Top Blog Posts of 2012

An election, volunteering, a new logo, historic events, and opportunities to learn more about the needs and lives of women in our community. 2012 was a very busy year at Washington Area Women’s Foundation and much of it was captured on our blog. Here are our favorite blog posts of the year:

# 10: A Lot Left Unsaid at Presidential Debate Donna Wiedeman, executive assistant to the president of the Foundation, took the presidential candidates to task after the second debate when they failed to talk about Americans living in poverty and safety nets for low-income women and children.

#9: A New Look for The Women’s Foundation In this post, Foundation President Nicky Goren shared her excitement about unveiling our new logo and tagline, “Stand Together. So She Can Stand on Her Own.”

#8: The Women’s Foundation Supporters Volunteer on the MLK Day of Service Nearly 100 volunteers joined us as we helped A Wider Circle (a Foundation Grantee Partner) prepare donated items for families in poverty on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

#7: International Women’s Day – Celebrating the Impact of Women on the World Our Development Associate, Juliet Boye, shared how her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit in Ghana inspires Juliet’s work at the Foundation.

#6: Low-Income Women & Their Families Can’t Afford a Gender Wage Gap In this post, Nicky shared why working to “close the gender wage gap is part of ensuring that every woman and girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential and help her family and community thrive.”

#5: Food Stamp Challenge Foundation staff and other community members took part in the Food Stamp Challenge, spending a week learning how difficult it is to live on a food stamp budget – $30 per week. They reflected on the challenge in a series of blog posts.

#4: Closing the Achievement Gap for Students Begins Before Kindergarten After being extremely disappointed to learn about new educational goals for students based on race, I wrote to encourage educators to work on closing the achievement gap early on, so students and school districts won’t have to play catch-up later on.

#3: When the Clock is Ticking, Support Networks Become Lifelines for Working Parents Vice President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat wrote about support networks that make all the difference to moms trying to juggle work and family.

#2: Witness to Olympic History Nicky recalled fulfilling her lifelong dream of attending the Olympics and how exciting it was to witness women’s history at the 2012 Olympics in London.

#1: Walk in Their Shoes How does safe, reliable transportation impact low-income women and their families? Walk in the shoes of a single mom who showed us her shockingly long commute in this short video.

A Woman's Vote is a Woman's Voice

duty-poster-smallElection Day is almost here! Whether you’re preparing to celebrate or ready to cry from campaign exhaustion, I hope you’re going to take the opportunity to vote on November 6th. I’m always shocked and a little disappointed when a woman tells me that she’s not planning on voting. And then I break out my top five reasons for why she should:

5. 113-plus years of suffrage in the United States. For women, the road to the voting booth was long and arduous. Suffragists took on presidents, the states, Congress, law enforcement officers, and citizens who thought that a person could be unequal, unworthy and incapable of participating in elections, simply because she was a woman. For women of color and those living in poverty, the road to enfranchisement was even longer and tougher. Vote for hunger strikes and forced feedings. Vote for humiliation and bravery. Vote to honor the people who came before you and righted a wrong; vote to show those who will come after you that there is strength and power in casting a ballot.

4. Your vote DOES count. The Electoral College and the media calling races before the polls even close can make voting feel more symbolic than effective. But whether you live in a swing state or not, your vote will have an impact, particularly when it comes to local laws and policies. While the presidential election has overshadowed just about everything else, there are other races and initiatives to vote for. Click here to find out what’s on the ballot in DC, here to see what Marylanders are voting for, and here to see what’s on the ballot in Virginia. Vote because you care about what happens in your community.

3. Improve and increase resources for women and their families. Women – particularly single women raising children – remain more economically vulnerable, even as the country begins to recover from the recession. According to research from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), women were either breadwinners or co-breadwinners in most families. Yet, women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, earn 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, and low-income families are mostly headed by single mothers. “By voting, women can make sure our elected leaders prioritize investments that will help women and their families through hard times, expand opportunity, and strengthen the economy,” says NWLC. Vote because stronger, more resilient women create stronger, more resilient families and communities.

2. “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” —Susan B. Anthony

1. Your vote is your voice. Lawmakers listen to voters long after Election Day – it could be their key to getting re-elected in the future. Vote because you want to have a say in your future and in the community in which you live.

There are many, many other reasons to vote, but the ones I listed are what I’ll be thinking about on November 6th. Please share your own reasons in the comments below. And please, please make sure that you vote on Tuesday. To find out where your polling place is, click on your location: DC, MD, VA.

Images courtesy of the National Women’s Law Center.

A Lot Left Unsaid at Presidental Debate

pres debateI know a lot has already been written about what was said by both candidates at this week’s presidential debate, but I have to say, I’m more struck by what wasn’t said.  Has it become taboo for candidates to discuss poverty in America? Do both candidates really believe that beefing up educational opportunity is the panacea for addressing the plight of the one in six Americans living in poverty?  No discussion of safety nets. No discussion of the children who face food insecurity every day. No discussion of the increasing number of homeless families in America. No discussion of raising the minimum wage. Almost no discussion of quality child care options for low-income women.

In fact, Mr. Romney assured his supporters that the wealthy would continue to pay 60% of our country’s taxes while middle-class citizens would see their tax bills slashed. By my reckoning, that leaves only the poor to make up for what the middle-class is no longer burdened with. Is anyone else simultaneously outraged, puzzled, and incredulous at the thinking behind this?

President Obama, while chastising his opponent on his 47% gaffe, carefully mentioned only the “deserving” poor who fit into this category. Is he tacitly acknowledging that there are undeserving poor whom it’s actually okay to ignore?

I understand that these are politicians and the point of debates is to win votes. Knowing that both men employ very smart people who have researched just what messaging will resonate with voters, it concerns me that making sure as a society we are committed to taking care of our most vulnerable members doesn’t seem to be even a blip on the radar.

Donna is the executive assistant to the president at the Foundation.

SOTU Reflections: Giving All Women & Girls a "Fair Shot"

SOTU_Pres Obama 2012I, like many in the region, sat down to watch the President’s State of the Union speech last night.  It’s an annual event that always engenders much anticipation (at least among the media pundits, political junkies, and those living in and around our nation’s capital), and this year was no exception.  Many called it “the” campaign speech, kicking off the 2012 election cycle.  Just a day before the speech, the White House said that the President would “outline his vision for an America where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, where everyone does their fair share, and where everyone is held accountable for what they do.”  Economic fairness was lauded as this year’s theme.

As I listened to the speech, I thought about the work that we do at The Women’s Foundation and the intersection between the federal policies discussed and the reality that women and girls in our region face, and I was once again struck by the huge disconnect that we continue to see.

The theme of the speech—economic fairness—sounds quite simple and logical.  The President spoke about how his grandparents contributed to a post-World War II “story of success that every American had a chance to share – the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”  He called this “the defining issue of our time,” saying, “No challenge is more urgent.  No debate is more important.  We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.  Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”  Who can argue with that?  Hard to disagree with the logic, so why can’t we get there?

Ask anyone who is out in the community, working in the trenches, and they will tell you that it’s not easy. The issues facing our nation and our local community are incredibly complex and they didn’t just pop up overnight, which means that the solutions are not simple, one-dimensional responses, and the problems won’t be solved with a blink of the eye.

Take the President’s commitment to train people with skills that will lead directly to jobs and his call to cut through “the maze of confusing training programs.”  Sounds like a no-brainer — of course we should train people with skills that lead to jobs; but just this past week we were once again reminded why something that may seem intuitive isn’t.  WAMU aired a report investigating D.C.’s job training programs and detailed the disconnect between some of the programs that are receiving funding, the skill sets required for the jobs people were being trained for, and ultimately, the availability of these jobs.  The example cited was the 4,000 people trained to earn a Commercial Drivers License and the 90 people who were ultimately hired by metro, the region’s largest CDL employer. How can there be such a disconnect?

Additionally, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, released a resource map offering a snapshot of the city’s investment in workforce development over the course of one fiscal year.  The map details more than 30 programs and services across a dozen city agencies. It’s hard to imagine how someone could possibly navigate the system in the best of times, say nothing about the worst of times.

As we think about the worst of times and the state of our economy, the President rightly devoted a great deal of his speech to jobs.  And while he called for equal pay for women, the majority of the jobs-related portions of the speech focused on nontraditional jobs where women continue to be underrepresented and face numerous barriers to obtaining and retaining these jobs.  Isn’t it time that we give equal weight and value to ensuring women are paid equal wages for equal work?  Doesn’t that fundamentally fall into the economic fairness category?  Are we ok with telling our girls to work hard and get a good education only to be paid 77 cents on the dollar?

Calling on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18 is a commendable goal set forth by the President.  There is no doubt about the importance of graduating high school and pursuing post-secondary education and training.  Our research demonstrates the drastic earnings differential based on educational attainment. Women in this region who do not have a high school diploma earn just over $18,000 per year compared to women with a graduate or professional degree who earn over $70,000.

But it’s not quite as cut and dry as simply saying that we’ll require everyone to graduate. Are we prepared to tackle the myriad of issues that cause youth, particularly girls, to drop out of school?  Generational poverty, family unemployment, violence, and teen pregnancy are just a few of the laundry list of issues that are at the crux of drop-out rates.

So how do we get there? Last night, the President reminded us that “no one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.”  Well, there is no better time than now for our community to pull together to ensure that the Washington region is a model community where economically vulnerable women and girls have the resources to thrive.  Now is the time to work together toward innovative, multi-dimensional solutions that put women and girls on a path to prosperity.  Let’s break the disconnect.  Where would you start?

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

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Voters Should Choose Candidates With Philanthropy in Their Souls

election 2012 buttonUsually I’m not one to get into politics too deeply, but when I heard last month on the radio that a presidential candidate said that “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it is illegal.”  The candidate went on to say that poor children should work as janitors in their schools to build confidence and pride within themselves and their schools.  I had to find out who was behind this thoughtless comment. So I commenced to Google this statement and a Mr. Newt Gingrich came up.

As I started to read and learn more about him, I became weary of his perception of those living in communities that are more economically vulnerable than others because if this is how one addresses an issue in public, I’m scared to hear what he really thinks about these communities in private.  I will agree that this is a real life issue that needs to be mended but I truly don’t believe it should be done in the manner Mr. Gingrich is suggesting.  I don’t think his other plan of making an Apprentice reality show with Donald Trump using “very poor children” from in the New York City Public School system will make the issue any better either.

I’m glad to hear that Mr. Gingrich has noticed that there is a quality-of-life problem in those communities, but to address it in such a manner is (in my eyes) unacceptable.  Children should not be put to work before their time.  They need to be learning skills that will help them become honest, caring citizens that help contribute to the community. This can be done by having at least one person that cares in their lives; it might be a parent or someone that volunteers in a program that these impressionable children attend after school or on the weekend.  I’ve learned that if you plant a seed within a child it will indeed grow, it just depends on the person planting the seeds to harvest later in life. A child left to their own devices will learn by example and yes, unfortunately, in most economically vulnerable communities the bad apples are the role models that are easiest to access because they are always right outside the front door and the good apples take themselves out of that community and most often never return.

The election season officially kicks off in Iowa tonight and I hope that all voters – no matter what party they support – go to the caucuses and polls wanting the same thing: positive change and unity within all communities, whether they’re rich or poor.  And I hope that voters choose a candidate with a little philanthropy in his or her soul, not one who is looking just for fame and poll numbers.

Sequoia Williams is the office assistant at The Women’s Foundation.