Commentary

Mind the gap: Women fall victim to inequities in wages, health care and more

November 15, 2022 8:00 am

Women are falling through gaps related to wages, health care, child care and more . (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch using images via Canva)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.I was in elementary school the first time I learned the phrase, “Mind the gap.” I must have been 9, maybe 10 years old, and I was obsessed with London’s public transit system — particularly the Underground.

I’d never been to England, let alone on a train, so it’s hard to say why this was such a thing for me. I would ride my bike to the library after school and pore over travel books with hope that I’d catch a glimpse of Brits in “the Tube,” riding the rails. I was young and naïve. Don’t judge.

One of the most iconic aspects of the Underground is the PA announcement alerting passengers to “mind the gap” as they step on and off the train — the “gap” in question being the space between the train and the platform. Slipping through could be hazardous, as a passenger named Lilian East found out in 1958.

East was injured in the fall and sued the London Transit system, alleging she had no warning about the gap prior to boarding the train. Enter Minnie Smith, a female platform attendant who worked at the station where East fell. Smith, whose job it was to warn passengers to “mind the gap” several times an hour, testified to the fact, helping London Transit handily win its case.

Afterward, Smith told a London newspaper that she “had a naturally loud voice,” so loud, in fact that, “My husband used to say he couldn’t get a word in against me.”

Women are falling in the gaps

Even the loudest warnings don’t keep women from falling in the gaps. Every single day, women fall victim to gaps in income, health care, education, child care and even divorce.

Let’s start with the income gap. The International Labour (ILO) Organization found that globally, women are paid about 20% less than men, earning 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Women are doing lower-paid, less-skilled work. They’re underrepresented in decision-making roles, and they do nearly three times more unpaid work than men. At this rate, it will take more than 250 years to close the pay gap.

And the health care gap: For years, women have reported not getting the medical care or attention they needed due to their gender. Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are among the highest in the world. Women are less likely to be insured, and many work in essential jobs or jobs with minimal or no sick time. That’s frightening when you consider that women are also more likely to experience long haul symptoms after COVID.

Let’s not forget the gap in women’s reproductive rights. When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, women lost the nearly 50 year-old, federally protected right to choose, paving the way for states to limit or ban abortion all together. Many of those states have enacted trigger laws that could limit access to contraception, as well as lifesaving medical care for the mother.

Oh, and if you are a mother, you’ve probably fallen into the pandemic gap. More than 2 million women left the workforce during the pandemic — some of their jobs simply disappeared, while others were forced to decide between having a career or caring for children or other compromised family members.

With schools closed during the pandemic, many moms took on the role of teacher so their kids wouldn’t fall behind. It’s been reported that it could take several years for many of those students to catch up after months out of the classroom.

Child care is perhaps the widest gap. According to childcaregap.org, there’s a near 32% difference between the supply and demand for child care in the United States. In Iowa, the gap is 15.1%, meaning that for the 173,400 children needing care, there are only 159,310 spots available. Many families don’t have access to child care or simply can’t afford it. Even more disconcerting, the Iowa Capital Dispatch recently reported that the state of Iowa decided against investing $3 million to get $30 million in federal money that would have been allocated to basic child care. It’s a loss for Iowa families.

And, finally, there’s the divorce gap. As if navigating single parenting and the legal system isn’t hard enough, The Guardian reports that men actually become richer after separation, experiencing a 30% increase in income while women see a 20% decline in theirs. The gap widens if she took time away from the workforce to care for children in the home. Upon a return to the working world, her earning potential could be stunted by the gap in her resume.

With all these issues facing women, it’s no wonder why we keep shouting, warning others. Because until we have gender equality, really, the only thing we can do is mind the gap.

What inspires me?

I spent a few days in Chicago last week and stopped by one of my favorite tourist attractions while I was in town: the American Writers Museum. There’s not much to it but a single floor of photos and bios, quotes and recordings, displays and enticing exhibits that tell the story of the people who paved the way for writers to write.

I wound my way through an exhibit about famous Chicagoans entitled, “Visionaries + Troublemakers.” This was in the caption on the main display:

“Chicago writers are visionaries, unafraid of trying something new. The city is one of the birthplaces of realism, an approach to writing that elevates the ‘everyday’ into art. Chicago poets, novelists, journalists and other writers have found inspiration in everyday people, telling their stories and transforming the way they talk into art. Chicago writers are also troublemakers…with a humanist bent. They have shone a light on injustice, questioned authority and articulated bold new visions for a better world. Chicago writers are agents of change.”

May we all be “troublemakers with a humanist bent.”

This column was originally published by Jody Gifford’s blog, Benign Inspiration. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Jody Gifford
Jody Gifford

Jody Gifford is a freelance writer and veteran journalist who has worked for The Des Moines Register, The Indianapolis Star and Patch.com. She’s a member of the Iowa Writers Collaborative and writes a column, Benign Inspiration. By day, she’s in communications for a malpractice insurance company, and by night, she’s a busy mom, leader, volunteer and staunch ally who takes every opportunity she can to make the world a kinder place. She lives with her partner, three teenagers and two cats in West Des Moines, Iowa.

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