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Women: A Year in Review

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As we near the end of 2010, I am taking stock of both the setbacks and highlights women have encountered in the past twelve months. After reviewing the year's news headlines and latest statistics, I've compiled a list of what I believe to be the most significant events impacting women and families in our community this year.

Setbacks

1. In the last two years, the number of Chicago families living in poverty has risen from 40 to 45 percent. And for women-headed households, the situation was even worse - 29 percent of households headed by white women with children live in poverty, compared to 43 percent of African-American women and 46 percent of Latina women.

2. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 75 percent of future jobs will require the use of computers in a significant capacity, with 60 percent of current jobs requiring information technology skills. Yet fewer than 33 percent of students in computer courses and related activities are female, with girls comprising only 17 percent of high school students taking AP exams in computer science. Women now make up over half the workforce, but account for less than 22 percent of working scientists, engineers, and computer professionals.

3. Our elected officials have yet to create a budget that addresses the state deficit yet funds social services for women, children and families. As of today, our state faces a $13 billion budget deficit potentially leaving our most vulnerable citizens with under-funded social services and support systems.

4. Out of all the candidates currently running for mayor of Chicago, only one is a woman. When women enter public life, they are more likely to sponsor policies that focus on what women need: health care, economic stability, education, housing, child care, anti-violence legislation, etc. The Center for American Women and Politics found that, when asked, women legislators are more likely to identify as top priorities women's rights, health care and policies benefiting children and families more than their male counterparts. Without more women running for public office, the stability of our communities and families falters.

Highlights

1. In July, Illinois became the first state to require testing of every single rape kit gathered from reported sex crimes. Under this new law, investigating law enforcement agencies are required to submit all evidence of sexual assault to the crime lab within 10 days of receiving it from a hospital. This ensures that evidence is analyzed in a timely fashion, which will help with the prosecution of perpetrators.

2. This August, Gov. Quinn signed into law the Safe Children Act, which protects minors from being criminally tried for prostitution and instead places them in the care of child protective services. The average age an American girl is first trafficked into the commercial sex industry in the U.S. is 12 years old. This law will help childhood victims of sexual trafficking receive the support services they need and help prevent further abuse.

3. In the November elections, women comprised 53 percent of the electorate. While I always encourage all men and women to vote, it's encouraging to see that women were in the majority of those committed to making their voices heard.

4. On both a national and local level, women reached historic milestones in public office. With Elena Kagan's appointment, we now have three women serving on the Supreme Court. And in Chicago, Toni Preckwinkle became the first African-American female to be elected as Cook County board president.

5. While 1 in 4 women in Chicago are uninsured and 45 percent of women in the U.S. are uninsured or underinsured, the health care reform act signed this year by President Obama promises a better health care landscape for women in 2014.

While there are events worth celebrating, it's clear we are still a long way from a community in which the needs of women and families are a priority. As the leader of an organization serving over 138,000 women, children and families annually, I am committed to making positive change in 2011. One of our mottos at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is "strong alone, fearless together." I truly believe that by educating people on the issues affecting women and families, we will build a community of citizens dedicated to social change. As you begin to think about your goals for the coming year, I hope you will consider joining me in this endeavor.