International Women’s Day: Miles to Walk, in the US and Across the Seas

Anika Rahman

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day -- a day for the celebration of women worldwide.

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 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.

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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, 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 all women 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. [Join us in supporting their work.]

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.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

Commentary Human Rights

Love, Respect, Accountability: What We Need in This Time of Tragedy and Crisis

Jodi Jacobson

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems... This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy.

In a time of great strife, in which those who seek to divide us have a very large platform, I remember that these things are all true:

You can oppose an illegitimate or unnecessary war, and still individually and collectively honor and love the troops that serve.

You can honor and love the troops that serve, but protest the ways in which war is waged and abhor the behavior of individual soldiers who abuse human rights and dehumanize the civilians in a population. You can honor and love and support the troops that serve but still work to change the systems, and hold politicians and individuals responsible for crimes they perpetrate.

You can honor and love any and all public servants—as I do deeply—but still abhor systemic problems in civil services that lead to racist behaviors and outcomes (or those based on class, immigrant status, gender, ability, or any other basis for discrimination).

You can honor, love, and respect police, but abhor the militarization of our police forces; racial and ethnic profiling; abuses of fines, fees, and arrests that both target and most adversely affect the poorest individuals; and the growing dependency of the budgets for police forces based on fines drawn from those who can least afford it. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still understand why there is a great level of distrust of policing in some communities. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still recognize real abuses of power by individuals or groups among them, and seek to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

You can honor and love police for putting their lives on the line for public safety, but recognize the very deeply legitimate concerns of movements—like Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, LGBTQ rights groups, and others for whom policing often is not about public safety, but is itself a source of fear—because law enforcement is and has been too often used against these groups in ways that are disrespectful, demeaning, and sometimes deadly.

You can honor, respect, and love the police, but support the work of Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, and LGBTQ rights groups, and defend them against blame for the behavior of someone acting in their name who is not actually acting in their name at all.

You can honor and respect the work of prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials, but recognize when the systems in which they are working are not working for the people or to promote justice, or when individuals within those systems operate more on bias than on integrity.

You can protest and advocate for change in any and all of these systems without dishonoring the individuals within them. Indeed, by protesting and seeking to make them better, you make the world better for those within and outside of law enforcement and, hopefully, promote a more universal justice.

You can and we all must honor and treasure the freedoms of speech and of assembly, and abhor violence, while also recognizing that sometimes it is perpetrated by people, like veterans, whose own needs for health care, love, and honor have not been met by the country that sent them to war, or by people who feel so alienated that they—wrongly but nonetheless—resort to violence.

You can be confused by or even irritated by something you don’t understand, but it is on you, not others, to try to understand it. As Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Read, discuss, challenge yourself. Try to open yourself up to what may seem like radical ideas. Make yourself vulnerable to learning. If you don’t understand the movement for Black lives, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, then listen to the very people fighting for their rights in order to better understand them. You may have started from a very different place than they do; you may stand in a very different place today. The issues may seem alien at first. But just because you don’t have cancer does not mean cancer does not exist. Try hard to understand why there is distance, what you don’t understand, and what you can—what we all must—do to narrow that distance in understanding each other.

We can love, honor, and respect each other and still recognize and raise awareness of our collective weaknesses. Indeed, that is the essence of progress and of democracy. Don’t fight it. Try to help it along.

People are human and therefore flawed. The systems we create also are therefore often flawed. We need mutual love and respect, along with vigorous debate and sometimes protest, to right the wrongs that are the inevitable result of our flawed selves and our flawed systems.

Love, honor, respect, and accountability: We need them all. Accountability, along with freedom, is the essence of a functioning democracy and part of the struggle for justice. The right to speak, the right to protest, the right to agitate for changes in systems that are flawed because we are all flawed in some way. The right to make things better.

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems… This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy. Some will tell you that in speaking out you are being disrespectful, but the opposite is true. You are respecting the many who have fought and given their lives—and who continue to be placed in harm’s way—on behalf of all of us so that we may all exercise our basic freedoms.

Let’s embrace the struggle. We can love, honor, respect police and other public servants, politicians, soldiers, and ourselves, and still work to hold them and ourselves accountable. These things are all true. I can hold these true simultaneously.

Can we all hold these things true simultaneously? I hope so, because I fear our failure to do so will only result in more violence and hatred.