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Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

Posted: March 8, 2010 05:02 PM

Does International Women's Day Matter in the U.S.?

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A friend called me today, sharing her delight that her 10-year-old daughter came down to breakfast and wished her a "Happy International Women's Day!" We marveled that her daughter knew about this important day without her mom telling her for the first time, and shared some happy thoughts about our strong, growing, young daughters.

Then the conversation turned: We simultaneously realized that both of our daughters think of International Woman's Day as something we celebrate for women in other countries, not our own.

We wondered, why?

My friend thinks it's because, "There's a real disconnect between our desire as parents to tell our girls that they can do anything they want to do in life, and the reality of the challenges that they will later face as women in our own nation."

This disconnect isn't unique to my friend and her daughter, it's a disconnect that we see with policy makers, news reporters, and business leaders as they fail to recognize inequality that women still face in the United States.

The problem is that without recognition, we can't get to solutions. And solutions are indeed needed.

You see, in the U.S. we're not moving forward, we're falling behind. In fact, according to international gender equality ratings released by the World Economic Forum, the United States fell four spots from last year partly because of our poor performance in women's health and political leadership. We are now 31st among all nations, just behind Lithuania.

As the United States falls behind, around the world investing in women is increasingly recognized as the fulcrum point by which communities can grow their stability and thrive.

This increasing recognition around the world that "When women thrive, we all do" needs to be taken to heart in the United States as well.

That's right, we aren't doing all that well here in the United States. There's still much work to be done. Let's break it down:

Economic Inequality: In the U.S. overall, women make 77 cents to every man's dollar. One study found that women without children make 90 cents to a man's dollar, mothers make 73 cents, and single mothers make the least, at about 60 cents to a man's dollar -- stats that should keep you up at night given that over 80% of American women become mothers by the time they are forty-four years old. Women of color experience increased wage hits. Studies show that passing family-friendly policies -- like paid family leave and assessable childcare -- lower the wage gaps.

Political Inequality: Women comprise only 17% of our national legislature in America, despite being 51% of the population. We now rank a low 70th of all nations in terms of women's representation in national legislatures.

Women's Health: Maternal mortality rates are rising in the United States. In fact, in one closely tracked region, the maternal death rates have tripled in the last decade. In the U.S. maternal mortality rates are now higher than in Poland, Croatia and 39 other countries, according to the World Health Organization.

The common assumption that all is fine in our own nation is one that hurts our economy, as well as the future health and well-being of our country.

What can we do? Today on International Women's Day, let's take a moment to look inward. While it's depressing to recognize that we as a nation haven't moved as far forward for women's equality as many people assume, there's growing awareness about the issues inside our borders. Organizations fighting for women's rights like MomsRising.org, which now has over a million members, are blossoming. And with this growing awareness comes action.

It takes many hands, many organizations, and many countries--including our own--to achieve international women's equality. We need to work as a global community, both inside and outside our nation's borders, in order for all women to have equal and fair treatment.

On this International Women's Day, I urge you to find and support organizations that champion the rights of women and girls both here and abroad.

Let's also make sure that our daughters, sons, elected officials, and news reporters know that International Woman's Day is something we celebrate both for women in other countries, and, importantly, also for women in our own nation.

Yes, International Women's Day matters in the U.S. This is the day when it's officially sanctioned for us to shout from the rooftops that women in the United States are indeed part of a global community still fighting for women's equality, and to stand on our soapboxes sharing lessons learned from abroad that, "When women thrive, we all do."

Happy International Women's Day!

 

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