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Study on Louisiana Women to Push For Change

July 1, 1998

Donna Soper

A research project undertaken in a women's studies course last fall has led to a joint study--by the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women and a Washington, D.C.-based policy group--that aims to improve the quality of life for women in Louisiana.

The study, scheduled to be published in October by the Center for Research on Women and the Institute for Women's Policy Research, will focus on the current status of women in Louisiana with recommendations for change. The forthcoming study has attracted the cooperation of local, state and national leaders with a vested interest in the state and the women who live and work here. The project that spawned the joint study was conducted by assistant professor Beth Willinger's Research in Women's Studies class.

Using statistics published by governmental agencies and non-profit organizations, students gathered research regarding Louisiana women in such categories as education, health, economics, family, housing, crime and politics.

"We decided on this particular project because we felt it was important to document the status of women in Louisiana--to have a historical record of what women's lives are like at the turn of the century," says Willinger, who is also director of the Center for Research on Women. "We also wanted to draw attention to what we know to be the very poor status of women in Louisiana, relative to other women in the United States."

Among the most disheartening findings, students discovered that:

- Louisiana ranks first nationally in having the highest proportion of women who live in poverty.
- Louisiana women have the third-highest rate of unemployment nationally.
- Louisiana women earn 60 cents to every dollar earned by men.
- Louisiana ranks first nationally in the proportion of babies delivered by cesarean section, second in the percentage of low-birthweight babies and the instance of syphilis, third in births to teen mothers, and sixth in infant-mortality rates.
- Women comprise 11.8 percent of the Louisiana State Legislature, compared with a national average of 23 percent.

The students' research drew the attention of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which previously had published a report on the status of women in 13 other states. Willinger says the institute asked the Center for Research on Women to join with the institute to compile a full report.

To guide the report's publication, the Center for Research on Women and the Institute for Women's Policy Research established the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women in Louisiana, which will review a draft of the report, prepare a response with suggestions for change, and coordinate distribution of the 600 copies printed by the institute. Willinger says she hopes the research and publication of such a report will become a regular occurrence that perhaps would take place every five years.

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