Opinion: The path to empowering women
Last month WalletHub released its list of “Best and Worst Cities for Women,” ranking 182 large cities across the country.
Two Kansas cities — Wichita and Overland Park — made the rankings along with Kansas City, Missouri, though their positions couldn’t be more different.
Overland Park ranked 8th in the country for best cities for women while Wichita ranked 149th. Kansas City, Missouri, ranked 125th.
The methodology used to determine the rankings had several metrics. Measures of women’s economic and social well-being made up 60% and measures of women’s health care and safety made up the remaining 40% of the metrics used.
For the former, measures of women’s median earnings (adjusted for the cost of living), unemployment rate and job security joined the share of women living in poverty, women-owned businesses and the “economic clout” of women-owned firms to determine women’s economic and social well-being.
On women’s health care and safety, the following measures were used: abortion policies and access (weighted double), quality of women’s hospitals, the uninsured rate for women, women’s preventive health care, share of physically active women, share of women who are overweight, suicide rate for women, women’s life expectancy at birth and prevalence of rape victimization among women.
This just goes to show that cities across Kansas vary drastically.
But in general, the state as a whole has much room for improvement.
In a 2020 Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security report on The Best and Worst States to be a Woman, Kansas ranked below the national average.
Most of Kansas’ rural towns and cities would fare much worse on these measures than even Wichita.
According to United WE, a nonprofit organization in Kansas City that advocates for women’s economic and civic leadership, there is much progress to make statewide on child care, elder care, paid family leave, entrepreneurship and occupational licensing, healthcare and civic engagement.
In United WE’s 2023 report, only broadband access had been rated as having made “significant progress” at the state level. Broadband access impacts women’s ability to seek telehealth services, especially in rural areas.
The state and its localities should be doing more to empower women. Why? There are many benefits of having women play an increased role in economic and civic life:
Economic Benefits. Academic studies show that women’s presence on corporate boards leads to improved stock performance and increased earnings for employees. Research also finds that women’s presence in corporate leadership consistently yields higher performance and output as well as increased creativity and innovation.
Civic Benefits. There is also a long history of research on the benefits of having women serve in political and civic leadership. Research shows that women are more collaborative and willing to work across partisan lines to find common ground, which often leads to more effective governance. Additionally, women’s presence also leads to economic growth, improved social services, and government accountability and transparency.
States and localities that rank lower for women’s empowerment, economic opportunities, access to health care, etc., are unlikely to be attractive destinations for women seeking better opportunities and quality of life, and thus miss out on these benefits.
Kansas would reap many advantages from prioritizing women’s empowerment and ensuring equitable access to opportunities.
— Alexandra Middlewood is the department chair of political science at Wichita State University.