The world is shrinking and with the Internet we are now all hyper-connected. One result of this is that where once we looked at problems as local or maybe state and national issues, now we can see issues simultaneously on a local to global level — all at the same time and in real time.
Practically no other subject lends itself more effectively to this type of local-to-global analysis than the issues of women. And some smart folks at Clemson have just released a terrific study about women in South Carolina that not only shows how the issues are similar but also how many of the solutions are the same worldwide.
Put another way, we can see how we in South Carolina compare with others in the world — and we can see that there may be some answers in such places as South Korea and South Sudan about how we can improve the lives of women in South Carolina.
This is precisely the big takeaway from a new Clemson study entitled “Envision Gender Equality in South Carolina.” It is part of the Poverty Ends with Women project of the university’s Women’s Leadership Department and the research was done by undergraduate students. (Google the name of the study and read it for yourself.)
The study looked at seven broad areas such as domestic violence, reproductive health and rights, women and work in government and business and child care. For each area, the study showed how we in South Carolina compare to other states and to other countries — and then offers some interesting possible solutions from other countries around the world. The study is too comprehensive to detail here, but here are just a few of the most interesting findings.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE — As was highlighted by the recent Post and Courier newspaper’s massive, five-part series on women and domestic violence in South Carolina, we have a real problem — a really big problem. We in South Carolina are the worst in the county, but as the Post and Courier and Clemson study shows, there are real solutions that work. Nationally, domestic violence has been reduced by 50 percent since the mid-1990s, and big change can happen quickly. Maryland has cut the domestic violence murder rate by 40 percent since just 2007.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH, RIGHTS, EDUCATION — According to the most recent data, South Carolina had the 12th highest rate of teen births in the country, and there are all sorts of related long-term health and educational issues for both the child and the mother. The Clemson study found that diverse places as Boston and the African nations of Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Senegal have had great success with such models as aggressive social media campaigns, mobile health clinics, free pills and condom distributions and influencing religious leaders to promote family planning.
WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT — We in South Carolina have a particularly abysmal record when it comes to electing women in state government — we are the worst in the country. There is only one woman out of 46 senators and only 19 of the 123 members of the House of Representatives. And by this measure of women in the national legislative body, we in the U.S. rank 80th worldwide — behind Afghanistan. Ironically, Rwanda has the highest percentage — 56 percent of seats in their national parliament are held by women.
Let that sink in a minute: South Carolina is the worst in the nation, and nationally, we rank below Afghanistan.
FAMILY LEAVE AND CHILD CARE — When it comes to these two areas, the United States is again behind most of the rest of the industrialized countries and South Carolina is generally behind the U.S. standards. Most every industrialized country provides some level of paid maternity leave ranging from 12 to 50 weeks, and in 50 countries there is at least some paid paternal leave. In the U.S., federal legislation only mandates up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers. We have no South Carolina requirements beyond the federal law, putting us behind both Mexico and Pakistan, which have 12 weeks of paid leave for mothers.
Women make up half of South Carolina, the U.S. and the world. Clearly, many of their problems and issues are common across nations and continents. I know we can’t solve all of these issues overnight, but it’s embarrassing that our state’s treatment of women by some scales puts us on the same level as Pakistan and Afghanistan and behind Mexico and Rwanda.
Repeat this last phrase out loud: “South Carolina, on the same level as Pakistan and Afghanistan and behind Mexico and Rwanda.”
We can — and must — do better.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.