Idaho ranks as one of the worst states to live in for women

Illustration by Kelsey Mason

In 1896, Idaho was one of the first states to grant women the right to vote. Idaho endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, as one of the first states to do so, but somewhere along the way it lost its status as a national front-runner in gender equality.

Looking at gender equality from a global perspective, the United States ranks below the Top 25 according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, and recent data by Wallethub reveals even more unfortunate findings: Idaho is one of the worst states in the country to live in as a woman, ranking 42nd in the country.

The report uses “Women’s economic and social well-being” and “Women’s health care and safety” as key aspects for comparing women’s opportunities across all 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Abortion access

Abortion policies and access count as double weight in the calculation and play a big role in the poor ranking, as well as prevalence of rape victimization among women.

The data stems from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Violence Policy Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several metrics to determine the overall score and rank of a state.

Abortion, in particular, can be a decisive factor when evaluating the status of women’s rights.

Idaho has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country which, according to the Center of Reproductive Rights, “prohibits abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with exceptions for the life of the pregnant person and for survivors of rape and incest who have reported the incident to law enforcement.”

In addition to a near-total abortion ban, Gov. Brad Little passed HB 242 into law on April 6, criminalizing “abortion trafficking.”

Abortion trafficking refers to an adult helping a minor get an abortion either by obtaining an abortion pill or providing any kind of help to get an out-of-state abortion without parental consent.

No laws like this have existed before in the United States, and a person who commits this new type of crime can face 2-to-5 years in prison.

Women in the workplace

When searching for an explanation for the current situation, Dr. Lisa McClain, professor of history and gender studies at Boise State University, emphasizes the complexity of the issues.

“Many factors could be impacting Idaho’s ranking. For example, public policy, cultural beliefs about women working outside the home, individual education levels and personal decisions to leave or delay work to raise children can all influence women’s work opportunities and income,” McClain said. 

Other reasons for Idaho’s low ranking come from inequalities in the labor market. Idaho ranks second lowest in the nation in the category “Median earnings for female workers (adjusted for cost of living).”

This year, Women’s Equal Pay Day fell on March 14. This day symbolizes just how far into the year women need to work to get paid what men were paid the year prior. Nationally, this equates to a pay gap of 84% for full-time workers. In Idaho, however, women earn just 75% of what men earn.

Idaho also has one of the lowest percentages of women-owned businesses, ranking 47th nationally.

It is important to keep in mind the different possible reasoning and questions the statistics might not take into consideration.

McClain elaborates by explaining that another factor we have to take into account is that Idaho is a predominantly rural state.

“Boise is the only large metropolitan area by national standards. Rural areas in general are facing challenges with providing health care,” she said. “And it might be the case that rural women are helping to run family-owned businesses in significant ways but not always being paid wages or counted as business owners.”  

At the same time, part of the explanation can be found at the level of individual women themselves.

“For me, it’s about choice. What do Idaho women want in terms of education, business opportunities, child care and reproductive rights, all of the issues asked about in the research,” McClain said. “It’s also about the choices women make for their own lives and their own bodies when they’re at the ballot box.” 

The future of women in Idaho 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey, women-owned businesses in Idaho increased by 36.58% from 2002 to 2020. This suggests that the future will entail more female entrepreneurs in the state.

In Idaho, and even locally in Boise, women can benefit from great, free resources when looking to start their own businesses.

Idaho Women’s Business Center (IWBC) is a non-profit organization that provides a range of resources to women entrepreneurs in the state. They offer a variety of programs, education, mentorships, networking events as well as strategic sessions with their many partners.

Thea Jordan, program director of IWBC, explains how a conservative state like Idaho presents many barriers for women when compared to their male counterparts. However, the people and the resource partners in Idaho are committed to helping women overcome these barriers.

“At the IWBC, we understand what it is like to be a women business owner, so with that, we’re looking for ways to help our clients innovate and be as efficient as possible so they can get it all done and still, attend our child’s soccer game, and not have that burnout and be successful,” Jordan said.

Women who need help getting started with their business or just expanding their business can seek support.

“We really do something different for every single person that comes through our doors. But one thing that’s the same is that we always connect with them and find out their values and what drives them, and then we help them frame what success looks like from there,” Jordan said.

At the IWBC they consider the special challenges women face, and especially minorities and immigrants’ struggles. They provide programs in both English and Spanish to best accommodate all women.

“I think we need to talk about women of color in Idaho and women from other historically underrepresented groups, whether it be LGBTQ women, or women of lower socioeconomic status, women with disabilities, things along those lines because that really impacts a woman’s opportunities and ability to make choices,” McClain said.

A ranking on a research report cannot include the complexity of an issue like gender equality. Different factors and possible explanations should be taken into account.

It can be easy to get lost in the negative news, but there is an endless amount of talent, skills, and opportunities for women in Idaho, and the empowering stories about activism and everything allies and institutions work on should be remembered and highlighted as well.

“Idaho’s changing. We have a lot of people coming in from a lot of different places and with that comes constraint and challenge,” Jordan said. “But it also brings opportunity, right when you start embracing new cultures.”

Moving forward, both McClain and Jordan stress the importance of each individual’s responsibility in the matter. Change can begin with one single person. They encourage people to add their voices to the discussion and to get involved, as change won’t happen automatically.

It is important to consider our own role as citizens to make Boise and Idaho overall a better place to be for the mothers, daughters, sisters and future female generations to come.

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