Idaho, you’ve got some catching up to do.
Women’s Equality Day marks the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. But recent findings comparing key indicators of women’s equality among states finds that Idaho ranks 49th among the 50 states.
The study conducted by WalletHub looked at such things as gaps in income, work hours, educational attainment and political representation. But it’s not just Idaho. The nation’s gender gap is slipping when compared to 149 other countries. Not even ranked in the top 40 by the World Economic Forum, in 2018, the U.S. ranking slipped from 49th place to 51st position.
Inequities in wage earnings, executive positions, the fact that nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are female and the underrepresentation in government are the main points brought up in the gender-gap issue.
“It paints a pretty grim picture,” said David Adler, president of the Alturas Institute, a nonprofit organized to promote the Constitution and gender equality in education. “We’d like to think that we’ve made a lot more progress than we really have. There’s sliding and, at this rate, you wonder how long will it take where America can enjoy a true gender equality in the country.”
The World Economic Forum projects the time when regions of the world can be expected to close the gender gap: If current rates of improvement were to be maintained in the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 61 years in Western Europe, 70 years in South Asia, 153 years in the Middle East and North Africa, and 165 years in North America.
The WalletHub report cites one major stumbling block to bringing 50 percent of Idaho’s population into equal terms: Men in charge.
“Despite their advances toward social equality, women are disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions,” nationally the WalletHub report states. “According to the American Association of University Women, women only constitute 25 percent of legislators and less than 29 percent of business executives.”
“We have a history of sexism, racism, all that,” said Idaho State Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise. “And regardless of what people say, there’s a residue of that in our country as (the WalletHub story) points. If women really were equal to men there wouldn’t be all these disparities. So why are all these disparities existing? Because bias and sexism still exist and because institutions still support its existence. Through different policies we can change those outcomes.”
A longtime college educator, Wintrow has held formal leadership positions as a women’s center director, program manager for a national women’s leadership institute and instructor of gender studies.
The U.S. ranks 98th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Adler says getting more women in government offices is a good start to making a change.
“Several studies propose that women should aim for local offices as a means of acquiring experience and moving up the ladders,” Adler said. “Moving from city councils to state legislative seats and upward. That sounds good but there are other social, cultural and economic forces that make it difficult for women to even pursue lower-level offices. It’s hard to separate the political from the economic, social and cultural issues.”
He said ambition and talent are not enough to place women in legislative or state positions.
“That immediately raises the question of economic capacity, their financial status to do that,” he said. “What are their family circumstances? Are they mother to a large family with many children in which the expectation in that family is that the mother should stay at home and not pursue other opportunities. That’s a very important cultural, social issue.”
Adler said attacking the economic inequities between men and women means providing women with a “living wage” as opposed to a minimum wage and holding businesses accountable for underpaying women.
On the social and cultural side of inequities, Adler said generous leave policies would help women and men take care of rearing children and continue to pursue professional opportunities.
“There should be an understanding if a working woman leaves the company for a time to go home and to give birth that they should be welcomed into their previous position or a comparable position at the same level of pay as when they left. So that they don’t have to start again down at the bottom of the ladder,” Adler said. “Everybody knows that society has an interest in childbirth because it’s a way of promoting humanity. It seems very punitive of businesses and society in general to refuse to adopt practices and regulations and laws that would eventually reward women for playing this crucial role — a role that men cannot play — rather than punishing them.”
Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho Voices for Children, said one gap pointed out in the WalletHub study is the number of working hours between men and women. Necochea said one roadblock to women working could be removed with more preschool and afterschool programs.
“Idaho consistently has one of the lowest rates of preschool participation in the nation,” Necochea said. “Early care and education aren’t just good for children — they are work supports that allow parents the greater freedom to pursue the training and careers that will generate a family-sustaining wage.”
Wintrow proposes bringing back the Women’s Commission directed by the Idaho governor’s office. The commission was defunded by the state legislature in 2009 and disbanded in 2016. She said the commission could consider issues such as violence against women and girls, economics and women’s studies.
“I think that is something that would be helpful if we reinstated it,” Wintrow said. “It could drill down on some of these important issues. It doesn’t take a lot of money.”
Paulette Jordan, who served in the Idaho House from 2014 to 2018, said in 2016, “Women, throughout the state, have approached me about reigniting this commission. We are moving in the wrong direction and we should have a forum for women to come together to have these conversations and (to) talk about why is it that we are still paid 72 cents on the dollar.”
The WalletHub report can be found at wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women-equality/5835/#main-findings. The World Economic Forum report can be found at weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2018.