By Naomi Klouda
Women in Alaska may seem to fare well compared to their counterparts in other places of the world. Our strong economy means women can access jobs, and even higher paying non-traditional careers. The state provides subsidies for child care that other states do not offer or cannot afford. Alaska also helps women lacking medical insurance for cancer screenings and care. And, we receive the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend each year, a God-send when raising children that allows for purchasing groceries, clothing and paying bills.
But Alaska can also be an insidiously dangerous place to be a woman. Our domestic violence and sexual assault rates place us at the top of the heap. We often read about women and young girls going missing and turning up in lake bottoms or shallow graves. In our court system, cases are often dropped against perpetrators of violence when a woman loses heart and refuses to testify.
A slate of bills before the Alaska Legislature appear glaringly aimed at women. The medically-necessary abortion debate may capture most of the spot light, but it’s not the only troubling one. A loud debate over abortion rights is likely to drown out other issues that then slip under the radar and go unnoticed by the constituency.
One of those is attracting inordinately loud bluster that threatens to deafen people to reasonable voices. As the gun debate escalates, it is a reminder of the violence subsisting in the Alaska cultural fabric. The argument that guns are important, as our second amendment rights, isn’t the point. Of course they are important in a package of rights guaranteed Americans. More, it’s the zealousness of ownership of any kind of gun. Even assault rifles and weapons of war, out-sized monsters in metal that our Founding Fathers never would could have fathomed. Alaskans like their guns, and they’ll blow off tempers at even the hint of a challenge.
Tied to the number of times women and children are bullied or harmed or maimed, it reminds me of the old attitude about ownership of wives and kids. No law, until more recent times, could deny a man his “right” to enforce his rules over his family.
Then, there’s the legislation that would test a woman on welfare for drugs or alcohol. Let’s face it: this is a bill aimed at single mothers primarily because men, the fathers, are more the exception than the rule when it comes to being the head-of-household and would not be eligible to collect public assistance without children in the house. Men aren’t necessarily working more than this so-called “lazy” class of mothers, but they aren’t going to be allowed to collect welfare, either.
This bill causes a lively discussion. It’s only just, the reasoning goes, that if people who work must do a urine test, why not those who gain public funds? At the heart of it, that sounds reasonable. But think in terms of the underlying sentiment: an assumption that women raising their children with public assistance help from the state are just undeserving loafers. It assumes many aren’t raising their children to the best of their ability. It assumes the worst.
The Gov. Parnell administration takes on the fight to help industry as much as possible: tax breaks for oil companies, transportation railroad help for coal and rollbacks in permitting for any resource development. But we’re “poor” and afraid of future costs when it comes to accepting health care insurance money or for funding kindergarten programs.
Gender politics like these push us back in time, not forward into a braver future.
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