March 29, 2021

TAARIQ-SIDIBE | Closing Women’s History Month: Are Women Equal Yet?

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Over 100-years after the United States adopted the 19th Amendment which gave American women the right to vote, there is still discussion on if, how or when women will ever be equal to men.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, a majority, 57 percent, of adults say women’s rights in the United States have not progressed enough to be equal to those of  men.  However, not everyone feels this way.

Although a majority of adults think we have not gone far enough for gender equality, the Pew Research Center survey reports that 32 percent of adults say the U.S.’s progress has “been about right”, and 10 percent says it has “gone too far.” 

After a month of celebrating the amazing achievements of women, it is not hard to understand the sentiment women are doing pretty well.

More women are entering higher-skill and higher-paying occupations, narrowing the gender wage gap. Women now make up the majority of the U.S. workforce and represent 43 percent of all business owners in the United States. Women are also more likely than men to have a bachelor’s degree among year-round, full-time workers.

If we look to  politics, Vice President Kamala Harris has broken numerous glass ceilings as the first woman to serve in her role.

President Joe Biden has also notably selected the first senior White House communication team composed of only women. Of Biden’s cabinet members two women, Symone Sanders and Cecilia Rouse, are the first African-Americans ever to fill those roles. 

Even former President Donald Trump has said, “women are doing great.”.

Are women now treated almost equally to men? Not necessarily. Women in the U.S. are still disproportionately experiencing issues like gender-based violence, workplace inequity, and lack of political representation. 

Statistics paint a grim picture. One-in-three women have been a victim of physical violence by an intimate partner, and rates of violence are even higher among LGBTQ+ women.

The gender wage gap has narrowed since 1920 but has barely changed in the last decade. Women make up only 5 percent of Fortune 500 company CEOs, and 20 percent of Fortune 500 board members.  56 percent of people in the U.S. living in poverty are women, and rates of poverty are higher among underrepresented minorities.

Despite making up 51 percent of the U.S. population, women only represent 20 percent of Congress members and about 25 percent of state legislature members. According to USA Today, the primary reason for unequal political participation is that women are less likely to run for office than men due to perceived biases. When they do run, however, women are elected at the same rates as men.

It is also important to emphasize that although these issues disproportionately  affect women, gender equality is also an issue for men. Research shows that gender inequality causes worse physical and mental health outcomes for men.

As we welcome a new presidential administration, we must emphasize the significance of gender equality to this country’s sustainable development. Gender equality is key to a sustainable economy. Research shows that “closing the gender gap could increase global GDP by 35 [percent] on average”, in countries where the gap is most extensive. Including financial inclusion, closing the gender gap requires ending discrimination in law and practice.

Gender inequality is a global issue that also requires local action. Even Cornell has progress to make. Following the university’s 2015 hiring protocol to include more women and underrepresented minorities across faculty, the number of women faculty has increased from 536 in 2016, to 575 women faculty in 2019 (compared to 1,109 male faculty in 2019).

In 2016, of the 536 women faculty, 110 were women of color, 60 of whom were from underrepresented minority backgrounds. Though there hasn’t been a recent assessment of faculty by race and gender, there are only 144 men and women in the entire faculty who are underrepresented minorities.

Cornell’s students, faculty and administration must continue advocating for gender equality through interventions like gender-responsible social protection and public services. For example, collaborating with gender focused student organizations, creating tools and resources to foster equality, and increasing the number of women faculty. This past month should have been a testament of the important contributions of women and the potential of equal access to resources. We must also let it serve as a reminder that the women before us did not rest, and neither should we.

Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.