Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Call To Action: Sobering Report on Women

The latest in Wendy's "A Call To Action" series...

Earlier this week my daughter and I attended a breakfast hosted by the Westchester Women's Agenda (WWA) in Westchester County, New York.  The WWA describes itself as "a feminist organization that serves as a strong voice for women in Westchester on legislative policy and program issues."  It's a coalition of nonprofits, volunteers and corporations which work together to advocate for common objectives.   

This week's agenda was the presentation of the "2016 Report on the Status of Women in Westchester."  Short summary, the status of women in Westchester isn't at all promising.  And we're talking about one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  This should concern you.

The meeting was kicked off with a gut-wrenching personal story from a woman who'd navigated Section 8 housing in our county.  She'd earned her living as a waitress (by the way, tipped workers in NYS can be paid as little as $7.50 per hour vs the state minimum wage of $15/hour) until she suffered a stroke.  After a long period of rehab, she landed a job as a caretaker, where she was abused.  She then moved to a women's shelter.  Month after month after month, her search for Section 8 housing was met with slammed doors, until finally someone gave her a chance and agreed to rent to her.  She told her story, not with anger or bitterness, but with gratitude.  Gratitude to the people who cared for her in rehab, at the shelter and finally as a landlord.  And she asked us to remember that we all need help in our lives at one time or another, that we don't know when that need will present itself, that what's desperately needed is something we all can give: kindness.

That's one person's story. Here are some of the eyebrow-raising statistics that serve as the backdrop for thousands of stories. 
  • Twelve percent of Westchester's children live in poverty.  Twelve percent.
  • The number of new cases of chlamydia in the county continues to rise dramatically each year.   In 2005, the chlamydia rate among Westchester women was 266 per 100000 people; by 2014, it has risen to 464 cases per 100000 people.  The trend for men is similar.
  • Depression is the most common clinical mental health diagnosis among women.
  • Men outnumber women in elected office within the county by 2 to 1.
  • Women fill only one-third of executive leadership positions in the largest seven corporations headquartered in Westchester.
  • Women continue to earn less than men for equal work. 

This is just a random sample of the data collected in the report.  What do these facts tell me?  First, the threat to funding for Planned Parenthood should have us all feeling very, very edgy.  Contrary to popular belief, Planned Parenthood’s primary role is as a health care provider, especially to the disadvantaged, and it is often their only option.  Chlamydia can affect a woman's ability to conceive; in 2014 Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York State tested more than 385,000 patients for sexually transmitted disease.  Despite this, chlamydia rates continue to rise.  Clearly, we need more of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, not less.  And very significantly, teen pregnancies have been declining in Westchester, a trend we're all happy to see. What do you think would happen without the sex education and contraceptive care provided by Planned Parenthood?

What else do these facts tell me?  Women need to run for elected office.  At every level.  Now.

What else?  Well, my daughter has just accepted a new job, to begin this summer.  When we left the WWA meeting, she immediately wondered out loud about how her salary compares to that of her male peers.  I wonder too. 

You can read the full status report here: 

So once again, I urge you to both analyze the stats and listen to the stories.  I urge you to both lobby your legislators at the local, state and national level and to get involved with a nonprofit where you live.  The need has always been deep, and the handwriting on the White House walls tells us that it's going to grow deeper.  The possibilities are endless.  Choose an issue that matters to you, get your dialing finger moving, and contribute your time and talent.

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