International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. We have much to celebrate today, but progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places.
The parity issues faced around the world can be seen right here in our community. Single motherhood and lack of a college degree are two of the strongest indicators of poverty. In 2009, one in 5 babies born within the five metro Atlanta counties was born to a mom still in high school or without a diploma. One in five of those moms has a second baby before age 20. Seventy-five percent of unmarried mothers are under 30, and only 7% have finished college. The relationship between women and girls’ education and poverty are reflected in the five metro Atlanta counties, where between 26% and 36% of single female-headed households live below the poverty rate.
A 2012 study, conducted by The Schapiro Group for AWF, found that nearly half of the girls living in parts of the Metro Atlanta area were much less likely to finish high school; and only 40% of those who did graduate were eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, which could make college an affordable goal for many families. The importance placed on education in families struggling financially may not be as immediate as the importance assigned by middle and upper-middle-class families, even though this education will yield greater long-term stability. Also, not only is formal education critical, but informal education from family, friends, and neighbors also has a serious impact on young women. Girls often learn their place in the world and their role in society as they see other people represent it. Positive messages outside the classroom are just as important as success in school.
In the workplace, one of the biggest reasons for the parity gap is because women are much more likely to leave employment to take care of a child or family member in much higher rates than men. In a 2014 Shriver Report, 96% of single working mothers said paid family leave would be the best workplace reform. Women are economically penalized for fulfilling the caretaker role while often lacking family and employer support. In a 2015 report prepared for AWF by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, it was shown that effective state child care assistance is an important solution to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Women who are not trying to balance their work schedule around uncertain child care can take full-time, gainful employment with more opportunity for advancement, leading to economic self-sufficiency. Additionally, children who receive quality early childhood care and education are more likely to succeed in school, all the way through higher education. Georgia is currently ranked 46 out of 51 in child poverty, but programs that benefit entire families by lifting up women can be a solution for these children as well as for their parents.
The Atlanta Women’s Foundation is working hard to help remove the barriers that working women living in poverty face, such as a lack of reliable transportation and affordable child care. Please commit to take action to accelerate gender parity… join us and #PledgeForParity!