Barely making the grade 

If the state of Montana were a high school student, it might hide this report card from mom and dad. The Status of Women in Montana report, recently released by the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research in cooperation with the Women’s Foundation of Montana and other Montana women’s advocacy organizations, grades each state in five categories of women’s issues. Montana earned a D- for women’s employment and earnings, a D+ for women’s social and economic autonomy, a C- for women’s reproductive rights, a C for women’s political participation, and a B- for women’s health and well-being.

“The biggest challenge, and the biggest opportunity, is to reinvigorate the discussion about how we move toward equality in this state,” says Diane Sands, program director for the Women’s Foundation of Montana. “One of the greatest dangers of the success we’ve had over the last 30 years around feminism is that many people think that the problems have been solved, when in fact numerous inequities still exist and need to be addressed, and this report highlights those with hard data.”

For example, Montana ties for last place with South Dakota in women’s median annual earnings ($24,400). While Montana ranks in the top third of states in terms of political participation (59.4 percent voter turnout in 1998 and 2000) and health and well-being (ranked 13th nationwide), only nine states rank lower than Montana for number of women likely to work in professional or managerial positions. American Indian women in Montana fare even worse: While Montana women’s lung cancer death rate is comparable to the national rate, American Indian women in Montana have a death rate from lung cancer that is three times higher than the national rate. Nationally, 25 percent of American Indian women live in poverty; in Montana, that figure jumps to 41.2 percent.

Sands says the report will be used to push for new initiatives in the upcoming Legislature, such as raising the minimum wage and gaining insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Says Montana Women Vote Project Coordinator Terry Kendrick, “You can judge the health of a community by how well their women and children are doing. Let’s help those most in need, and then all of us are going to do better.”

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