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Alaska has long way to go when it comes to treatment of women

Posted: March 27, 2013 - 4:14pm

Remember that old ’60s slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby”? 

It implied that women were making progress when it came to equal rights with their male counterparts, that life for the female gender was getting better.

A new study released Tuesday indicates Alaska still has a long way to go when it comes to women and their well-being.

The study was done by Legislative Research Services at the request of state Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage. It shows that “Alaska women earn less than men, were imprisoned at a higher rate during the last decade and are committing suicide at a rate twice the national average,” writes Mark Thiessen of The Associated Press. Sen. McGuire had asked for statistical information about women in Alaska in a number of areas, including disparity in wages, property ownership, homelessness, crime, health care and mental illness.

It could be tempting to turn the report into something that would be of interest only to women, but that would be shortchanging not just women, but everyone in the state. Trouble in one segment of the population means trouble for everyone. The report can be used as a barometer for how well we’re doing in treating all Alaskans, and clearly we can be doing better. For example:

• Although Alaska may have a progressive image of offering women workplace opportunities, women make 77 cents for each dollar a man earns in full-time, year-round work. Unfortunately, that’s about the same as the national average. 

• While nearly 56 percent of unmarried men with children under the age of 18 own their own home in Alaska, only 42 percent of single mothers do.

• Sixty-two percent of all adults with children in Alaska homeless shelters were women. Domestic violence is the No. 1 cause for homelessness in women.

• Perhaps the most troubling statistic of all: Alaska women commit suicide at a rate twice that of the national average. 

McGuire told The Associated Press she plans to introduce a bill to re-establish the Alaska Women’s Commission, which disbanded in 1988, to delve into the study’s findings and come up with solutions. Part of the solution should be not characterizing the inequities of which the study’s statistics speak as “women’s” issues. It will take all of us to find solutions.

Certainly in the 21st century, things like equal pay for equal work should be taken for granted. There’s no reason Alaska shouldn’t lead the way on making that concept a reality.

Since some of the challenges women face are directly tied to domestic violence, Gov. Sean Parnell’s work to shed light on and end domestic violence and sexual assault with his Choose Respect program should continue in full force.

In fact, there’s a Stand Up for Peace event at noon today at WKFL Park designed to show our commitment to ending domestic violence and sexual assault and establishing respectful relationships and peaceful families. 

Not to sound simplistic, but we believe the solutions to the inequities highlighted in the report ultimately lie in a foundation of respect for all people. Our daughters and sons certainly deserve better than the statistics show we’re giving them.

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