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Colorado women and the U.S.'s #23 ranking in World Economic Forum 2013 report

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With the lead story titled, “The Colorado Woman,” last month's edition of 5280: The Denver Magazine is out. The collection of feature articles starts with describing women in Colorado as everything from confident and intelligent to influential and groundbreaking. So what’s wrong with the picture, as we officially begin the New Year today, when the United States dropped (that’s right), not advanced, in women’s economic, political, educational, and health equality to now rank at number 23 in the world?

Our nation’s ranking, in fact, dropped over the years, down from number 22 in 2012 and 17 in 2011 in the measures of the 2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report.

According to the website of the WEF,

“The Global Gender Gap Report, introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, provides a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities around the world. The index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health-based criteria and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparison across regions and income groups and over time.

The rankings are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps.”

Citing where the U.S. did not perform well in the measures of the 2013 WEF Global Gender Gap Report, Bryce Covert in the Oct. 25, 2013 Huffington Post article, “U.S. Ranks 23rd for Women’s Equality, Falling Behind Nicaragua, Cuba and Burundi,” writes:

“Where it [the United States] doesn’t take top rankings is on the economic and political front, both of which go to the Nordic countries. Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden hold the top spots. The report notes, ‘Although no country has yet achieved gender equality, all of the Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, have closed over 80% of the gender gap and thus serve as models… [T]hese countries emerge as top performers and true leaders on gender equality.’

“They have high rates of labor force participation among women, low pay gaps, and women more easily rise through the ranks. The report points to their policies, which include generous, mandatory paternity leave as well as maternity leave, reentry programs for women returning to work after giving birth, and gender quotas for women on boards. ‘[T]hese economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labour at home, better work-life balance for both women and men and in some cases a boost to declining fertility rates,’ the report notes.”

Bringing it back to Colorado and solutions

According to the December issue of 5280: The Denver Magazine, 2,628,487 women and girls are Coloradans. That is about half the state’s population. Females also make up nearly half the workforce in the state. Even so, Colorado ranks eighth for its share of women in the workforce, as reported by The Denver Post’s Colleen O’Connor in June 2013.

On Dec. 30, 2013, one of the top policy professionals in the state, Rich Jones released a publication on the Bell Policy Center website describing how the increase in the minimum wage, taking effect today, will help low-income workers. These Coloradans in our workforce will get a boost in pay on Jan. 1, as minimum wage increases by 22 cents to $8 an hour. This means about half of the people who stand to gain economically are women.

“About 104,000 workers, or 5 percent of the state's workforce, will see their pay grow, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Approximately 46,000 workers will get an immediate raise because their wages are below the new minimum, and another 58,000 workers, whose wages are just above it, will likely see an increase as employers adjust pay scales in response to the new minimum wage.

“In terms of broader impact, these raises will total $29.7 million statewide annually and will result in an $18.8 million boost to Colorado's economic growth, according to EPI.”

“This increase helps Colorado's low-wage workers pay for basic needs like food, gas and utilities. It not only helps them and their families, but all of us, as their increased spending circulates throughout the state's economy," says Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center.

Act locally

Imagine if we in America were to make a renewed commitment to reversing the downward trend in our global ranking in terms of women’s equality? Not only would women in our community move forward, but so would the entire state’s economy. Because if a smaller country such as Cuba can be ranked higher in terms of women’s equality than a country with a population of 313.9 million, then there is more of the groundbreaking, influential policy work to be done in 2014 that 5280 is talking about when it describes the Colorado woman.

2014 Equal Pay Day

One such opportunity is a national annual event held every spring, Equal Pay Day. The next one will take place on April 8, 2014. To learn more, visit the website of the American Association of University Women which offers a free online resource kit that can be easily downloaded. Locally, nonprofit organizations such as 9 to 5 Colorado and Project WISE will be participating in a rally event where the public is welcome.

25th Annual Women’s Legislative Breakfast

Another opportunity to learn more about what is happening at the State Capitol in the session starting this month is the annual Women’s Legislative breakfast event. On February 25 at 7:00 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Denver, the collaborative of organizations who come together to host the forum are marking the 25th year of the event. To learn more, click here.

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