While there are more women are in the work force than ever before, they achieve higher levels of education than men, and own 28 percent of the businesses, women in North Carolina and in the nation as a whole continue to face challenges, such as a persistent wage gap, crippling childcare costs, and underrepresentation in politics.
On Oct. 11, local community members gathered at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists in Asheville to hear these and other findings presented by Dr. Cynthia Hess of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research at the rollout of the 2012 Status of Women in North Carolina report.
To many, the report is long overdue. It represents the first new data since the previous Status of Women report in 1996.
The report, which was conducted by the IWPR and the North Carolina Council on Women and sponsored by Wells Fargo, Women for Women, and MAHEC’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, contains data and analysis of critical issues in the lives of women in Western North Carolina, such as employment and earnings, economic security and poverty, health and well-being, and political participation.
“Even though there has been significant progress,” said Jennie Eblen, chair of Women for Women, “there are still women in poverty.” In North Carolina, 17 percent of women 18 and older live in poverty, in comparison with 13 percent of men.
In addition, “the wage gap remains significant,” said Marti Letson, former chair of Women for Women. “Women are making about $135 less than men per week.” Over the course of a lifetime, this accrues to a $280,000 difference. While the gap has closed, Eblen suggests that this is more due to men making less than women making more.
The Women for Women giving circle, an initiative of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, was invited to collaborate with the Council for Women on the research in part because of their regional focus.
“We feel like this is a great opportunity for us to support what the Council for Women was already planning to do statewide in the larger metropolitan areas,” Letson commented. “But our involvement has allowed IWPR to get much more detailed information about the rural counties.” The study targeted eight counties in Western North Carolina in addition to Buncombe County. “We chose to do that because of the higher poverty rates in rural counties,” further explained Eblen.
Women for Women conducts the majority of its giving through grants. “One of the main reasons that Women for Women decided to participate in the research was that we knew the information would be very important in how we proceed with our grants,” continued Eblen. To Eblen and Letson, this data will be essential in informing Women for Women’s decision-making and advocacy work, and will be used by other organizations and advocates for years to come.
Letson and Eblen emphasized the importance of being ready to advocate on behalf of women and girls, and that a key element in advocacy is apprising oneself of the issues and information at hand. “The most important thing that each of us can do is be informed of the issues,” suggested Letson.
Events such as the Oct. 11 rollout are key to bringing the attention needed to facilitate change. “We’re really excited by the heightened public awareness of women in this region,” Letson said, because although it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the progress made, there is still considerable work to be done to achieve equality across genders and racial and ethnic groups.
“When women thrive,” says Eblen, repeating an oft-cited mantra of Women for Women, “Families thrive and thriving families lead to thriving communities.”
For more information, visit Women for Women’s website at http://www.cfwnc.org/OurInitiatives/WomenforWomen/tabid/276/Default.aspx and for a summary of the report, visit http://www.councilforwomen.nc.gov/documents/publications/Status_of_Women_in_NC_Exec_Summary.pdf.