Shriver Report documents advances but also persisting gender inequalities

In a clear-eyed reading of the Shriver Report on U.S. work and family life released this week, former Colorado Independent editor Wendy Norris says the glaring gender inequalities it documents speak at least as loudly as the advances it celebrates. Personal views about gender may have moved toward greater equality, says Norris, but these views have failed to alter policy in the private sector as well as at public institutions. This fact “continues to perpetuate unfair work practices” that create “barriers to true equality between men and women and seriously compromise women’s health.”

The “Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything” was initiated by California First Lady Maria Shriver and was published after a year of research by the Center for American Progress. It has already generated celebratory media coverage on women’s professional advances, and Shriver has embarked on a media blitz since its publication, including appearing on Meet the Press this past weekend and guest editing an MSNBC blog.

Workplace advances are great and all, says Norris, and they should be lauded. But in a nation consumed by the politics of health reform, the women’s health care data delivered in the the report screams out for attention.

Print and broadcast news gleefully reported the enormously ignorant statements about maternal health, abortion funding and end-of-life care that nearly derailed the recent U.S. Senate discussion on health care reform.

But not one major news outlet has covered the Shriver Report’s section on reproductive health disparities, since its Oct. 16 release, with the exception of TIME, which made a passing mention in its most recent issue.

All the while, the American public remains in the dark about the stark new realities of health care — women, as a greater proportion of primary breadwinners, have difficulty securing insurance, their workplace risks are largely unaddressed and their medical care is overtly politicized.

Some of the stats in the Report that should raise alarms:

• Women spend 68 percent more on their health care than men during their prime childbearing years.

• Women who suffer domestic abuse spend 42 percent more on their health care than non-abused women.

• Employers lose 3 billion to 5 billion dollars annually from the lost worker productivity of domestic violence survivors, perpetrators and colleagues.

• One in five women delay seeking medical care because they can’t get time off from work.

• 53 percent of college graduates breastfeed their babies, while only 29 percent of high school graduates do so.

In light of these facts and others included in the report– like the disparities in advances based on factors like race and class– the title “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” draws its power mostly from its optimism.

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