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Call for equity for indigenous women

WASHINGTON - Racial and gender inequalities afflict women generally in the
United States and Native women more than others, according to the
Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.

The Institute's "Status of Women in the States" shows that American Indian
women have lower social and economic status than white women throughout the
U.S., with lower earnings, less education, more poverty and worse health.

Coupled with Department of Justice findings on the high rate of violent
victimization among Indian women, the report continues a modest trend
toward constructive attention to the problems Native women encounter - and
overcome in a great many cases - on a statistical scale unparalleled in the
United States.

"The data in this report clearly show the many challenges faced by Native
American women in this country," said Heidi Hartmann, president of the
Institute for Women's Policy Research. "We hope that the report will serve
as a springboard to energize policymakers to improve the status of Native
American women."

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American
Indians, called on the funding community to support new research on
American Indian women. "Many data sources are out of date or incomplete. In
order to adequately address the problems facing Indian women, we need
reliable statistics to describe the quality of American Indian women's
lives and experiences. Researchers don't know enough about many of the
serious issues affecting American Indian women's lives because Indian women
do not yet have sufficient political or economic power to demand the
necessary data."

The study makes a good start, reporting that the median annual earnings of
American Indian women who work full-time, full-year in the U.S. are $25,500
and they make only 58 cents for every dollar white men in the country make.
The report finds 25 percent of American Indian women in the U.S. living in
poverty. The number is even greater for Native American single mothers:
More than a third, 38 percent, of families headed by an American Indian
single mother live in poverty.

The differences between Native women who live in urban and rural areas are
even more pronounced. In non-metro areas, those working full-time,
full-year make $23,200 on average, and women in metro areas make $27,600.
When women who work less than full-time are included in the figures, the
picture is bleaker: Native women who live in non-metro areas make only
$15,000, and those who live in metro areas make $18,800.

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Differences also abound from state to state. American Indian women's
earnings range from a high of $38,700 in Connecticut to a low of $19,900 in
North Dakota. American Indian women in Virginia are the least likely of
Native women to be poor, with 11 percent living in poverty, while almost
half of American Indian women in South Dakota, 45 percent, live in poverty.

"Government at all levels should put forth an effort to recruit American
Indian women into training and education programs that will offer them
higher -paying opportunities and positions and help close the wage gap,"
said NCAI's Johnson.

"Effective federal, state and local policies to lower American Indian
women's poverty rates are greatly needed to address these disparities," she
added. "Ways to address these inequities include emphasis on educational
attainment, enforcement of equal opportunity laws, payment of living wages,
increased access to affordable child care and providing adequate health and
leave benefits."

A smaller proportion of American Indian women (30 percent) in the country
work in managerial or professional jobs, compared with 36 percent of all
women. Only 12 percent of Native American women nationally have a four-year
college degree, almost half the rate for all women (23 percent). Again, the
numbers vary widely across the country: 50 percent of American Indian women
in the District of Columbia work in managerial or professional jobs,
compared with 20 percent of Native women in Iowa. Massachusetts has the
highest proportion of American Indian women with a college degree, at 20
percent, while Delaware has the lowest, at 7 percent.

American Indian women are also dramatically under-represented in elected
office: No American Indian women currently serve in the U.S. Congress, and
no American Indian women serve in statewide elected executive offices in
any state in the country. As of October 2004, there were 10 American Indian
women serving in state legislatures in five states across the country, out
of a possible 7,382 seats. In comparison, there were 1,355 white women
serving, 215 African American women, 58 Hispanic women and 23 Asian
American women.

Johnson said political participation is a viable method for American Indian
women to shape the policies that affect their lives. NCAI sought to
increase the involvement of all American Indian people in the political
process through the Native Vote 2004 campaign. She said success stories
include Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who was
elected to the Minneapolis school board and Cecelia Fire Thunder, who
recently became the first woman elected president of the Oglala Sioux
Tribe. In addition, a Chickasaw woman, Lisa J. Billy, was elected to the
Oklahoma House of Representatives. More efforts like these are needed to
include Indian women in the political process, Johnson said.

Health disparities also characterize the experience of Native women in the
United States, the report found.

Editor's note: NCAI staff contributed to this article.