Pam Coyle

by Pam Coyle

Harry Burn listened to his mother.

In doing so, he gave Tennessee the deciding signature to support women’s right to vote. Tennessee was the final state needed for ratification of the 19th Amendment, “a perfect 36,” as the Volunteer State’s role became known. Extending the vote to women became law of the land nationwide on Aug. 26, 1920.

Since 1971, Aug. 26 has been by Congressional designation “Women’s Equality Day.” A year earlier, women had joined together to demand equal opportunities in employment, education, and 24-hour child-care centers as part of a nationwide strike.

We’ve seen progress, sure, but how “equal” are Tennessee women today?

In financial and health arenas, we’ve got a ways to go. Consider these numbers from the National Women’s Law Center:

  • Across all occupations, the typical woman in Tennessee working full time, year-round made 77 cents to every dollar paid to a man working full time, year round.

  • Tennessee women working full time, year round in 2010 in management, business, and financial occupations earned 69 cents to every dollar men were paid in the same occupations.

  • Tennessee women working full time, year round in sales and related occupations earned 58 cents to the dollar of men in the same occupations.

  • The typical Tennessee woman with a bachelor’s degree isn’t paid as much as the typical Tennessee man with less education, such as completing some college or having an associate’s degree.

In health, Tennessee women as a whole do not score well across multiple measures.

The 2011 Tennessee Women’s Report Card assigned a grade of F in the following areas:

  • Percentage of women who smoked during pregnancy

  • Number of chlamydia and syphilis cases per 100,000

  • Heart disease AND stroke deaths per 100,000

  • Percentage of women who had 5 or more alcohol drinks in one occasion at least once during the last month

  • Percentage of women with high cholesterol

An “F” means women are 90 percent worse than goals established in Healthy People 2020, a push to use science-based, 10-year national objectives to improve the health of all Americans, or 25 percent worse than they were five years ago.

The numbers aren’t all bad. Yes, rates for heart disease and strokes are down but still too high. More women receive screening mammograms but too many die of breast cancer because of late detection. We’ve made progress in reducing extremely low birth weight but huge disparities exist across racial and ethnic groups, as they do in many areas.

So on Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate how far we’ve come.

We honor the generations of strong, vocal women who worked to give us a political voice and make inroads in the workplace.

In health, though, change comes slowly, often one woman at a time.  We must make better choices, set great examples, share useful information and help build communities where good health is a given, not a luxury.