Fifty-one percent: the goal for women and girls

While a new report on the status of women and girls in eastern Connecticut will serve the region as a rich source of statistics, solutions and challenges, it is really an iron hand in a velvet glove. It comes with an agenda The Day heartily endorses: a coordinated philanthropic strategy for better lives for girls and women.

The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut has begun the rollout of the report, subtitled "A Catalyst for Action," to document where women of all ages stand in regard to health, education level, employment, financial stability and security from domestic violence. But the foundation, which operates Women & Girls Funds in four geographic areas, chose not to dwell on what it has accomplished since the founding of the first, the Southeast Area Fund, in 1999.

Rather, the report and public events introducing its findings focus on the effectiveness of a collective giving strategy — that is, a straightforward goal of girls and women of all ages doing better in all ways. It's that simple, and for almost two decades, givers have responded to it. The four funds together stand at $3.8 million and have distributed more than $1.7 million.

Now, faced with such predictions as an estimate of 2061 before white women have wage equality with white men, and even longer for minorities — baby girls born this year would be middle-aged — the foundation wants to focus community resolve and resources into females helping themselves. The goal is for women to set their sights on leadership roles, including political office and philanthropy, and to remedy the inequalities a lot sooner.

As President and CEO Maryam Elahi notes, true equality happens when 51 percent of a governing body is female.

The report lays out how eastern Connecticut women fare in terms of financial security, including the costs of child care for single parents in the workforce and the financial precipice walked by those who can't afford to save for a rainy day. It intersperses the data with stories about local organizations that help with both immediate needs, like diapers, and long-term ones, equipping women for better-paying, more secure jobs.

Each contributing element to girls' and women's potential for success — education and workforce development, empowering wellness and wellbeing, leadership and financial stability — comes with ingredients for conversations in the community. "Big questions" like "How can we engage young women to better understand the unique challenges and needs they have in persisting through higher education?" are paired with statistics like this one: 90 percent of girls in the region's class of 2016 graduated from high school within four years yet nearly 20 percent of women in New London and Windham/Willimantic lack a high school diploma.

With these go thought-provoking questions about the social norms that lead girls to narrow their career and personal options and society at large to accept disparity between men's and women's roles and compensation. The report builds up to its most fundamental questions of how to make women and girls healthier and safer, including reduction in teen pregnancies and safety from abuse.

Behind the report lies a quiet recognition that the Women & Girls Funds have proven effective at the first step of giving — offering a potential donor a cause to believe in — and that they can do even more. The volunteers who serve the four funds — Windham, Northeast and Norwich, in addition to Southeast — have decided they will continue to invest in one-to-one programs of mentoring and scholarships while also addressing public policy and social norms.

The deliberate choice to help individuals here and now but also to support large-scale changes is something to cheer. On March 8 the foundation will host a forum of women leaders from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Norwich Inn. There's a job here for anyone in the community who wants to make a short- or long-term difference, but especially for women. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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