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Valerie Young's picture

Ladies, we are in serious trouble here.

In the annual ranking of 133 countries around the globe on the issue of gender equality, the U.S. once again fails to make the top 10. Or the top 20. We may be the world's only remaining super power, but women are worse off here, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for 2013, than in Canada, Ireland, South Africa, the Philippines, and 18 other countries.   This analysis measures women's rates of political empowerment and political participation, education, health and economic parity. We have been dramatically outclassed by countries that elect more women and place them in top leadership posts, as well as countries where men and women earn roughly the same amount of money. Countries doing better include Nicaragua, Germany, New Zealand and Latvia.

But what's the worst part of all this news? Rather than improving over time, the U.S. has actually been falling farther and farther behind. We are actually heading in the wrong direction! From Business Insider:

Notably, the United States does not manage to crack the top 20. It ranks at No. 23, down six spots from its 2011 high at No. 17 and down one spot from last year. The U.S. has made no progress in the  rankings since they started in 2006.

You have to admit, the situation is dire. Well into the 21st century, 20 years after the alleged "Year of the Woman," the promise of justice and equality for women is still far from the reality we live in. Women do much more of the unpaid work - mostly family care - performed in this country. Our poverty rates are much higher. Our maternal and infant mortality rates are shockingly high for a wealthy industrialized nation. Economically we trail men, especially if we are mothers. Even the highest paid women in the Fortune 500 have a pay gap of 18 percent. We've tried everything, to no avail.

We can't procreate our way to equality. Women make up the majority of the population and very nearly half the paid workforce. Maria Shriver says "a women's nation changes everything," and oh, if only this were so! But being half the workforce doesn't mean we make half the money, have access to half the wealth, or wield half the power. We are more likely to vote and, by our sheer numbers, should have an advantage. But simply outnumbering men hasn't brought us to an equal share of influence over public affairs, or even control over our own bodies and lives.

We can't educate ourselves to equality. Women are better educated than men, with more degrees at every level. Furthermore, this has been the case for several decades, so the number of lawyers, doctors, professors and business managers should be evenly split - but even a quick glance at any of these professions reveals that women are missing in action by the time they should be managing partners in law firms, CEO's, or Chief of Medicine. Women are in the pipeline in droves, but the farther up they go, the more of them fall out of the profession.

We can't legislate ourselves to equality. When women candidates run for office, they are as good at raising campaign money and getting elected as men. The problem is they don't step forward to run in sufficient numbers to get elected to 50 percent, or 30 percent, or even 25 percent of local, state or national elected office. We won't set a quota, as other countries do, requiring that a certain percentage of elected seats be held by women because it conveys the notion that the woman would, aside from her gender, not merit the office she holds. We've passed equal pay bills, anti-pregnancy discrimination bills, civil rights bills, and still, laws on the books don't make women equal players in our society.

We can't work our way to equality. If hard work, talent and merit could have won the day, we'd have seen it by now. Women are concentrated in lower paying job sectors. It's well-documented that, in business at least, women are promoted on performance, but men are promoted on potential. Think of the disparity that perpetuates. Women tend to do better in school because academic grades are a more level playing field. At work, it's charisma, self-promotion, and confidence that we call "leadership." With the combined forces of second-generation gender bias, and women slogging away waiting for their hard work to be noticed, our second class status is damn near assured.

So what do we do about it? Heck, I don't know!! Isn't it enough that I point out we have this huge problem?

Seriously, though, I do have a suggestion, and it's disarmingly simple and incredibly hard. First we have to commit to the belief that we are every bit as deserving economically, politically, and socially, as men. Then we have to act like we believe it, as mothers, workers, producers, consumers and leaders. If we don't tolerate the exploitation or bullying of our children or others we love, we must recognize it and refuse to tolerate it when directed at ourselves. To continue to do so, as we have done, makes us complicit in the great lie that men inherently possess more worth than we do. Time's a-wastin'!

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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