Mississippi ranks low on status of women

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Published: December 4,2000

Mississippi has again received mostly failing grades for the status of women in the state, according to a

report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

But improvements have been made in some categories, and advocates of improving the status of women

here are lobbying for legislation to establish a Mississippi Commission on the Status of Women.

A recent report by the IWPR report gave the state “Fs” on employment and earnings, economic

autonomy and political participation. The state ranks 48th in the number of women in elected office and

51st in reproductive rights. The state’s highest ranking was for women’s voter turnout at 31.

“With Amy Tuck in office, new data showing more women voting and perhaps an improvement in the

percentage of women in the Legislature, we moved up from 49 to 47 in political participation,” said Dr.

Marianne Hill, senior economist with the Institutions of Higher Learning. “Also, there are now more

women in managerial and professional positions, and we moved from 49 to 47 in employment and

earnings. The number of women in managerial positions moved from 48 to 35. Things are definitely

better.”

Hill said a Commission on the Status of Women in Mississippi would address many of the concerns

women have, and educate the public about the obstacles facing women.

“I think people don’t realize the kind of obstacles that women face in achieving their goals,” she said.

“For example, a single woman supporting a family, who is working and trying to get an education, has

the added responsibility of child care. Child care affects women more than men, and that isn’t being

adequately addressed.”

Mississippi is one of only six states without a commission on women, and there are examples of other

states having success with such a commission. For example, in Kentucky the commission advocated an

omnibus health bill that filled in many gaps in health care coverage for women.

Awareness of problem needed

Hill said women themselves have to be aware of the extent of the problems, and want to address them.

She said it is probably an eye-opener to many that Amy Tuck was only the second woman in the history

of the state to be elected to statewide office.

“There is general acceptance now that women are qualified to hold upper positions in government,

business and the educational world,” Hill said. “But we are not represented in any of those spheres to

the extent we should be. Women need to be encouraged to run for office, and we need a network of

support for women running for office. The Women’s Political Network has been active in that area but

more needs to be done.”

Hill believes that, starting in elementary school, girls need to be shown that different fields are open to

them. And girls also need to be educated about the opposition they will meet along the way.

Edna Boone of Ocean Springs says women in Mississippi are doing better than ever before. But much

remains to be done.

“Mississippi has so many women who are on the margins and left out,” said Boone, who is a member

of the steering committee for the Mississippi Coalition for Women, a network of 26 women’s groups

and many individual women working for legislation to establish a Commission on the Status of Women

in Mississippi. “We still have 21% of women who live below the poverty line, and these include

working women. Thirty-four percent of black family heads who work full time, year around still live

below the poverty level. We still have families struggling to make ends meet who are not having their

educational and training needs met. Older women across the state and the country are fearful about what

life will be like for them in their last years.”

Good things could happen

Boone said in states where there are women’s commissions, good things are happening for women and

their children, and ultimately for all adults in that state. She said the commission would help advocate

education, information, research and policy development to improve economic, education, health and

social well being of women and their families.

For more information on efforts to get the Legislature to establish a Commission on the Status of

Women in Mississippi contact Boone at (228) 872-1510 or by sending an e-mail to

boone@datasync.com.

Political power, economics linked

Amy Caiazza, study director for the IWPR’s Status of Women in the States, says that women’s

political and economic status is closely related.

“When women have more political power, they are able to help create policy that can help them in other

areas of their lives,” Caiazza said. “One important way that Mississippi could improve is to start to

recruit and encourage more women to run for office so they can be in positions of power. What we

found nationally is that the percentage of women who run for office is almost the same as the

percentage of women who are in office, which shows that when women run, they have a good chance of

winning.”

Educational attainment is also critical. Mississippi is 47th in the percentage of women with a college

education. Caiazza said higher earnings and more equality with men come with higher education.

“Women’s educational attainment is one of the real keys for opening the door to success,” she said.

“Here the state could help in a lot of ways by providing more training programs and more public

support for higher education through tuition or grant programs.”

Technology an equalizer

Dr. Angeline Dvorak, president and CEO of Mississippi Technology Inc. and the Institute for

Technology Development, believes technology is a great equalizer because it reaches across gender,

ethnic and political party lines.

“The science and technology fields are areas in which young women in particularly need role models as

an encouragement,” Dvorak said. “There are no domains of our society in which both genders are not

very valuable. I have served on technology development teams where project managers felt there were

strengths in having diversity in both gender and ethnicity. We do have different problem-solving

strengths and different styles of approaching problems. One is not better than another; they are just

different.”

Jobs in technology fields offer women the potential for better salaries. As a college president, Dvorak

said she often saw women who went back to college and earned as much working part time in a

high-tech field as they had earned previously working full time.

“Many women have found their perfect niche in technology fields,” she said. “It is an enabler and also

a great liberator. That’s true for men as well as women.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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