Standing room only available at women's issues forum

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To area residents who attended a forum on women's issues in Colorado, the fact that working women earn an average of 74.5 cents to every $1 men earn was unsettling but may not have come as complete surprise.

An event to convey statistics regarding women's issues to the community of Craig was attended by more than 80 women and men Wednesday morning. The Women's Foundation of Colorado co-sponsored the forum with Yampa Valley Partners to bring to light data recently released by the foundation. The data ranges from economic opportunities to education and health issues all pertaining to women in the state.

"The Women's Foundation was founded on the belief that women should be able to fully participate in society and enjoy economic stability," said Susan Larson, a member of the foundation's board of trustees. "We want to identify where we are today and what our challenges are and what the issues are for women. These issues vary from community to community. This foundation is the largest in the United States, and the only one in Colorado that is exclusively dedicated to women and girls."

The foundation focuses on the economic progress of women and girls throughout Colorado. A catalyst for social change since 1987, the foundation has invested more than $5.5 million and worked with more than 170 agencies in 70 communities to remove barriers and increase economic opportunities for women and girls. This is done through grants, research, community education programs and through its leadership in monitoring and analyzing the needs of women and girls in the state.

At the forum, the foundation granted $10,000 to Yampa Valley Partners to help continue the non-profit organization's efforts to research the needs of women and girls in the Yampa Valley, and to review data collected by gender.

"Yampa Valley Partners is very pleased to have the participation of the women's foundation because it allows us to continue the work of our indicator project and be more specific with some of the issues," Danner said. "I was so impressed with the turnout this morning. I'm very pleased with the enthusiasm with these women and girls issues."

Danner said the work has just begun on using the information released by the foundation.

"Some of the next steps will be to continue smaller forums of discussions, determine the issues, research the data and collect the data," she said. "This information is used by those groups that are already providing services for women and girls such as the Visiting Nurse Association and United Way. This is information to help them improve their programs. It's important to involve the local government and the school district as well, so that they can also make informed decisions regarding gender-based issues in our community."

Larson said statistics show that Colorado ranks high nationally in areas of education and wage median, but there is still work to be done to improve the economic status of women.

"We've made great strides in this state, and the percentages have increased dramatically over the years in the areas of education. But, an issue we really need to focus on is the fact that there is still a 25 cent wage gap between women and men performing the same job," she said. "That 25 cent wage gap equates to an average of $4,000 annually from women's to men's salaries and approximately $150,000 in the working lifetime of a woman. When we're trying to tackle issues in a community like affordable housing and childcare, it would make a huge difference if women had that parity with men."

Darcy Phillips is the intermountain coordinator for the foundation. She said she is ready to take the information the foundation has gathered and move forward.

"There is a real cause for celebration, concern and reflection here. We want to know what is keeping girls from fully participating in society," she said. "Although Colorado ranks high compared to other states, we still have a ways to go."

According to the foundation's status report, Colorado ranks fourth nationally in median annual earnings, 16th in political participation, 25th for family planning and 16th for health and well being.

Phillips said that Colorado ranks fifth nationally as one of the best places for women to live, although the median income in Colorado is $10,000 less than that for men. She said that employment opportunities in Colorado are great and that women in this state own 40 percent of businesses.

"Despite these great statistics, Colorado women are still earning 75 cents on the dollar compared to men. In addition, women have smaller savings, lower lifetime earnings and become more dependent on social security in their retirement years."

As for girls in Colorado, the foundation reported that, although Colorado girls score higher than the national average on college entrance exams, have an 83 percent high school graduation rate and score high nationally in the areas of physical fitness, they are more likely to contemplate suicide it's the third leading cause of death for Colorado girls and one-fourth of Colorado girls reported someone offered, sold or gave them illegal drugs on school property within the previous 12 months. One-third of high school girls say they have had at least five drinks in a row during a 30-day period. Additionally, 34 percent of children in Colorado live in poverty and up to 81 percent of Colorado's sexual abuse victims are girls.

Julie Baker, Moffat County High School assistant principal, said that this is of grave concern to her, not just for girls, but also boys in the Moffat County school system.

"The lack of parental support for children is what concerns me most," she said. "At the high school level, parental involvement is lacking. I don't want to sound negative or that I'm simply placing the blame on the parents, but the lack of involvement and support is there and I truly believe it's not solely due to a lack of interest but more the way our society is and the dynamics of the family structure. Our family structures are so non-traditional. Both parents work and after work they have to maintain a household that leaves little time for educational support."

The foundation is working to funnel money into Northwest Colorado for programs to improve the economic status of women. Larson said the organization plans to return to the area in the fall for another event that will take the gender-based educational process to a new level.

For more information on the Women's Foundation of Colorado or the Status Project, call (303) 832-8800, Ext. 10 or visit the Web site at www.wfco.org.

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