Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women while also taking stock of the work that remains to be done. As the United Nations reported this week, not a single country in the world has achieved gender equality — and that includes, of course, the United States.
But how does the U.S. stack up in relation to the rest of the world when it comes to gender equality? Spoiler alert: We’re not number one.
Taking into account all variables considered by the World Economic Forum for its “Global Gender Gap Report,” which looks at education, economic empowerment, health, and political empowerment, we’re 20th out of 142 countries in the world. Last year we were number 23, so we’ve improved a bit overall (though back in 2011 we were even better, at 17th).
Looking behind the numbers we see some good news — and some worrisome trends. Our world ranking overall was pulled up by education and health. American women and girls are not only equal to their brothers in educational opportunities, but they’ve surged ahead in college enrollments. And even though fewer females than males are born, women actually live longer.
The not-so-good news behind our great education score is that female college enrollment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is less than half that of the guys, and the number sinks even lower in graduation rates. We also fall the way down to 65th in the world in overall wage equality. That’s in part because U.S. women are close to half of the workforce, but they’re still doing the lioness’ share of the childcare and housework — 248 minutes per day compared with 161 minutes for men.
There’s one place where we’re 100-percent equal to the men. On length of maternity and paternity leave and amount of wage replacement during time off, the U.S. score is simply blank, meaning we have no ranking at all, and both genders lose out. In fact, the U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave. For one of the so-called most advanced countries on the planet, that’s pathetic.
Political empowerment? American women do have the vote, but we still fall short when it comes to real power. We’re 54th in overall political clout, behind Nicaragua, Rwanda and Burundi. Looking at percentage of women in Congress, we’re even worse, at 83rd, bested not only by almost all of Europe but by Cambodia, Algeria, and Angola. I’ll let you guess where we stand on years with a female head of state.
In the political arena, recent action to strip away women’s reproductive rights is another problematic trend. Nationwide, our grade on reproductive rights dropped from a ‘C’ to a ‘D’ this year, largely as a result of state-level attacks on abortion rights and an influx of anti-choice legislators. Currently, anti-choice lawmakers outnumber pro-choice lawmakers in both houses of Congress, and in state legislatures and governorships.
As we take note of the strides we’ve made towards gender equality — and the challenges still facing millions of women around the globe — it’s important to remember that we still have a lot of work to do at home, right here in America.