Editorial: Low marks for gender equality


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A new report suggests that that for all their progress, Iowa’s women are still a long way from achieving meaningful equality.

The State of Women report from the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress gave Iowa an overall grade of C-plus, good for 21st in the nation. The report also graded a few key characteristics of Iowa’s female population including economic well-being (D-plus), representation in government (F), and, on a more positive note, health care (A-minus).

The unfortunate reality is that with respect to the economic status of women and representation in government, Iowa has earned low grades.

On average, Iowa women make 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make, and 14 percent of Iowa women live in poverty. While those statistics aren’t nearly as appalling as they are in some states — Iowa ranks 21st in the nation in wage gap and 14th in female poverty — they are still cause for alarm locally.

That’s particularly true for women of color, who have it considerably worse than white women in Iowa. Latinas make only 58 cents on every male-earned dollar. More than 40 percent of Iowa’s black women live in poverty.

The gender inequality in Iowa’s economy has also manifested itself in the state’s small-business community.  According to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report released in March by American Express OPEN, Iowa is last in the nation in terms of the relative strength of the state’s female-owned firms. Between 1997 and 2013, Iowa was the only state in which the revenue of women-owned businesses contracted.

In many ways, the gains made by women in the business sector have passed Iowa by.

A study from the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned businesses have a nationwide economic impact of nearly $3 trillion. These businesses employ more than 23 million people in the United States — which translated to 16 percent of all jobs in the United States in 2008.

But while progress toward equality has skipped Iowa’s business community, progress has left Iowa’s politics in the dust.

Iowa is one of only four states — along with Vermont, New Hampshire, and Mississippi — that has never elected a woman to Congress. Vermont and New Hampshire have both elected female governors, leaving Iowa and Mississippi to share the dubious honor of being the last two states never to have elected a woman to high office.

There is a relatively innocent explanation that could account for Iowa’s lack of women in Congress and the governorship, of course. There are lots of long-serving men in Iowa’s relatively small delegation of high-officeholders. Chuck Grassley, Tom Harkin, and Terry Branstad have been clogging up seats for a very long time.

Iowa’s long-serving politicians don’t fully explain the lack of female office-holders in Iowa. According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Iowa ranks 27th in the country for the proportion of women in its Legislature. Only 35 of Iowa’s 150 state legislators — 23.3 percent — are women. Colorado’s Legislature, the nation’s most equal, is 42 percent female.

It’s clear that with respect to economics and politics, Iowa’s progress on gender equality is woefully behind the times. In order to make those crucial sectors more representative, the state and its citizens must do more to promote economic and political development for women.

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