A study released this week by the Center for American Progress on the State of Women in America confirms what most of us already know, or at least suspected. Despite making up more than half the population of the United States, women have a long way to go to achieve true gender equality — especially in Kentucky.
The report looked at 36 factors in three categories, economics, leadership and health, and awarded each state an overall grade and individual grades for each category. Kentucky got a D+ overall, ranking it 32nd the nation.
According to the report, “Kentucky stands out as one of the states that are among the worst in the nation for women.” This is no surprise to those of us who live here, particularly in the eastern end of the state.
When broken down by category, Kentucky received its highest grade for health, a C+. This was enough to rank us 21st the nation.
The most upsetting finding in the report was the continued lack of access to women’s care and the noted continued unconstitutional infringement by the state government on a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.
According to the report, there is only one OB-GYN for every 4,095 women in the state. I suspect based the hours I spend waiting to see my own doctor, that in eastern Kentucky the rates are dismally worse. I’ve spent as many as five hours waiting to see my OB-GYN and met women there who have traveled up to two hours to receive care.
I suspect the state has laws that make health providers who offer abortion services subject to more burdensome restrictions than those applied to other medical professionals only exacerbates this problem. We all know these rules are aimed at making it impossible for women’s clinics like Planned Parenthood to locate and stay open in Kentucky.
This simply infuriates me. Women know these clinics perform thousands more pap smears and breast exams annually than they ever would abortions. Yet because these clinics offer a whole range of legal women’s services, these valuable health centers are run out of town.
This stupidly serves only to deny poor and uninsured women access to the preventative care they need and deserve. Just glance at the breast, cervical and ovarian cancer statistics for this area and it’s clear women here need all the access they can get.
Now for the really bad grades.
Kentucky received a D for economic security, ranking us 35th in the nation. On average, women in Kentucky make 76 cents for every dollar a man makes. This creates the 13th-largest wage gap in the nation.
It gets worse if you are a woman of color. Hispanic women, the study found, make 57 cents for every dollar a white male makes in Kentucky.
That is outrageous and insulting. Men should be concerned about disparity because it affects them too. More and more women, approximately four in 10, are the primary breadwinners in the household.
From a simple economic development prospective, this wage gap can hold our state back from attracting the best and brightest workers. By the way, women are now earning more college and advanced degrees than men.
Do we want these talented ladies to look elsewhere for work? Why take a job in Kentucky earning 76 cents to the dollar when you can earn 85 cents to the dollar in Vermont or Nevada?
This brings us to Kentucky’s final grade, an F for leadership.
The Commonwealth ranked 48th in the nation on women in leadership roles.
There are no women representing Kentucky in Congress and out of eight statewide elected executive positions, only one is held by a woman. That same young woman is now running for the Senate.
I have to believe the lack of economic power and access for women in Kentucky is linked to this failure to reach and maintain leadership positions.
Women in Kentucky can and must do more to change that.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.