Tallying the score for Women's Year

January 29, 1993|By Amy Wilson | Amy Wilson,Knight-Ridder News Service

Sometime back, Rep. Patricia Schroeder was debating with a male doctor on "Nightline," trying to impress upon him the need for the National Institutes of Health to wise up to women's health concerns. Breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, she ticked off. Killers, cripplers. Where's the research?

She brought up the dismal representation of women in heart disease and cancer studies. What was the NIH spending its money on instead, she asked?

The doctor, anxious to respond, quickly listed, among other things, impotence and male pattern baldness.

"I knew it was true. I just didn't think anybody would be dumb enough to say it out loud," says Ms. Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat.

And people wonder why women needed a year in which at least the rhetoric would be more comforting.

The good news in last year's Year of the Woman was that rhetoric paid off. Fifty-four women now get to sit in the big chairs in the big rooms in the Capitol and ask the NIH, among other folks, good questions. (They were two to three times more likely than men to list women's rights, health care and family concerns as top priorities.)

L The bad news is they fill only 10 percent of the big chairs.

The other 90 percent are, of course, filled with male colleagues, some who even agree with them. And that's good. Together, they're talking economic growth, job training that builds in child care, pay equity, family leave, domestic violence and family-friendly tax code revision.

And that's how it was all last year. For every step forward for women, there was a little waltz around the room that ended up being a step back.

So it was not so much the Year of the Woman as it was the Year that Women Got Mad, Got Elected and Got Hope.

It was also the year women learned to ask the right questions, look at the real numbers and not be fooled by the waltz.

So how did women do politically?

The good news: Women constitute a record 20.2 percent of all state legislators in 1993. That's better than the 1992 high of 18.4 percent. Washington state has the highest percent of women in the legislature, with 38 percent.

The bad news: No woman won election as governor. In 10 states, the number of women in legislatures decreased.

How did women do in terms of personal safety?

Some good news, we think: Women told researchers that last year's highly publicized trial of Mike Tyson resulted in their being somewhat or much more likely to report rape. (In 1991, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial made women somewhat or much less likely to report rape.)

The bad news: Every 15 seconds, a woman is battered. Every five years, domestic violence kills the total number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. Domestic violence results in almost 100,000 days of hospitalizations, almost 30,000 emergency department visits and 40,000 trips to the doctor's office annually. And 35 percent of all women who seek emergency room treatment are there for symptoms of continual abuse.

More bad news: U.S. businesses lose $3 billion to $5 billion each year due to abuse-related absenteeism and $100 million in abuse-related medical bills.

Even more: Every minute of every day, 1.3 forcible rapes occur in this country. For the first six months of 1992, the FBI reported a 4 percent increase over the number of rapes that occurred in the same period of 1991. That figure might reflect that women are more likely to report a sexual assault.

How did women's health improve?

The good news: Research on women's health issues has improved dramatically in recent years, largely at the urging of women members of Congress and advocacy groups. In fact, in '' 1992, two bills -- one that set quality assurance standards for mammography and the other that established a program to prevent infertility in women with sexually transmitted diseases -- were passed.

The bad news: A comprehensive bill that would have provided funding increases for osteoporosis and breast- and ovarian-cancer research, as well as backing for contraceptive and infertility research centers, passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by former President Bush.

More bad news: Breast cancer will kill 46,000 women in the United States this year, and there's little hope that number will decrease. Nearly 200,000 new cases are diagnosed in America each year.

The good news: Through the legislative genius of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has lost two sisters to breast cancer, the Defense Department budget now includes $210 million in breast cancer research.

The bad news: The lack of a comprehensive coverage plan leaves an estimated 20 million American women and children without any form of health insurance.

The bad news: Women are the fastest-growing group of people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and already make up 12 percent of AIDS cases.

The really bad news: In the first decade of AIDS, there were 500,000 cases of AIDS in women and children. In the 1990s, the World Health Organization estimates that the epidemic will kill an additional 3 million or more women and children worldwide.

How did women do professionally?

The good news: Women ages 24 to 35 earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by men of the same age, meaning the wage gap narrowed -- provided you were young, you had a good education and you had marketable skills.

The bad news: Women who weren't young, well educated and with skills didn't do as well. Those women earned 70 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1991, down from 72 cents in 1990.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.