The Washington Area Women’s Foundation is focusing a new light on the strengths, challenges and issues that women and girls in the D.C. metro area face with the recent release of its “2010 Portrait of Women and Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” and Trinity students and faculty played a key role in shaping the report. The new report provides a clear picture of the current status of women and girls in the region and will serve as a critical tool for policymakers, community-based organizations and funders for years to come.
The report focuses on several key areas, including economic security and poverty; education, training, employment and earnings; housing; health and well-being; violence and safety; and leadership and philanthropy.
As part of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation Portrait project, Trinity faculty and students developed six community-based research projects during the fall 2009 semester to provide qualitative data to complement the report’s quantitative data. Community-based research is a participatory teaching and learning pedagogy that engages students with their communities to understand and find solutions to pressing community needs. A total of 92 Trinity students enrolled in six courses (in sociology, philosophy, psychology, literature and communication) conducted 119 in-depth interviews and one focus group.
The community-based research projects conducted by Trinity students focused on: health and wellness and experiences of violence; domestic violence; challenges and opportunities of college education for single mothers; nursing students’ perceptions of leadership; women leaders in the region; and women’s leadership and philanthropy.
All of the quotes that appear in the Washington Area Women’s Foundation report are from the interviews conducted by Trinity students. One of the quotes featured in the report is from a woman who said, “My daughter motivates me to finish college because if she sees what her mother has done then she will probably follow in my footsteps.” Another woman quoted in the report said in her interview, “The word leadership… means being a positive role model, setting an example, leading by example.” “My education is the second most important thing in my life, other than my son,” said another woman quoted in the report. “I want to be someone that my son will look up to and respect when he gets older, so I want to have a strong knowledge base … But I also do it for myself, I want to live my life aware of the world, and have [the] … opportunity to get a good job, [and] start my own business. I can’t do any of that without an education.”
The report highlights a number of strengths among women in the region. For example, women’s educational attainment in the region is very high, with half of all women in the region having earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree. In addition, women are strong contributors to the regional economy, with 72 percent of Latinas, 71 percent of African American women, and 66 percent of Asian and 66 percent of white women participating in the labor market.
However, the report also documents significant challenges for women in the Washington region. For example, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of women in the region have no education or training beyond high school. Significantly, 13 percent of African American women and girls and 14 percent of Latinas in the region live below the federal poverty line and D.C. has exceptionally high poverty rates for African American women and girls at 26 percent and for Latinas at 21 percent. In addition, women-headed households with children are especially likely to be poor: more than one in five in the region is poor (21 percent) and, in D.C., the rate is 37 percent. This same family type in the region is more likely than other families to have unaffordable housing – nearly two-thirds have housing that is unaffordable. These families face additional challenges: The cost of full-time, center-based infant care is 52 percent of the median income of a single mother with young children in D.C., and is more than one-third of the average annual income of a single mother in Maryland and Virginia. The report cites specific examples of programs in the region that help women overcome the barriers to success.
Trinity received a grant from the Washington Area Women’s Foundation to conduct the interviews. Dr. Roxana Moayedi, associate professor of sociology, coordinated the project and Dr. Elizabeth Child, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, provided overall support. Faculty who participated in the project were: Dr. Diane A. Forbes Berthoud, associate professor of communication; Dr. Deborah Harris-O’Brien, associate professor of psychology; Dr. Deonne Minto, assistant professor of English; Dr. Carlota Ocampo, associate professor of psychology; Dr. Jamey Piland, associate professor of communication; and Dr. Minerva San Juan, associate professor of philosophy.