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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

The State of Women in 2020

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on February 24, 2021

The December 2020 edition of the National Geographic magazine featured the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s 2020 U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index. The Index measures women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and exposure to discrimination. It shows how obstacles and opportunities for U.S. women differ from state to state, driven by economic, racial, and ethnic disparities, among other factors.

The Institute’s new benchmark of women’s well-being measures three categories, each of which is composed of four subcategories. The first category is “Inclusion”, which measures factors impacting employment, education, government representation, and the working poor. The second category is “Justice”, which measures legal protections, discriminatory norms, reproductive health care, and maternal mortality. The third category is “Security”, which measures gun violence, intimate partner violence, health care affordability and community safety. The Institute’s Index was developed by Jeni Klugman, Elena Ortiz, and Turkan Mukhtarova at Georgetown’s Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Based on overall rankings, all six New England states (i.e., Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine) ranked in the top 10. The five lowest states (i.e. Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana) are located in the Deep South. For the purposes of the Index, the District of Columbia was treated as a state and included in the rankings, where it placed third.

Alabama, my home state was number 48 out of 51 ranked states (inclusive of the District of Columbia). I was not shocked by Alabama’s ranking. Instead, I was embarrassed. After all, Alabama has had a woman governor for nearly four years, but she has worked hard to perpetuate the status quo for women in the state.

The primary reason Alabama ranks at the bottom of the Index has a lot to do with the complacency of most white women in the state, who are more than willing to serve as warm and fuzzy “housemates” for the white men who still run the state. While the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s ushered in sweeping changes in Alabama’s landscape for African-Americans in terms of employment, education, government representation, legal protections, discriminatory norms, and healthcare affordability, white women in the state were largely dormant during this period of social activism.

Black women like Rosa Parks, Aurelia Browder, Georgia Gilmore, Dorothy Jean Tillman, Coretta Scott King, Juanita Abernathy, Sheyann Christburg, Johnnie Carr, Maggie Bozemen, Julia Wilder, Rose Sanders, Rachel Arrington, Barbara Pitts, and hundreds of others served on the frontlines of the civil rights movement in Alabama from the 1950s through the 1980s. In contrast, I only know a small number of white women in Alabama who risked their lives to improve the plight of women in the state during this period. This group includes Virginia Durr, Lucy Baxley, Ellen Brooks, Becky Pittman, Susan Silvernail, Patricia Todd, Diane Derzis and the handful of brave women who formed the Birmingham Chapter of the National Organization of Women in the early 1980s. For the most part, white women in Alabama condoned the overt sexism and systemic sexual discrimination perpetrated by white men against women. This observation goes a long way towards explaining why Alabama is ranked 48th in the 2020 U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index.

When will the situation for women in Alabama change for the better? Based upon the political support former president Donald J. Trump received from white women voters in Alabama in 2016 and 2020, things will not improve anytime soon. Trump, who made himself famous with his braggadocios “grab them by the pussy” comment during the 2016 campaign, was the standard bearer for proud sexism in America for the last 4 years. Yet, a majority of white women voters in Alabama loved him.

The National Geographic magazine and Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security at its Institute for Women’s Policy Research are to be commended for enlightening the world about the state of U.S. women in 2020. We cannot improve the quality of life for all Americans in the absence of a credible way to measure these improvements. Now, we have this credible and objective benchmark for U.S. women.

Going forward, I will do my part to close the gender gaps in Alabama. White women of Alabama, when will you do yours?

PHOTO: 2020 U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index

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