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Denial defines America's perception of equality; Women's group: Nation nowhere near 'gender-blind'

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MOORHEAD, Minn. -- While the gender revolution may seem like a bra-burning movement of the past, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota says Americans are nowhere near "gender-blind."

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"The misperception is that gender equality has been dealt with, that we are a post-gender society," Mary Beth Hanson, director of communications for the foundation, said Tuesday.

"Really, we've just stalled."

The need to address gender inequality took center stage here Tuesday during the Women's Foundation of Minnesota's third biennial Road to Equality Tour, which travels to eight cities in and around the state.

Women's Foundation leaders shared the latest findings from the 2012 Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota report to a group of local residents at the Hjemkomst Center.

The report, an ongoing collaborative research project between the foundation and the University of Minnesota Humphrey School's Center on Women and Public Policy, addressed four areas of inequality: economics, safety, health and leadership.

Findings show economic issues begin with the wage gap between women and men.

"The wage gap is something I don't think people are very conscious of, but on average, women in Minnesota are making $11,000 less annually than their male counterpart," said Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy.

As women fall behind in equal pay and child care costs, significant work needs to be done regarding their safety, Fitzpatrick said.

By mid-life, 33 percent of Minnesota women have experienced a rape crime. And by their 40s, 33 percent have been a victim of intimate partner violence, project findings show.

The statistics on women's safety show the need for more outreach programs, said Lynette Orr, a Fergus Falls pastor who attended the presentation.

"We are in need of change," Orr said. "There needs to be a united forefront among religious, political and community leaders that says, 'We will protect women. We will work to make women's lives safer and to give them the support and opportunities they need to go forward,'"

Hanson also discussed the prostitution of girls under 18 in Minnesota.

"People think just because you don't see it, it isn't there," she said. "But it's happening, and we need to work with law enforcement to make sure these children are treated as victims, not criminals."

The study also delved into women's health issues, showing that twice as many Minnesota girls report suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide as boys.

Summing up the session, Fitzpatrick and Hanson focused on the lack of women in leadership positions.

"This is where we are seeing an entrenchment in gender equality," Fitzpatrick said. "You look to government at federal, state, local levels, and the gender gap is astounding. You look at the Fortune 500 CEOs or board members, women are not stepping into these positions."

Ways to address the lack of women in leadership has to be women wanting to run for office or applying for leadership positions, and working to encourage other women to do the same, Hanson said.

Fitzpatrick said the foundation is hosting a webinar from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, for participants to learn more about the tool and how to use it. Space is limited, so interested parties need to register at genderequalityexplorer.org.

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