At Chicago Foundation for Women, we invest in women and girls--and so should the City of Chicago. When women are safe, healthy and financially secure, they lead strong families and thriving communities. That's why, as the new mayor sets his or her agenda, the 1.6 million women and girls in Chicago must be a key part of it. We urge the next mayor to act on these five priorities quickly and decisively.
1. Increase job opportunities for women so they work their way out of this recession and lift up their families and communities. The problem: Women's unemployment recently hit a 27-year high. In November it was 8.4 percent -- and a whopping 13.6 percent for single mothers. The solution: Offer more city contracts to woman-owned businesses and look for skilled tradeswomen -- not just tradesmen -- to work on stimulus-funded projects like the "green" retrofitting of buildings.
2. Ensure that more young women graduate from high school by making school a safe and healthy environment for young women and LGBTQ youth. The problem: Workers without high school diplomas face lower employment and lifetime earnings, and the gender gap is wide -- women earn 60 percent less than their male counterparts. Bullying and dating violence can cause young women and LGBTQ youth to miss classes, drop out or -- in the worst cases -- take their own lives. Plus, young mothers are "pushed out" of school when child care or health issues cause repeat tardies or absences. The solution: Prioritize input from parents and students, especially LGBTQ youth and survivors of violence, about public school policies and programs, from on-site child care to anti-violence curricula.
3. Improve police response to domestic violence. The problem: According to the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network, about 70% of domestic-related calls to Chicago police never even result in police reports -- let alone charges. The solution: The police department must improve training for officers on how to respond to women's complaints of violence. The next mayor must also ensure that police respond efficiently and sensitively to reports of elder abuse, stalking, and human trafficking.
4. Continue to push innovative responses to the sex trade. The problem: In the Chicago metropolitan area, between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls are regularly engaged in the prostitution industry, and a majority of them started before the age of 18. Women involved in the sex trade are much more frequently arrested, prosecuted and jailed than the pimps and johns who control and profit from the sex trade. The solution: The mayor should build upon Chicago's momentum by offering alternative sentencing and services for women and girls of all ages arrested for prostitution-related crimes. This not only reduces recidivism, but it also allows more resources to be directed toward pursuing the demand side of the equation: johns, pimps and traffickers.
5. Transform the city into a model employer for women by creating and enforcing policies that keep women safe, healthy and productive. The problem: The city has tens of thousands of employees, including thousands of teachers, support staff and human service providers who are mostly women. The solution: Keep women in mind when creating benefit packages. Provide affordable child care, on-site when possible; ensure that city health plans cover a full spectrum of reproductive health, including abortion services; and offer paid sick leave for all workers, so they don't spread disease and can care for sick relatives. In addition, proactively investigate allegations of sexual harassment, unequal pay or workplace discrimination and take appropriate action.
Chicago Foundation for Women joins with community-based nonprofit organizations across Chicago in asking for these steps. If the next mayor throws her or his weight behind the work of neighborhood groups, policy advocates and human service providers, these common-sense solutions will keep our communities safe, just and healthy.
Follow K. Sujata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChiFdn4Women