Family, Self

How Are Women Faring In 2012? A Women's Rights Report Card

women celebrate women's history month 2012

March is National Women's History month—anointed so in order to empower today's women by teaching them about women's progress in the past. The website of the National Women's History Project features the following quote from gender equality pioneer Myra Sadker:

"Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less."

Learning about women who challenged the status quo encourages us to do the same. If we never learned about the strife of suffragettes, would we appreciate our right to vote?   

Women's progress is a dynamic thing, and is often marked by two steps forward, one step back. From education to reproductive rights, check out our Women's Rights report card below to see how the fairer sex is faring today.

✓ Progress: Women and men are graduating from college now at essentially the same rates. Women outnumber men in terms of college enrollment. In 2012, they're expected to earn 63% of master's degrees and 54% of doctoral and professional degrees. Women are also increasingly moving into traditionally male-dominated fields, like science and engineering. 

✓ Setback: The gender wage gap persists. For the same job performed, men make—on average—$6 an hour more than women.

Grade: C

✓ Progress: About 70% of women work outside the home, and women are more likely to hold leadership positions on the job. In 2009, 40% of managers in the workforce were women. At the start of 2012, there were 18 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies, a record number.

✓ Setback: We've still got a long way to go. In 2011, there were only 98 female CEOs at 3,049 publicly traded companies. Though the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows for up to 12 weeks of maternity and paternity leave, it's up to states and employers whether or not this leave is paid. Many new parents can't afford to take that much time off.

Grade: C

✓ Progress: As of 2011, health insurance companies must cover birth control as preventive care with no co-pays. Church-affiliated employers protested, saying the new law violates their freedom of religion. In January, President Obama upheld the ruling. Birth control is healthcare, no ifs, ands, or Bibles about it.

✓ Setback: In 2005, a Medicaid reform bill called the Deficit Reduction Act prevented colleges and healthcare providers from participating in drug discount programs and raised the cost of birth control. States continue to pass—or try to pass—emotionally manipulative, downright offensive laws to prevent women from getting an abortion. In Texas, for example, women are urged to view sonograms and listen to descriptions of embryo development before terminating their pregnancies. 

Grade: D

✓ Progress: In the 2008 presidential election, 66% of women made it to the polls, compared to 62% of men. Campaigns like The 2012 Project provide support to female candidates and educate future political leaders.

✓ Setback: Alas, only 52% of women ages 18-24 voted in the 2008 election. The United States, the most powerful country in the world, is ranked #70 in terms of women's political representation. In 2010, the number of women in state legislatures declined by nearly 80 seats, and women currently hold only 90 (17%) of the 535 seats in the 112th U.S. Congress. The bottom line: Women aren't involved enough in the law-making process—and some of these laws affect our bodies alone.

Grade: F

✓ Progress: Fewer Americans are married now than at any point in in the last 50 years, and 45% of these singletons are women. But don't be disheartened. Lower marriage rates mean lower divorce rates. In many cases, women are waiting until they've completed college and started a career before settling down. Since 2007, the average age of first marriage for women has been 26. Women are also waiting longer to have babies—in 2008, more than one-third of first-time moms were over 30. 

✓ Setback: There appears to be an earnings boost associated with parenthood. Unfortunately, it only benefits dads, who tend to earn 2% more than men without children. Working moms tend to earn 2.5% less than women without children, because they're more likely to work part-time and to pass on higher-paying positions with more responsibilities. That's probably because women are still doing the bulk of childcare, cooking, and cleaning at home.

Grade: B