New Project Intends to Empower Impoverished Women

Nationally, women are more likely than men to be living in poverty – and the situation is mirrored in the state of Arizona, particularly in southern Arizona counties.

And so a new initiative launched by the Southwest Institute for Research on Women is intended to address the issue of women in poverty at the most local of levels: with the women themselves.

Corey Knox, an assistant research social scientist with the UA institute known as SIROW, is developing five-week-long workshops for women who have been impoverished.

The empowerment and leadership-driven workshops are meant help the women become more actively involved in the systems that make decisions about their lives and communities, Knox said.

"The idea behind the project and the philosophy of the project is women must become community activists, leaders and organizers so they end up being their own best self-advocate," she said, noting that policymakers and organizations must become better aware of the experiences of these women when developing policy and programs. 

With funding from the UA Foundation to launch the project, SIROW is partnering with the Primavera Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Tucson that provides a range of programs and services meant to counter poverty and homelessness. A $9,200 grant for SIROW was funded through through the UA Foundation.

"The project will teach women how to advocate for themselves and Corey (Knox) will be working with them to increase their voices in terms of policy development," said Sally Stevens, the director of SIROW.

As part of the project, the women will learn about resources available to those who are impoverished while also figuring out about ways to become leaders in various sectors of the community. The participants will be taught how the government works, how poverty is measured and ways to more adequately support themselves and their families.

"It's about leadership and advocacy so that they can participate in conversations when decisions are being made about them," Stevens said. "It's a great project."

The project will involve women in transitional housing and shelter residents at the Primavera Foundation.

Knox said many of the women have children and are working full-time or are pursuing higher education degrees. She also noted that these women have been "traditionally marginalized from civic participation" and decision-making.

Another concern, and one of the reasons why the project was launched, is the condition of women living in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties. 

The education, economic and health-related conditions as well as the political involvement of those women were detailed in a SIROW report, "Indicators of Women's Health, Advancement & Involvement: Southern Arizona. The Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona released the report in April.

According to SIROW research, about 35 percent of families in Pima County in 2007 were headed by single mothers living in poverty. Comparatively, about 8 percent of married couples are living in poverty and 22 percent of single males are living in poverty, the institute noted.

The report detailed that fewer women in southern Arizona tended to have at least a bachelor's degree than men and also more likely than men to have less than a high school education.

Also, women make up more than half the workforce in southern Arizona, the report noted, but women generally make 77 percent of the men's median earnings. Also, women's earnings are increasing at a slightly slower rate than men, resulting in more of a wage gap between the years 2000 and 2006, and women tend to be uninsured at a slightly higher rate than men.

In the end, Knox said she hopes the women will be more involved in voting and voicing their opinions about proposed policy. She also hopes the project will lead to a model of action, engagement and leadership.

"By empowering people who have been oppressed and marginalized and by giving them the space to say ‘I am someone you need to listen to on this issue' is giving them their own self-leadership," Knox said.