Price of Paradise

How far
have women
truly come?

Going into yesterday's primary election, voters could choose to practically guarantee Hawaii's next governor will be a woman, since leading candidates of both major parties were female. While we wait to see if the November winner will be one of the nation's few female governors, the "Price of Paradise" wonders: How are women in Hawaii really doing and why should politicians pay attention to them?

Pay heed to women | Glass ceiling reinforced


Politicians should
pay heed to the interests
of female voters

By Nanci Kreidman

WITH every seat -- City Council, Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor -- up for grabs, our house is buzzing about the upcoming election. There are five of us: three teenagers, a union member and the executive director of a nonprofit organization.

Since my partner and children are Filipino, we talked about candidates' wanting to capture the Filipino vote. My son found it curious that ethnicity had anything to do with voting or that the "Filipino vote" could be worth something.

We explained that ethnicity, socio-economic class and occupation influence choices voters make and that candidates seek approval from different constituencies.

We hope candidates are interested in the women's vote, too. The feminist in our house longs for candidates to articulate a vision for women and a plan that elevates our status and improves our day-to-day lives.

THAT HASN'T happened yet. All the candidates speak of restoring trust to government, improving the economy and strengthening education and this speaks to our lives, since women care about education and honest elected leaders.

However, female voters also need to hear strategies to reduce the burden on single mothers, working women, addicts, women with mental-health needs and mothers of uninsured children.

Women are a formidable constituency, if only we had time to cast an informed vote. As my partner says, women could have "half the say," since we represent half the population. Wouldn't that be great?

Unfortunately, we are blinded by other demands. A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found women considerably less likely than men to know which candidate was a former POW or basketball player or a current governor. Women were also less likely to know candidates' positions on issues such as universal health care and instant gun checks.

PERHAPS women are too busy getting food on the table and children to school, caring for elderly parents, maintaining a household, managing a budget and earning a living to find time to become adequately informed about candidates.

Still, an exhaustive study in 1996 (by Michael Delli Carpinia and Scott Keeter) showed women were more knowledgeable about local topics, such as who the school superintendent is.

Presumably, women don't have time to read about national affairs but they are more involved in their communities, as parents, as workers (teachers, nurses, librarians) or as volunteers. Hawaii candidates should recognize women's awareness of local issues.

Women need to understand a candidate's ability to carry out strategies to meet our interests. Of course, "our interests" are complex, since women are all different. Some are wealthy; others anti-choice. Some are well educated, while others work three jobs. Some are homeless, fleeing abusive partners or seeking work; others are looking after children at home.

WOMEN from industrialized countries concentrate on issues such as access to birth control and child care, equal pay for equal work, affirmative action and sexual harassment. In developing countries, women care more about access to childhood immunizations, clean water, health-care services and food.

Women want candidates to understand our lives but as voters, we blend with other constituencies to which we belong. Our political party, ethnicity, socio-economic class, or profession becomes the "angle" candidates choose to emphasize. They target small-business owners, Filipinos, Democrats, environmentalists, anti-choice groups and unions, but not women.

VOTERS have a gender bias. Before 1964, women favored Republicans over Democrats. In 1996, however, 54 percent of women voted for Bill Clinton, compared to 43 percent of men.

George W. Bush campaigned for women's votes but, if only women's votes were counted, Al Gore would have won by a landslide. Gore would have taken 32 states and tied in Colorado, giving him 402 electoral votes to Bush's 128.

Everyone knows -- even political candidates -- that men and women live their lives differently. Our choices, roles and society's expectations of us are different. Of course, women vote differently from men.

Women voters need to know a candidate's leadership style and program priorities before they cast their ballots. It is crucial that we ask questions, get the information and make the best choices.

Nanci Kreidman serves on the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, which seeks to improve the lives of women and children, and works as a consultant, trainer, spokeswoman and parent.


Hawaii’s glass ceiling is
still strongly reinforced
with concrete

By Leslie Wilkins

WHEN the Star-Bulletin invited me to write an essay for the "Price of Paradise," contributing editor John Flanagan suggested I discuss "pocketbook" issues. It's interesting that the term used to describe a woman's accessory for carrying money has become such a widely recognized expression for economic issues, particularly as they relate to family budgets.

In Hawaii women's pocketbooks do not pack as much pay as men's wallets. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics for 2000, women here earn only 79 cents to the man's dollar, on average.

Comparing the median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by gender, the wage gap in Hawaii is actually narrower than the national average, which places women's earnings at 73 percent of men's.

One factor contributing to the narrower wage gap between women and men in Hawaii is unionization. Unions have significantly raised income levels for women and Hawaii has the highest per capita female union membership in the nation. In fact, unionized females earn almost 23 percent more than their non-union counterparts.

HAWAII'S economic strength depends on women's equal and full participation in the work force. More than 75 percent of women with school-age children are in the work force full time and nearly 60 percent of mothers with infants under the age of 1 work full time.

This means that businesses trying to recruit and retain skilled workers in an ever-tightening labor market will have to invest much more in child care, elder care and flexible work policies that support family and career balance. In other words, family-friendly work policies will continue to drive the bottom line.

A "glass ceiling" that limits women's professional advancement definitely exists in our state. Women who have bumped their heads against it might even say it is reinforced with a little concrete.

Hawaii is ranked 49th among states in the number of women in managerial and professional occupations, according to the November 2000 study, "The Status of Women in Hawaii," published by the Institute for Women's Policy Research in partnership with the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

THIS next-to-the-bottom ranking is particularly surprising because Hawaii's women have more college experience than the national average.

A definite outcome of women's inability to break through the glass ceiling is the robust pace at which they are opening their own businesses. Women are launching businesses at twice the rate of men. Unfortunately, self-employment does not pay especially well for women and most must combine it with another job.

Often, the initial capital for these start-ups comes from cashing out 401(k) accounts or from high-interest credit cards. Fortunately, the U.S. Small Business Administration is working to set its lending goals to reach more women-owned businesses.

Female workers are clustered in only about 20 of the 400 job categories recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. These traditionally female-dominated occupations pay less. The wage values associated with them often do not reflect their societal or economic contributions.

THE GOOD news is that Hawaii is the site for national pilot programs created to bring women into non-traditional roles, especially in the emerging technology sector.

What would most increase the economic status of women in Hawaii is a re-evaluation of wage-setting practices to ensure that they reflect equitable compensation for skill, responsibility levels and value.

Heidi Hartman, an economist with the Institute for Women's Policy Research, estimates that eliminating the wage gap in Hawaii would place $969 million more annually into the hands of working families -- raising household incomes an average of $4,500 per year. Think about that as an economic stimulus package.

The indisputable fact is that women's economic health directly affects the standard of living for families. Improving it will strengthen our state economy.

Leslie Wilkins, chairwoman of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, is immediate past national president of Business & Professional Women/USA and vice president of the Maui Economic Development Board. She directs a pilot project to bring more women and girls into technology. A 22-year Maui resident, she is married and has a 6-year-old daughter.

POP radio tonight at 8

Tune in, call in and join the conversation tonight as "Price of Paradise" takes to the airwaves.

Tonight's discussion: How are women in Hawaii faring compared to men, and to the rest of the country?

Who: Guests: Leslie Wilkins and Jeanne Ohta of the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women, and Pam Ferguson Brey of the Crime Victims Compensation Commission. Host: John Flanagan.

When: 8 p.m. tonight.

Where: KKEA Radio, 1420-AM

Join in: Call in comments or questions to 296-1420 or toll-free from the neighbor islands, 1-866-400-1420. For free calls from cell phones, dial Star-1480 or Pound-1480.




Price of Paradise
The Price of Paradise appears each week in the Sunday Insight section. The mission of POP is to contribute lively and informed dialog about public issues, particularly those having to do with our pocketbooks. Reader responses appear later in the week. If you have thoughts to share about today's POP articles, please send them, with your name and daytime phone number, to, or write to Price of Paradise, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu, HI 96813.
John Flanagan
Contributing Editor

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