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Vail Valley Voices: Women work hard to achieve

Pamela Smith
Vail, CO, Colorado

I was pleased to see Lou Schultz’s call to action in his recent “Valley Voices” commentary. I want to assure Lou and the folks in the Vail Valley that there is a lot of action — and many stellar leaders — working to empower women and girls in our community, state and world.

Nearly 400 people, including boys and men like Lou, attended “Miss Representation” last week at the Vilar Center. The purpose of this film is to raise awareness and to spur action regarding the misrepresentation of women and girls in the media.

The dozens of examples in the film show us that we still have a long way to go before women are afforded equal respect and status in our culture. I encourage you to visit the Miss Representation website, http://www.missrepresentation.org.

There you will see that there has been a great deal of follow-up after the film was released last year, and continues to be. Anyone who signs up to “Take the Pledge” gets a weekly email with a new tactic to fight stereotyping in the media. It’s actually one of the few organizations I know that have gone to this length and detail to put words into action.

As a longtime advocate for women’s empowerment, I monitor progress through blogs, memberships and an extensive network of fellow activists. I am currently a member of the Board of Trustees of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, whose mission is to build resources and lead change so that every woman and girl in Colorado achieves her full potential. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, along with an organization I co-founded, The Women’s Foundation of Hong Kong, are both members of an umbrella organization of women’s foundations around the world (over 160 of them), called The Women’s Funding Network. Visit http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org.

We are all part of organized efforts around the world to amplify the voice of women and girls.

Lou rightfully called upon The Women’s Foundation of Colorado to lead the charge on behalf of women and girls in Colorado. We’re on it! Last year, our board launched an ambitious strategic plan to be the voice of women and girls in Colorado. Our slogan: Be bold. Think big. Stay focused. Accomplish more.

One of the components of our plan is to undertake a significant statewide engagement project. I am helping lead this effort. We are in the midst of a dramatic technology upgrade that will enable us to reach out to various constituencies across the state to energize, inform and motivate them, and most importantly, to amplify their voices.

We will have so many more interactive capabilities in just a few months. Please visit http://www.wfco.org.

In 2013, we plan to hold a statewide summit of women and girls. We have been responsible for significant research on the status of women and girls in our state and continue to be committed to that. Our public policy work changes the systems that create barriers to women’s economic self-sufficiency. Our strategic grant-making has infused almost $10 million into 180 agencies in 150 communities statewide.

As part of our statewide engagement, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado is in the middle of a 10-stop listening tour around the state. The Vail stop is on March 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Singletree Community Center.

Anyone can register on our website, http://www.wfco.org. We welcome a broad demographic, including men, women, high school and college-age students, non-profit organizations and their clients, elected officials, school representatives, etc.

We hope to fill the room with up to 100 people! We’ll be using touchpad technology and small group discussion and we would love to hear the various perspectives in our community on how women and girls can reach their full potential. Significant quantitative annual research will follow on the heels of this listening tour.

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado has an active local group here in the Vail Valley. On Aug. 3, we will host our fifth consecutive annual summer luncheon to raise funds and raise awareness on the most serious issues facing women and girls.

This year’s speaker is Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the writer and director of “Miss Representation.” We expect nearly 600 attendees and we welcome a diversity of attendees!

The Women’s Foundation’s Denver luncheon will continue the conversation with over 2,000 attendees on Sept. 21. The keynote speaker is featured in “Miss Representation.”

Locally, many organizations are walking the talk. Last year, Red Canyon High School sent four girls — one of whom was a delegate — to the United Nations’ 55th Council on the Status of Women in the World. Walking Mountains Science Center hosts the Girls in Science program, exposing them to career possibilities that will catapult them beyond self-sufficiency. The Bright Future Foundation has a self-sufficiency initiative. The Literacy Project has an ESL and parenting project for mothers of pre-schoolers. The Youth Foundation’s Girl PowHER program is intended to keep girls in school and encourage them to go to college.

All of these programs were supported financially by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado last year.

The Girl PowHER program is the brainchild of local philanthropist Amanda Precourt. This program has received funding from The Women’s Foundation of Colorado as part of a statewide pilot project to test whether engaging girls in sports has an impact on their academic performance and keeps them in school. (Early data shows that it does.)

In the school year 2009-10, 6,000 girls dropped out of school in Colorado. This is unacceptable. According to our research, it takes a salary of $55,994 for a single mother to support one preschooler. In Eagle County, the average salary for women 16 and over is $31,514. The average female high-school dropout earns $12,110 (compared with $26,818 for male dropouts). This, also, is unacceptable.

Lou is absolutely right about the underrepresentation of women in elected positions. Luckily, Colorado leads the nation in the highest percentage of women legislators (41 percent), but in our U.S. Congress, only 16.8 percent are women. This puts the United States at 78th place in the world, tied with Turkmenistan!

We encourage any woman with an inkling of running for office to contact The White House Project at http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado has funded this non-partisan organization, which trains women to become leaders in business, politics and the media.

I am grateful to Lou for speaking out. I have long felt that we will never change the status quo unless we include men in the conversation, and unless men defend the rights of women as equal partners in creating a more equitable and vibrant society.

Can more be done? Absolutely! I hope Lou’s article and mine stir more than a few souls!

Pamela Smith is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado and lives in Cordillera.


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