Published in The Day on March 08, 2018 by Maryam Elahi On March 8, International Women’s Day, women around the world take stock of advancements and continued challenges to reaching full equity and equality with men. Experience demonstrates that greater representation of women in economic and political decision-making leads to the adoption of policies that promote the well-being of women, children, and families. As a result, communities prosper. Here, in the United States, in the last 16 months, women have been at the forefront of bringing attention to inequality and abusive behavior. And, more than ever, women are aiming to run for local, state and national political office. This year, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut commissioned DataHaven to conduct a study on the status of women and girls in eastern Connecticut to better understand the issues impacting women in the eastern third of the state. The findings provide us with a better sense of where to focus our limited resources and energy. Our study found that: Pay inequity for women is just as prevalent as elsewhere in the state; The population of women over 65 is projected to grow significantly over the next decade with needs that must be met; Many occupations remain gender segregated; While teenage pregnancy is lower in the state, in six towns in this region it has increased; Women suffer mental health conditions at a higher rate than men; Violence against women continues to be a major public health problem; Women of color are doing worse at all economic and educational levels; Increasing numbers of young girls are moving into STEM education, with greater opportunities at community colleges and increased prospects of employment at some of the larger corporations in the southeastern Connecticut; While young women are advancing in education, these achievements have not yielded greater economic equality in employment; Even with advances in education, one out of five women in Norwich and Willimantic still don’t have a high school diploma, which dramatically reduces their employment opportunities. The most striking figures were those concerning women and families living at or below the poverty level. In seven eastern Connecticut towns, more than 40 percent of households live in poverty. A large percentage are single mothers with children, women of color, and elderly women. One lost paycheck, a leaky roof, an automobile breakdown, a health-care crisis, etc. and a family can incur the kind of debt that results in homelessness. Child care and housing are the two largest expenses in this region — Connecticut is the 6th most expensive state for child care. These findings should serve as a call to action. We can and should do better in Connecticut and we must find the leadership and collective will to meet these challenges. Over the last 20 years or so, the Community Foundation has invested over $1.7 million in programs that empower women and girls. We are now focusing on strategic partnerships. We are convening major stakeholders in order to build a grassroots constituency to promote women’s advancement in our region. Today in Norwich, we are facilitating a conversation involving citizens, advocates, leaders, and experts, and we will continue to build on these gatherings. But our efforts will succeed only if all of the stakeholders in our state unite and embrace a statewide strategy. It is in our society’s best interests to promote equity for women and increased opportunities on all fronts for the state’s girls and young women. Community foundations, other funders, and nonprofits are beginning to work together on these issues, but wider participation is needed to bring about the desired changes. Connecticut politicians should seize this opportunity to protect the interests of our state’s most vulnerable populations. They can do much to provide better opportunities to working families, single mothers, and struggling youth by endorsing policies that support those who need a helping hand to succeed in this environment. By supporting pay equity, livable wages, paid family and medical leave, affordable childcare, and care for the elderly, lawmakers can help to make our state both more equitable and more prosperous. Our policies should protect and respect the elderly and provide our youth with the opportunities to rise to their greatest potential. We in the philanthropic community are rolling up our sleeves. Now is the time for the state’s elected leaders to join us. The quality of a society is determined by how it treats its most vulnerable. Maryam Elahi is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.