employees. Though the law has provided insurance for many people who were previous unable to secure coverage, it continues to be criticized for weakening the workforce indirectly. Many of the reasons pointed out that it is causing undue economic burden on small businesses, causing employers to decrease their workforce or reduce the hours their employees work so that they are considered part-time and therefore ineligible for company provided insurance coverage. Secondarily, because it mandates that all Americans have the right to have adequate health insurance coverage which was denied to many prior to the legislation, it has unfortunately ended up penalizing individuals for a failure to maintain health insurance by increasing their tax burden and forcing them to pay monthly premiums.

One of the main problems with not having insurance, especially for women is the consequences. National Center for Biotechnology Information has studied employer's’ benefits from workers’ health insurance. According to several studies, poor health can be related to increased absenteeism. Accordingly, poor health reduces earnings significantly, when compared to workers with access to health insurance, hence good health. In many cases, women have the double responsibility for household work and outside work. According to another study on health and productivity, poor health means, in many cases, loss of income for the female body of the family as well as additional expenditure to fulfill the commitments of the women. As a result, in order to keep an equal status to men, women end up sacrificing a part of herself most cases her femininity in order to eliminate additional responsibilities that comes with being a woman, and not being compromised for it.

Inequality against women is not limited to health issues. Gender inequality, like in the rest of the world, exists in the United States in many levels. Women in the U.S. get paid significantly less than their male counterparts for the same work they do. At a roundtable event on April 12, Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questioned the lower pay U.S. women soccer team members are receiving when compared to male soccer team, even after winning the World Cup and Olympics.

“We cheered when they won the world cup, and we cheered when they won the Olympic gold medal. And, we noticed that our men’s team hasn’t yet done that. Yet somehow, the men are making hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the women,” she said.

There is no question why U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech during the dedication of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in honor of Equal Pay Day. Though not directly tied to pay, the event highlighted the gains realized after the passing of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage, or the right for women to vote. The monument paid homage to activist and suffragist Alva Belmont, who was a major benefactor of the National Woman's Party, and Alice Paul, who founded the Party and was the chief strategist and leader in the Party’s ongoing fight for women’s political, social, and economic equality. (Source: The White House)

President Obama stated that “I am not here just to say we should close the wage gap. I am here to say, we will close the wage gap. If you don’t believe me, If you don’t believe that we are going to close that gap, you need to come visit this house,” he said in alluding the all of the women who work in his administration, as well as a nod to the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

According to a census survey the gap between the wages paid to women and men has not improved for 11 years as of 2013. According to this data, women gets paid about 25 percent less than their male counterparts working full time, year round jobs. This fact was so apparent that since taking office, President Obama has made equal pay a top priority and “has taken a number of steps to fight for pay equity. In addition to signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama has created the National Equal Pay Task Force, called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, issued an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation, and worked with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to better target enforcement of equal pay laws though enhanced employer reporting of pay data.” (Source: The White House)

In the light of the data, it is safe to say gender equality is a complex issue of social-economic dynamics, stereotypes, and overt efforts to impede women’s equality. Without addressing all of the problems, one cannot hope to achieve comprehensive improvements. Though this is a gargantuan task, and one that cannot be solved by one stroke of the pen, it is something which needs to be front and center in the national dialogue of equal rights.

A large part of the solution requires improvements in the healthcare system and the Affordable Care Act, legislation to provide more transparency in the workplace with regard to salaries, and a realignment of family values to reward versus penalize women who must balance both the home and work life. It is going to take a collaborative effort through public/private partnerships, validating and supporting organizations fighting for women’s rights and equality, and above all a sincere effort on the part of men and women to understand each other. Hopefully, through these efforts, and many more, we will enable women of 21st century to achieve an equal living standard afforded to men of 21st century. And if for no other reason, though it may seem quixotic, Donald Trump’s misogyny has sparked a national debate which has long been overlooked and vastly under-reported.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer