By Laura Cofsky

 

Despite what many of us may think—or want to believe—the United States doesn’t take good care of its women.

A 2012 TrustLaw poll ranked the US number six out of 19 countries in terms of women’s rights. Countries were ranked in seven categories: workplace opportunities, access to resources, participation in politics, quality of health, freedom from violence, freedom from trafficking and slavery and in overall terms.[1]

The poll analyzed data from the G20 countries. The G20 countries consist of 19 nations and the European Union. On the list are both nations with developed and emerging economies that represent two thirds of the world’s population, 90% of global gross domestic product and 80% of global trade.[2] It includes Canada, which was ranked number one, and India, which was ranked dead last.

While no country on the list was considered perfect for women, some experts are concerned about our place on this list and the future of women’s rights in the US.

One of the biggest issues American women face is lack of affordable and adequate healthcare. International Women’s Rights Action Watch director Marsha Freeman commented that, “Many of the gains of the last 100 years [in the US] are under attack and the most overt and vicious attack is on reproductive rights. Women also suffer disproportionately from the lack of affordable healthcare.”

The poll backs up this claim: 22.9 million American women lack healthcare, and 92 anti-abortion provisions were enacted at state level in 2011.[3] This, in addition to the frequent attacks on Planned Parenthood, makes it difficult for many women to live healthfully.

Planned Parenthood, which has come under fire for providing abortions, is a primary resource for lower-income women seeking STD screenings, breast exams and pap smears. In fact, as is often cited, only three percent of their funding goes towards abortion services.

But it isn’t just about abortion and contraception. It’s also about mothers.

Amnesty International states on its website that the way the US handles maternal care is a “human rights crisis.” Despite the fact that we spend more than any other country on healthcare, American women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related health complications than women in 49 other countries, including Kuwait, Bulgaria and South Korea. Maternal mortality ratios have more than doubled between 1987 and 2006, from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. [4]

Additionally, several procedures that are deemed unnecessary during labor—such as only feeding women ice chips, IV use and cesarean sections that are not performed for health reasons—are still standard procedure. [5]

But I’d argue that one of the main issues standing in our way is the rhetoric surrounding women’s rights.

One interesting point to consider is that the US is the only G20 country not to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.[6] Adopted by the United Nations, this convention “defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.” [7]

In fact, there’s nothing on the legal books to ensure equal rights for women. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was proposed in 1923 and would accomplish this goal, never makes it past congress.[8] Though arguably, the Lily Ledbetter Act, which went into law under President Barack Obama and guarantees equal pay, is a start.

Even the way American politicians legislate women’s rights does much to diminish our worth. From Georgia Lawmaker Terry England’s comparing women to farm animals, to Todd Akin’s dismissing non-“legitimate” rape and trying to define rape, it’s becoming clear that our voices are not given equal weight.[9]

President Obama mentioned at the second presidential debate that women’s issues are family issues.[10] As advocates for women’s rights, we must be careful not to separate ourselves from the rest of the population—we all need to stand together to create real change in this country, or anywhere else.

 

Laura Cofsky is a senior studying English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.


[1] “The Best and Worst G20 Countries for Women.” Thomson Reuters Foundation. 21 October 2012. http://www.trust.org/documents/womens-rights/resources/G20Poll2012-methodologyandresults.pdf

[2] “What is the G20?” Federal Government, Mexico. 21 October 2012. http://www.g20.org/index.php/en/what-is-the-g20

[3] “G20 Countries: The Worst and Best for Women.” Thomson Reuters Foundation. 21 October 2012. http://www.trust.org/documents/womens-rights/resources/G20Poll2012Infographics.pdf

[4] “Maternal Health in the US.” Amnesty International. 21 October 2012. http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/campaigns/demand-dignity/maternal-health-is-a-human-right/maternal-health-in-the-us

[5] “How Has Childbirth Changed in this Century?” University of Minnesota. 25 May 2012. http://takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/holistic-pregnancy-childbirth/how-has-childbirth-changed-century

[6] Hossain, Anushay. “U.S. Ranks No. 6 in Best and Worst Countries for Women.” Forbes. 13 June 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/worldviews/2012/06/13/us-ranks-6-in-best-worst-g20-countries-for-women/2/

[7] “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations. 21 October 2012. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

[8] Owens, Leigh. “The Equal Rights Amendment.” Alice Paul Institute. 9 September 2012. http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/

[9] Owens, Leigh. “Terry England, Georgia Republican Lawmaker, Compares Women to Farm Animals.” The Huffington Post. 9 March 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/terry-england-farm-animals_n_1335976.html

[10] “President Barack Obama on Women’s Rights–2012 Presidential Debate in Hempstead, New York.” BarackObama.com. 17 October 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM0KuSrrsDk

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