WASHINGTON – Maryland was among the top five states in the country when it came to women’s employment and earnings, economic autonomy and reproductive rights, according to rankings released Wednesday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
But “The Status of Women in the States” also said Maryland has made little progress in the areas of women’s political participation and in women’s health, where it did particularly poorly compared to other states.
Despite the mixed results, state officials hailed the findings as a reflection of their “pro-active” stand on women’s issues.
“Over the past several years we have been constantly trying to identify the issues that are important to women,” said Carol A. Silberg, executive director of Maryland Commission for Women. “We have a strong body of women legislators who point them out and then take appropriate measures to solve them.”
She noted, for example, that Maryland was one of the first states to loan money to women seeking to start a business, without insisting on a husband’s signature. That equal opportunity for women means “they enjoy equal earnings, too,” Silberg said.
But the director of the study said the high earnings of Maryland women are as much a result of the “high number of federal jobs” held by the women in the state.
“A lot of women in Maryland are working with either the federal or the state government,” said Amy Caiazza, the study director. “These jobs, especially those with the federal government, ensure good pay equity provisions and that’s a huge factor for the relatively high earnings for women in Maryland.”
For many of the same reasons, the state has a relatively high level of participation by women in politics, the report said. But it chastised Maryland for not making sufficient progress on that front.
But Caiazza credited the state for its policies on women’s reproductive rights.
“The state has a legislature that makes it mandatory for insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives. Many state have ignored this,” said Caiazza. “Furthermore, Maryland does provide a lot of emphasis on providing infertility treatment and sex education. These are some really good initiatives.”
Pro-choice advocates in Maryland acknowledged what they see as the positive policies adopted by the state, but they said that because Maryland also has “a fair amount of anti-choice legislators, the state still has a long way to go.” Pro-life groups could not be reached Wednesday to comment on the report.
On other women’s health issues, however, Maryland got a poor score — 34th in the nation — for its lack of progress.
Silberg said the state would have shown “considerable progress” in the area of women’s health if the study took all the factors dealing with women’s health into account.
“One of the things that the report did not take into consideration was women being killed by their partners,” Silberg said. “The state has been working actively to address this problem and has been very successful in its efforts. The report has failed to take that into consideration.”
Caiazza said the study did not take “that factor” into account because reliable date was not available. But she pointed out that in terms of mortality rates and other health issues relating to women, the state has shown little progress.
“The state lacks a broadened public system that deals with women’s health,” Caiazza said. “For example, the mortality rate from cancer is high in the eastern portions of the state. The state has not made any substantial progress in addressing those problems.”