A visit to the United States by three UN representatives has cast a gloomy picture of gender equality in the wealthy nation, highlighting a number of issues in which the global super power lags behind the rest of the world with regard to women’s rights.
Featuring human rights experts from Poland, the United Kingdom, and Costa Rica, the delegation visited three U.S. states in the lead up to a larger report. The team was not impressed, citing a number of economic and health issues that need urgent attention.
Looking at cultural attitudes and government policies, the UN representatives visited Alabama, Texas, and Oregon in order to assess a variety areas vital for women’s equality. According to Frances Raday – the representative from the United Kingdom – there is a widespread misconception of just how advanced the United States is in terms of human rights: “So many people really believe that U.S. women are way better off with respect to rights than any woman in the world.”
She said they would exclaim, “What do you mean other people have paid maternity leave?”
Indeed, the absence of paid maternity leave is a hot-button issue, highlighted this year by the popular HBO comedian and cultural commentator John Oliver.
The United States embarrassingly joins only two other nations in the world in not guaranteeing workplace accommodation for women before, during, and after pregnancy.
But the delegates found a number of other problems as well, including women’s access to quality and essential healthcare services. In Alabama, the three were targeted when they visited an abortion clinic: “We were harassed. There were two vigilante men waiting to insult us,” said Raday, discussing verbal abuse dispensed by protesters at the clinic.
“It’s a kind of terrorism. To us, it was shocking,” added the Polish delegate Eleonora Zielinska.
Other areas of concern included the 23 percent pay gap between men and women, the treatment of female migrants in detention, and gun violence.
In the United States, women are 11 times more likely to die from gun violence than any other high-income nation.
They also remarked on the underrepresentation of women in government. In order to more equitably represent gender in government, the team suggested campaign finance reform, commenting on how the mega donors that dominate politics are primarily men funding other men.
In a separate move earlier this month, the UN working group on the discrimination of women lamented that the polarization of U.S. politics has prevented the nation from signing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
These news stories are concerning. As the United States verbally supports women’s rights internationally, there are basic protections for the country’s female citizens missing.
Where political polarization and discord leave women exposed, nonprofits can fill the void. Passionate nonprofit professionals fight for women’s health care and representation in society every day, and require ongoing support until a more equitable society is secured that entitles all genders to just treatment.