March 2011, Week 2


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Tue, 8 Mar 2011 20:32:15 -0500
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International Women's Day: Miles to Walk, in the US and
Across the Seas 

By Anika Rahman
March 8, 2011 


2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day
- a day for the celebration of women worldwide. In 25 nations
(including China, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and
Zambia), the day has become a national holiday, a time not
only to cheer for women's advances, but also to reflect upon
the many global inequalities women still face.

We honor this day in the United States, too, and stand in
solidarity with our sisters who are struggling to surmount
injustice around the globe. But here at the Ms. Foundation,
we know we must do more than look outward at the failures and
fault-lines of equality beyond our borders. Today, this
entire Women's History Month, and throughout the year, we
must take a hard look at our own country's shortcomings.
While we pride ourselves on our global leadership and our
national ideals, there is no doubt that the US falls
hideously short.

Of course, we need not look far. Whether it's Representative
Chris Smith's (R-NJ) attempt to redefine rape and set the
women's movement - and our entire country - back decades, or
Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other
Title X providers, it is clear that women's reproductive
rights and health are under blatant attack. But even before
the Right's most recent assault on women's lives, the status
of women's health in the US has lagged far behind. Did you
know, for example, that over the last 20 years, deaths from
pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled?
And need we remind you that this is taking place in a nation
that spends more than any other country in the world on
health care?

And then there's Wisconsin. While the battle over collective
bargaining rights and unions is not being framed by
mainstream media as a 'woman's issue,' it more than surely
[E1] is. Women make up a majority of public sector workers at
the state and local level - they also make up 56 per cent of
the "working poor" and are most likely, alongside people of
color, to benefit from union membership. As such, our friends
at the Institute for Women's Policy Research point out, women
and their families stand to lose the most if workers' rights
in Wisconsin and elsewhere are dismantled. In a time of
ongoing economic crisis in which women continue to lose jobs,
this is an especially frightening prospect.

The current US political and economic climate alone makes
women's fate seem especially grim. But this should not
obscure the fact that women have long experienced the
disproportionate impact of harmful policies and gender
discrimination. No matter the decade, if you're a woman here
in the US you're more likely than a man to be poor, to earn
minimum or below minimum wage, to pay more for health
insurance - and the list goes on. This while only a small
percentage of us are at policymaking tables where decisions
are made that directly impact our lives.

And how do we compare to the rest of the world? Global
statistics tell a striking story of just how poorly the US
performs when it comes to promoting women's well-being. Among
42 countries with 'high human development' levels, the US
currently ranks 37th -- in the bottom five of such countries
-- in terms of gender equality according to the United
Nations' 2010 Human Development Report [pdf]. The World
Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index [pdf], which
analyzes rates of economic opportunity and participation,
educational attainment, health and survival, and political
empowerment to compile its ratings, puts the US in 19th place
globally. That means women in America fare worse, by some
measures, than our sisters in nations like Sri Lanka, South
Africa and the Philippines, not to mention much of Western
Europe and all of Scandinavia.

The bad news continues. The US currently ranks last among the
11 industrialized nations who are members of the Group of 10
in terms of both infant and maternal mortality rates. Our
current gender wage gap of 19 cents places the US 64th [pdf]
in the world. And we rank 73rd in terms of women's political
leadership, falling behind nations like Rwanda, Uganda and
Pakistan, and tying with Bosnia.

Frankly, it doesn't matter what list you turn to, or how you
spin the data: check any of the published rankings of global
inequality from a gendered perspective and nowhere will you
see the US ranked in the top ten of nations closing the
gender gap. Nowhere.

Shocking? Disappointing? Certainly -- yet if you understand
the realities of daily life for most women in this country,
the reason we maintain our embarrassingly low rankings, year
after year, is disturbingly self-evident. Just ask the nearly
150 social justice organizations we support - groups led by
and for women who, either through personal experience or
through the lives of their members, come face to face with
this unjust reality every day. They, better than anyone else,
understand how urgent the need for change is.

Across the country, our grantees are fighting to win
progressive changes that women in every corner of the world
should be able to call their own. In Colorado, West Virginia,
and other statehouses nationwide, they are fighting for
reproductive justice, and against regressive measures that
devalue women's lives. In Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere,
they are standing on the front lines to defend the right to
collective bargaining now under attack. In Arizona, in
Kentucky, and in Washington, DC, they're taking on unjust
immigration policies that disproportionately impact women and
families. And at every level, whether city, state or federal,
they're fighting to ensure that women's perspectives, and
women leaders, are included at policymaking tables where key
decision about our nation's future are being made.

So, today, as the world pauses to celebrate the achievements
of women worldwide, we honor our remarkable grantees. They,
some of our country's most treasured social justice
trailblazers, are exemplary models of the kind of change-
makers we should all aspire to be. We believe in their
voices. We believe in their vision. We believe in their power
to promote women's well-being and create the just and
inclusive democracy our nation was meant to be.

On this 100th International Women's Day, we stand with all
women and girls -- down the street and around the world -- to
cheer our wins and inspire us all to further action. We have
come a long way, but we've got miles to walk, here in America
and across the seas.

[Anika Rahman is President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for


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