A Woman’s Nation: Helping Women Find Opportunity

It’s with great interest that I’ve followed the media storm surround the release of the Shriver Center’s newest report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. Over 3,000 adults were polled, including low-income women, to find out their views and opinions on “the economy, gender, marriage, education, and the future.”

Despite the progress of women economically and otherwise, there is still a long way to go. Check out just some of the data gleaned from the report:

  • 1 in 3 women are living on the brink of poverty, defined as about $47,000 per year for a family of four.
  • 73% of low-income women wish they had made better financial choices (as did 65 percent of all those we polled).
  • 73% of Americans said that in order to raise the incomes of working women and families, the government should ensure that women get equal pay for equal work.
  • Almost 60 percent of Americans said women raising children on their own face tremendous challenges and should be helped financially by government, employers, and communities.

This great graphic from Feministing, which you can share (please give them credit!), really sums it up: we’ve come so far, and yet there is still so much for women to achieve. Although some may agree with Feministing’s Katie Halper, that this is validating and depressing, information like this also demonstrates our need to work together and support opportunities for women on all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

working-woman-kids

The serious economic disparities represented in the report are the same issues the YWCA works on daily through local community programming (job training, transitional housing, affordable childcare, and career development), and through advocacy (raising the minimum wage, pay equity, paid family and sick leave, ending pregnancy and family status discrimination, and ensuring a strong social safety net and a fair budget). Gender disparities and racial discrimination inform some of our most important legislative priorities, and they drive the programmatic work and services of our local associations, who identify the most pressing needs of their communities and fill in those gaps for women and their families.

It is also of the utmost importance to remember that women and girls, no matter what their income or their race may be, face high rates of gender-based violence in this country. 500 women are sexually assaulted each day in the U.S., and victims face barriers to safety services and resources due to a lack of economic supports like childcare and financial safety nets. Safety from violence is equally as important as financial security, and both are required in order for women to succeed.

Even our own 2013 Dorothy I. Height Racial Justice Award nominee, actress and activist Eva Longoria, contributed to the book with an essay on her work to empower Latina students for success. She writes, “Together, we can create a world that doesn’t need a Shriver report about ‘women on the brink’ because women—all of our women—will have the opportunities they need to gain access to the American Dream.”

According to the report itself, “more than 7 in 10 Americans believe women play an essential role in the national economy;” our thousands of staff and volunteers are part of that majority. YWCAs across the country provide a wide range of services, programs, classes and more for women, to help them overcome the systemic barriers to economic empowerment and long-term financial stability.

Reports like A Woman’s Nation are wonderful for finding out the state of American women today, and to identify their needs on a national level. But what is the next step, after the report has been published and the media cycle is over? What women need is access to safety and support services like those provided by the YWCA. We will continue to help the many women and their families who are living on the brink through both direct service and legislative advocacy, and to encourage women to help each other. It is my hope that, as Ms. Longoria said, one day all of our women will be able to find opportunity and live their dreams.

Today is the last day to download A Woman’s Nation for free through Amazon. Let us know your thoughts on the report, and tune in right now to The Shriver Report LIVE for more from a long list of influential speakers.

This piece was cross-posted with permission from YWCA USA 

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