Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” tells us about women with vision; women who inspire us and encourage us to act beyond what society’s stereotypes and social assumptions say we can achieve.

But as we end this month’s celebration, let’s not lose sight of the millions of American women whose stories are tainted by poverty, homelessness and violence.

homelesswomanConsider some sobering statistics:

The United States has the largest number of homeless women among industrial nations, and the highest number on record since the Great Depression. Of the 42 million Americans living in poverty in 2011, 25 million, or 55% were women. 

Domestic violence is the most common reason women give for becoming homeless, with over half of women and children experiencing physical violence, and 92% of homeless mothers experiencing physical or sexual assault. To make matters worse, survivors of domestic violence experience discrimination when trying to secure housing—no one wants to deal with the legal hassle or potential threat of an abuser re-entering the life of a victim.

Women, at the intersection of society-wide income inequality, unequal wages and the wage gap, are more likely than men to lack economic security. 70% of single mothers working full time did not earn living wages, compared to 46% of single fathers. Research sponsored by Wider Opportunities for Women indicates that the biggest barriers to economic security for women are that they lack access to career paths that result in high-wage jobs and affordable housing options.

C-130 - First all female crewFemale veterans face challenges different from those of their male counterparts, including dealing with the psychological after effects of events such as military sexual trauma. 

Additionally, female vets are raising their children without full support because currently, services and benefits provided by the VA for female vets, such as housing reimbursements, are available for the veteran only, not for her children. 

While there’s much to celebrate, these bleak statistics are the untold stories woven through many American women’s lives. But policy makers are beginning to take notice.

Just last week, Secretary Julian Castro of Housing and Urban Development announced a new rule to expand protections for victims of domestic violence living in HUD-assisted housing. 

Also last week, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) joined Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would help close the wage gap between women and men working the same jobs. 

Let’s all work to provide women, veterans and civilians, with equal pay for equal work, and housing opportunities that are safe and affordable for them and their children. Our communities will be enriched by the economic empowerment of women, and we’ll all benefit from that.