Support Women. Strengthen Arkansas.
In the 1940s, a film called Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet conveyed the story of a physician seeking breakthrough cures for chronic diseases which had deteriorated into urgent societal problems.
While our collective use of the adage "there's no such thing as a silver bullet" probably has much earlier roots, it became more common after the film debuted. Today, we generally believe there is no all-encompassing cure for widespread problems affecting society.
However, on the challenge of initiating real change in the world, there is indeed a silver bullet: the education of women.
No work of charity can be more productive of good to society...than the careful instruction of women; because, whatever be the station they are destined to fill, their example and their advice will always have great influence.
~ Catherine McAuley, Founder , Sisters of Mercy, Ireland (1778 - 1841)
When a woman is educated, it elevates the entire family; and it's one of the fastest ways to resolve many of the ancillary problems facing communities.
When a woman is educated, she is less likely to have children before the age of twenty and to spend the rest of her life clawing her way toward gainful employment and the quality of life she and her family deserve.
When a woman is educated and can read, she can better understand health issues and make smart decisions as a consumer.
When a woman is educated, she gains confidence and is more capable of taking care of herself and her children – making a substantial dent in issues of domestic violence.
In the family, women make the majority of purchasing and health decisions. Women determine nutritional standards and invest their earnings back into their families. Women raise men.
Indeed, when women win, we all win.
In Arkansas, we face significant challenges related to education, economic development, and health. Each can stand alone as worthy of our singular focus, but to make even incremental progress we must remember they are deeply entwined. The education of women directly correlates to issues of health and economics.
On the issue of health, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative has taken bold steps to identify actionable ways to cure health challenges across the United States. The Central Arkansas Blueprint for Health takes aim directly at the chronic health issues facing Arkansas and makes a simple but compelling assertion: better health is contagious.
On the issue of economics, the Women's Foundation of Arkansas has begun to take hold of the idea that poverty is not a problem – it's a symptom. No physician would diagnose a sneeze, and yet we attack poverty like a contagious disease rather than a symptom at large. We must remember that poverty flees where education is rampant.
No tool for development is more effective than the empowerment of women. This one thing can do more to address extreme poverty than food, shelter, health care, economic development, or increased foreign assistance.
~ Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General (2007)
Tragically, educating women is not a problem we can fix with the speed at which a bullet travels. It is a long, slow, tireless attack against the encroachment of a deadly epidemic, and many barriers persist.
Today, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, in partnership with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, is releasing three milestone reports:
- Our Common Journey: Linking the Educations of Women and Girls and Arkansas’s Economic Transformation
- Voices of Women: Perceptions of the Status of Women in Arkansas
- Delivering Better Education: The Impact of Teen Pregnancy and Birth on Education in Arkansas
The reports underscore one inarguable fact: if we educate women, it will be the single fastest way to resolve many of the problems affecting our state.
Educating women is the silver bullet for social issues in Arkansas.
We had to make the case to the whole world that creating opportunities for women and girls advances security and prosperity for everyone.
~ Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State (2013)
Bethany Stephens worked for 14 years in nonprofit organizations and for the largest chamber of commerce in Arkansas in capacities including tourism, advertising, marketing and promotion as well as community and economic development. She serves on the statewide board of directors for the Women's Foundation of Arkansas, is a member of Leadership Arkansas Class IX and obtained her IOM (Institute for Organizational Management) designation through the United States Chamber of Commerce. Her writing has been featured in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and magazines including Arkansas Life, Celebrate Arkansas, At Home in Memphis and Edible Ozarkansas as well as many websites and blogs. Beth lives with her husband Fred and their daughters Sophie and Ainsley in historic downtown Rogers.
For the past year, WFA board member, Dr. Lee Lee Doyle and I have had the honor of sitting on the Interim Study Committee assembled by Rep. Kathy Webb. This committee was tasked with gathering data on the social and economic status of women in Arkansas. This past week, Lee Lee, Dr. Sarah Beth Estes, Kathy Webb and I presented the report to the City, County and Local Affairs Committee of the State Legislature. I must say that the report was well received. We are hopeful that our recommendations will be seriously considered and that actions will be taken because of them. For this week's blog, I thought I'd offer my "piece" of the presentation to the Committee - Education. Thank you, Kathy, for including me - and WFA - in this process!
Madame Chair, Mr. Chair, Members. My name is Lynnette Watts, Executive Director of the WFA, and chair of the subcommittee on education. Thank you for this opportunity.
I would like to introduce the members of our subcommittee: Representative Johnnie Roebuck, Kae Chatman, Rita Fleming, Tammy Harris, Sharl Hill, Melissa Rust, Jane Gray Todd, Hilary Trudell, Jean Wallace, and Barbara Yarnell.
Education is fundamental in breaking the cycle of poverty and achieving economic security for women in Arkansas. An educated woman improves her chances of moving out of poverty, of participating in the labor market and of entering the workforce. When women have greater employment prospects and higher wages, state government saves on expenditures on public support programs and at the same time sees increased tax revenue.
In assessing the status of women in education, our subcommittee addressed issues in women's high school and college completion rates, women's faculty and leadership roles in higher education institutions,the link between women's education and their job opportunities,and the educational opportunities for incarcerated women. We were also tasked with looking at the issue of human trafficking in Arkansas.
In 2009, the National Center for Educational Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences reported that Arkansas ranks 38th in the nation with a female high school graduation rate of 77.3 percent. What this number illustrates is: 1 in 4 young women do not complete their high school education. Of the students who dropped out of school in the class of 2010, 47 percent were female. According to the Alliance for Excellence in Education, if we could keep that 47 percent in school, Arkansas would see $42M in increased earnings, $33M in increased spending , and as much as $3.5M in increased tax revenue. Thirty-seven percent of these graduates would likely continue on to pursue some type of post-secondary education.
In today's economy, not having a college education can lead to fewer job opportunities and lower potential for economic security. According to research compiled by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, only 19 percent of all Arkansas women have a college education of four years or more, ranking us 50thin the nation. This low statistic is unsettling because - as Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families points out in their report The State of Working Arkansas - "a college education continues to be the key to earning higher wages in Arkansas."
Opportunities are greatest for women who earn a bachelor's degree or higher. A recent analysis by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce tells us that 61 percent of Arkansas's jobs will require post-secondary education by 2018. Between now and then, Arkansas will need to fill over 400,000 vacancies - one half of which will require post-secondary credentials.
Two of the many factors impacting a woman's decision in pursuing post-secondary education and/or in choosing a career field of study are access to athletic scholarships and encouragement in the study of science, technology, engineering or mathematics - or STEM. Public records clearly indicate that male athletes in Arkansas receive more scholarships - both full and partial - than female athletes. Data also show that more males participate in inter-collegiate sports in Arkansas than females. I will quickly add that all of Arkansas colleges and universities are in compliance with Title IX requirements. However, what is not included in these numbers are the number and size of scholarships awarded to male and female athletes by alumni foundations.
Current data from Arkansas colleges and universities illustrate that participating in sports has a significant impact on women athletes' college retention rates. In Arkansas, women show higher retention rates during their first three years of athletic participation/study as compared to male athletes. Higher grades, higher levels of academic support and effective coping strategies all improve a student athlete's chance of remaining at the same school and completing her education.
The question of what subjects young women are encouraged to study is important in determining the jobs that Arkansas women eventually pursue or fall into. In a 2011 report from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the authors state that increasing the number of bachelor's degrees, especially in the critical STEM fields must be a priority if Arkansas is to make the transition to a knowledge-based economy. According to Change the Equation, only 29 percent of Arkansas women received degrees or certificates in STEM fields in 2009. A review of data provided by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education detailing disciplines of Arkansas graduates for the past five academic years, bears out this data: the ratio of men to women is 6:1 in engineering, 5:1 in computer science and technology, and 4:1 in physics.
In assessing the status of women in education we also looked at the positions held and salaries earned within the education system. In looking at job opportunity and pay equity within education, we suggest that more leadership training for women is needed to aid in encouraging them to aspire to and secure leadership positions within their fields. A sampling of Arkansas higher education institutions reveals that most campuses do not offer leadership courses specifically targeted for female students. Only two programs were found to focus solely on women. A pilot program to bolster retention at University of Arkansas at Little Rock hosted a program in women's leadership. And, at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, a Commission on Women was recently established.
While women are making gains in achieving an education, they
continue to hold far fewer leadership positions throughout the system. In
2009-2010 K-12 education, women made up 38 of the 202 superintendents. Not only
was the number of women in this position lower, but the median salary for these
women was more than $2,000 lower than their male counterparts. In higher education, women hold 38 percent of all faculty positions
in Arkansas but are more apt than men to fill part-time and adjunct positions. Data
collected found that of the 34 individuals occupying Chancellor or President
positions in two- and four- year institutions, just six were women. Dr. Ellibee's
hiring at Pulaski Tech brings that number to seven.
Among the positions of
Provost, Vice President, and especially, Dean, the number of women is
increasing.However, women continue to receive unequal pay for equal work in
the university setting. At the Chancellor/President level, the average salary
for women is over $50,000 lower than the average salary for men. Female Chairs,
on average also receive more than $50,000 less than men. For
faculty, the average female wage is $11,000 less than males.One cost-saving measure that education of women offers our state
can be achieved by lowering the recidivism rate of formerly incarcerated women.
Research tells us that the average grade level of women entering prison is 8th grade.
Further research shows us that of the women who graduate with a GED while in
prison, 85 percent do not return to prison. This rate
increases to 98 percent
if the woman receives an associate's degree. It is easy to see that investing
in education for incarcerated women could translate into significant
On the subject of human trafficking (for sex or labor), our main
findings are: human trafficking is conducted within our
state and currently no system is in place to gather data on it. The federal
definition of sex trafficking or human trafficking is the act of forcing or
coercing someone into the commercial sex trade against his or her will. Arkansas's
definition requires proof of force, fraud or coercion - even
when minors are involved in a commercial sex act.
Addressing human trafficking involving minors is a
challenging problem for Arkansas. All minors involved in the commercial sex
industry should be recognized as victims instead of prosecuted for offenses
related to their victimization, including prostitution. Currently there is no
mechanism in the state to take minor victims of trafficking (domestic or
international) into custody, other than through the juvenile justice system. This
victimizes the minor yet again and places her/him in an environment that offers
little restorative support.
Recommendations from our sub-committee are numerous but all are
worthy of review and your careful consideration. I'd like to mention a few.
- We stress the need
for more gender-based research and reporting in order to identify factors that
affect female and male students differently.
- We see a need for a keener focus on STEM fields, encouragement of women's sports, and inclusion of women's history - throughout the K-12 spectrum.
- School accountability for dropouts MUST be increased and interventions put in place to turn around low graduation rates.
- Local school boards should increase the number of women appointed as principals and superintendents; the ADHE and higher education institutions should increase emphasis on recruitment of women in all areas, and, women should be encouraged to seek appointments to the governing boards of higher education institutions.
- Educational opportunities need to continue
within the women’s prison system
Within human trafficking, the state definition should be changed
to reflect the federal definition. All minors involved in the commercial sex
industry should be recognized as victims instead of prosecuted for offenses.Supports and
systems within the state must be capable and prepared to address the needs of
trafficking victims. And a plan for mandatory training for law enforcement regarding
human trafficking should be developed and implemented and public awareness and
education about human trafficking should be improved.
Thank you, again, for this opportunity. I'd like to close by quoting Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy who operate Mount St. Mary here in Little Rock. She said, "no work of charity can be more productive of good to society, or more conducive to the happiness of the poor, than the careful instruction of women, since whatever be the station they are destined to fill, their example and their advice will always possess influence."
In times like these - when we're swamped with details
for TWO major events (throw in a board retreat for fun!), it is wonderful to
have guest bloggers to fill in for me! A big thank you goes out to
Bethany Stephens, once again, for writing an inspirational blog for WFA. Hope
to see you all at one of our Power of the Purse luncheons!
There is a program called Arkansas CARES (an initiative of Methodist Family Health) that operates with a simple premise: when you educate mothers, you educate children.
Lynnette shared a story of a thirty-four year old woman with a twenty year track record of substance abuse. She had two young children between the ages of one and four and was enrolled in parenting classes through the Arkansas CARES program. As she used GED software to further her education, she made a surprising discovery: she learned that she was smart and that she liked to learn. She said that she learned you need education to do anything.
The woman shared that she grew up in a home where education was not important, and nobody cared if she missed school. "My girls will go to school, and they will not be allowed to skip."
The Women's Foundation of Arkansas believes this simple fact: If you want to better your community, educate women.
The Clinton Foundation has said the same thing (Increasing education opportunities for women and girls may limit global-population growth), as has Nobel Peace laureate and world change agent Kofi Annan, who says:
"Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential."
Source: Architects of Peace Foundation
Bethany Stephens serves on the Northwest Arkansas Women's Advisory Council. She is a marketing, PR, social media and writing consultant and supports the Women's Foundation of Arkansas through two small firms: Magpie Marketing and Porch Swing Marketing. She serves on the leadership team for Arkansas Women Bloggers - a site focused on gathering, growing and connecting women founded by Stephanie Buckley and cultivated by Stephens, Buckley and Julie Kohl. Stephens is passionate about partnering with the WFA to cultivate and launch a women's voices project to capture the stories of female leaders, entrepreneurs and ordinary heroines. Let us know if you'd like to be involved! Beth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.