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Gender Equality: Do Women Have Equal Rights?

Introduction

Since equal rights and access to opportunity represent important values in the U.S., the country has introduced multiple pieces of legislation to protect women from discrimination. Despite the presence of laws to promote equality in diverse areas, there are some unaddressed challenges pointing to women’s specific challenges and barriers to exercising their rights. Due to the ongoing debate over women’s reproductive freedom, the existence of gender pay gaps, and women’s increased responsibility for unpaid caregiving tasks, assuming that women have already achieved equality would be an exaggeration.

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De Jure Equality for Women

At the level of theoretical ideas and principles to form the basis of laws, equality for women finds massive support, resulting in diverse legal measures to eliminate opportunities for discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act adopted in the mid-1960s became partially institutionalized in organizations’ internal hiring policies in the U.S. (England et al. 6990). Legislation linked with guaranteeing equal pay for equal work without gender discrimination is another focal area in achieving equality for women in developed countries. As of 2005, more than 86% of all countries, including the U.S., had equal pay regulations and mechanisms in place (Elson 53). In the vast majority of organizations, the utilization of salary scales that treat male and female employees differently is prohibited (Elson 53). Aside from some job-related issues, there are provisions to guarantee all citizens the right to make decisions concerning their personal life, such as the Bill of Rights that prevents the government from violating the citizens’ right to personal autonomy (Fuentes and Jerman 1623). Therefore, technically speaking, the considerations of equality for women inform U.S. regulations and laws to a large extent.

De Facto Gender Equality: Challenges and Barriers

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Social division regarding women’s reproductive freedom remains one of the barriers to actual equality. Both pro-life and pro-choice movements remain influential in the U.S., preventing the government from developing and implementing one consistent position regarding women’s ultimate right to make pregnancy termination decisions. Five years ago, in Whole Women’s Health v. HellerStedt, it was ruled that the limited availability of abortion services in the U.S. contributes to women’s burden pertaining to access to safe and comprehensive abortion care (Fuentes and Jerman 1623). Nevertheless, in reality, around 18% of abortion patients in the U.S. have to travel 50 or more miles to get services, which stems from several reasons, including state laws requiring prolonged mandatory waiting periods (Fuentes and Jerman 1623). Despite pro-life activists’ influence, there are no states that would ban abortions and make this procedure illegal, regardless of the circumstances. Nevertheless, considering the abovementioned restrictions, women are often incommoded when trying to exercise their right to bodily autonomy. Considering that an unwanted pregnancy puts a woman in a disadvantageous position, affecting her chances and opportunities as an employee, legal restrictions on abortion are not conducive to gender equality.

Equal Pay and Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap still persists, thus indicating some room for improvement in terms of equality and career improvement opportunities for women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2020, women made around 83 cents for every $1 earned by men, and the gender pay gap was 17% (American Association of University Women 2). In 2019, women’s average earnings against men’s 100 cents equaled 82,3 cents, so the gender pay gap is shrinking but at a very slow pace (American Association of University Women 2). Current laws promote equal pay for equal or substantially similar jobs, but female employees still dominate jobs that are low-paid but are not necessarily low-skilled.

The gender wage gap mainly exists because of the difference between male- and female-dominated occupations and wage levels considered just for them. Gender biases affect pay level determination decisions, and employers often consider the occupation’s sex composition to estimate the appropriate pay levels (England et al. 6995). Experimental research suggests that those rating employees consider the situation in which a female employee gets a lower wage than her male counterpart a just scenario. In one experimental study, participants were asked to evaluate and rate fictitious job applicants’ characteristics and produce fair earning-related evaluations (Auspurg et al. 179). The participants’ responses created gender pay gaps, and the resulting ratio of female-to-male applicants’ just wages was 0,92 (Auspurg et al. 179). Thus, despite anti-discriminatory measures’ existence, employers’ gender biases can contribute to inequality between the sexes.

The Gender Gap in Caregiving Activities: Impacts on Earnings

The issue of unpaid care work predominantly performed by women also plays a role in the equal rights and equal pay debate. As per the estimates by the United Nations, an average woman performs 2,5 times more domestic and care activities, including taking care of children and elderly relatives, than an average man (Elson 53). Being an example of work that does not deserve monetary compensation despite remaining effort-intensive, caregiving activities influence women’s performance in the workplace. These unpaid responsibilities are supposed to exacerbate the gender gap in labor participation and, eventually, personal income (Elson 54). On average, when it comes to caring for relatives, women tend to withdraw from their workplace responsibilities for longer periods compared to men, which affects earnings and career development opportunities (Elson 54). Based on preliminary estimates, if converted to money, unpaid work by U.S. citizens would represent 18% of the country’s GDP (Elson 54). In this regard, the key contributor to inequality between the sexes is the status of household activities and caregiving as unpaid work, even though this work supports every country’s labor force supply.

Although taking care of minors is stereotypically presented as a social mission that should inspire respect, equality in terms of the right to work remains imperfect due to female employees’ ability to become pregnant. Direct discrimination against women of childbearing age is prohibited, as well as pregnancy-related questions during job interviews. In spite of that, the phenomenon of statistical discrimination indicates that employers can still consider female job applicants’ possibility of getting pregnant and related assumptions in making hiring decisions (Jessen et al. 165). The size of the discrimination problem affecting potential female employees remains unknown. Even if discriminating against female applicants, most employers would prefer to explain their choices by professional rather than demographic factors. However, financial and process organization difficulties linked with maternity leaves could urge employers to depart from the principles of equality and prefer male applicants.

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Conclusion

To sum up, although developed countries demonstrate higher levels of gender equality than states that openly discriminate against women, the equality climate in the U.S. remains imperfect. There are certain protections to eliminate discrimination, but diverse barriers to women’s reproductive decisions, high-paid jobs, and working as many hours as men still prevail, contributing to the inequality of income. Gradual reductions in the wage gap demonstrate steady progress toward equal rights, but more work should follow to achieve actual equality.

Works Cited

American Association of University Women. “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap: 2021 Update.” AAUW, Web.

Auspurg, Katrin, et al. “Why Should Women Get Less? Evidence on the Gender Pay Gap from Multifactorial Survey Experiments.” American Sociological Review, vol. 82, no. 1, 2017, pp. 179-210.

Elson, Diane. “Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute Unpaid Care Work: How to Close the Gender Gap.” New Labor Forum, vol. 26, no. 2, 2017, pp. 52-61.

England, Paula, et al. “Progress toward Gender Equality in the United States Has Slowed or Stalled.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 117, no. 13, 2020, pp. 6990-6997.

Fuentes, Liza, and Jenna Jerman. “Distance Traveled to Obtain Clinical Abortion Care in the United States and Reasons for Clinic Choice.” Journal of Women’s Health, vol. 28, no. 12, 2019, pp. 1623-1631.

Jessen, Jonas, et al. “Punishing Potential Mothers? Evidence for Statistical Employer Discrimination from a Natural Experiment.” Labour Economics, vol. 59, 2019, pp. 164-172.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, November 17). Gender Equality: Do Women Have Equal Rights? Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/gender-equality-do-women-have-equal-rights/

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