Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back to the Future, Part 15: Here We Go Again

Back to the Future, Part 15: Here We Go Again

I've put off writing about this year's Global Gender Gap Report--I just didn't have the heart for it. But with today's publication by the CDC of "Maternal Mortality Statistics," I was reminded of something my son once wrote when he was forwarding a link to me: "Mom, here's more good news for the woman who loves bad news."

On to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Report 2020.* First, some good news: "This year the progress has not only been larger than in the previous edition, but also more widespread: out of the 149 countries and economies covered both this year and last year, 101 have improved their score and 48 have seen their performance unchanged or reduced."

But before we in the U.S. get too excited, the U.S. is among those countries that have seen their performance fall--the U.S. ranks 53rd (of 153 countries), down two spots from the last year's calculations. By way of contrast, our two nearest neighbors rank much higher, Canada at 19, Mexico at 25. 

The report examines four key areas in assessing gender: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Again, here's a bit of good news: "The time it will take to close the gender gap narrowed to 99.5 years in 2019. While an improvement on 2018 – when the gap was calculated to take 108 years to close – it still means parity between men and women across health, education, work and politics will take more than a lifetime to achieve." Yup, that's about as good as the news gets . . . 

While political "empowerment" is "on the rise," it remains the "the worst-performing dimension": "it will take 95 years to close the gender gap in political representation, with women in 2019 holding 25.2% of parliamentary (lower-house) seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions." 

At the same time, women's economic situation is still not showing improvement: "In contrast to this positive progress in the lofty world of leadership, women’s participation in the wider labour market has stalled and financial disparities are increasing."

And the disparities in political power and their economic situation are all the more distressing because women have reached parity (almost) in health and, most important, education: 

So, it will take only 99 years instead of 108 to close the gap . . . If you're a glass-is-half-full kind of reader, you may find something to cheer about in the full report.

I am not a glass-half-full kind of reader, however. (Nor am I a glass-half-empty reader--I'm a why-in-the-hell-are-there-only-two-glasses? kind of reader.) Even so, it took today's new maternal mortality statistics to knock me out of my funk. 

Perhaps the most shocking thing in the just-published CDC report** is that the National Center for Health Statistics has not published maternal mortality figures since 2007--yes, over a decade ago! Thirteen years without official data . . . It has taken all that time (well, since 2003, actually) for a new "coding method" that would allow the NCHS to "resume the routine publication of maternal mortality statistics."

The figures are not good: "The maternal mortality rate for 2018 was 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the rate for non-Hispanic black women (37.1) was 2.5 to 3.1 times the rates for non-Hispanic white (14.7) and Hispanic (11.8) women."

As reporter Julia Beluz notes, "If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia (17 per 100,000) and just ahead of Ukraine (19 per 100,000)."

But whether there are "official" counts or not, it's not as if maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are a big secret--click here for a recent USA Today report, and here for the World Health Organization's Trends in Maternal Mortality: 2000 to 2017.

Update, 13 February 2020: As if the news about maternal mortality rates weren't bad enough, ProPublica reports that there are "gaping holes" in the research:
In order to come up with a number that allows the United States to be compared with other countries, the National Vital Statistics System was required to use the World Health Organization’s definition of maternal mortality: “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy … from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.” The global standard encompasses the traditional, acute, obstetric causes of maternal death — hemorrhage, infection, blood clots, strokes — but excludes “accidental or incidental” causes. . . 
The 42-day cutoff for calculating maternal mortality excludes many maternal deaths:
In the U.S., as many as 24% of pregnancy-related deaths are happening from 43 days to 365 days after delivery, according to a CDC report last fall. In Texas, the proportion is closer to 40%. Even the new NVSS data [see below, **] confirms an enormous number of such deaths. Hidden in its report is a calculation for late maternal mortality for 2018: an additional 277 deaths. That brings the CDC estimate for maternal deaths up to a year postpartum to a much higher figure than it reported in the official U.S. rate: a total of 935 lives lost.
Causes of maternal deaths that are not included in the CDC report include heart-related conditions (which is the leading cause of uncounted maternal deaths), accidental overdoses, suicide, complications that lead to the deaths of older mothers, and, most horrifically, homicide (a study co-authored by [Joia] Crear-Perry, of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, shows that in Louisiana, homicides were the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women from 2016-17).

In other words, "Since 2007, the government had held off on releasing an official estimate of expectant and new mothers who died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. It waited for the data to get better. But the new, long-anticipated number falls short."

For Nina Martin's piece in ProPublica, click here.

*In previous years, the December publication was dated for the year in which it was published. This year, instead of the report being titled "2019" when it was published on 17 December 2019, it was titled "2020." For my previous posts on the "report, click here (2016), here (2017), and here (2018). Rereading what I wrote in 2018, I said then that I "didn't have the heart" for a writing a whole post about it--talk about "back to the future"!!! 

**As if the gaps in this report were not enough (see "Update, 13 February 2020" note, above), the link to the report now (February 2021) takes you to "Resource Not Available. The page you requested cannot be found at this time. It may be temporarily unavailable or it may have been  removed or relocated. I’ve updated my links to take you to the original document, preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. As I've noted elsewhere in this blog, one real issue during the Trump administration has been ACCESSING IMPORTANT INFORMATION.