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From Domestic Violence to Equal Pay, Miami Women Face Barriers to Equality

Participants at Miami's Women's March in 2017.
Participants at Miami's Women's March in 2017.
Michele Eve Sandberg
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From winning the right to vote and entering the workforce to shattering a few glass ceilings and declaring International Women's Day as March 8, women have made tremendous strides in gaining equality. But there's still a long way to go.

That's according to the Women's Fund Miami-Dade, which has identified key issues preventing Miami women from achieving full equality.

"We [focus on] areas we must build on to advance women and girls both locally and nationally," Kathy Andersen, executive director of Women's Fund Miami-Dade, says. "We've served about 75,000 women and girls since we began 26 years ago."

The nonprofit, which last year celebrated its silver anniversary, has supported almost 500 programs through funding of close to $4 million over the past 25 years. The problems the organization specializes in are diverse, ranging from sex trafficking to equal pay. But they have one thing in common: All affect the lives of women living in Miami-Dade County.

In October 2018, the fund tackled domestic violence because "one in three women locally and nationally will experience it," Andersen says. The campaign took over Metrorail stops and bus shelters and posted billboards emblazoned with the help line to report domestic violence "because our community needs to know what number to call."

November's focus was homelessness. The fund works with the Homeless Trust to assist mothers, LGBTQ youth, and women without homes.

Mental health and suicide were the issues in December, because suicide is the second leading cause of death in girls and young women aged 10 to 24. "Girls are attempting suicide at twice the rate of boys," Andersen says.

Sex trafficking was the focus this past January and February. Digital billboards throughout the tri-county area and a bus wrap in Miami Beach read, "Stolen for sex: This could be your daughter." The statistics are disturbing: Andersen cites a finding that 67 percent of the sex-trafficking victims encountered by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office are locals, not victims brought here from elsewhere. Florida also leads the nation in trafficking, she says.

"These are monthly campaigns that we need to build awareness and take action," Andersen says. "We hope they motivate the 'If you see something, say something' mantra and they'll make a call to 211 or 911." Dialing 211 locally will divert the caller to whatever service needed to make a report. "The best thing that can happen is you could save someone's life."

Although locals are aware the community faces these issues, they're often unaware that the problems are widespread, Andersen says. In particular, people are surprised to learn that one in three women experience intimate partner violence or that one in three girls are sexually abused by someone they know or a family member.

April's campaign will be "Equal Pay," with gender equality and equal pay taking the spotlight. The fund will campaign around equal pay for a living wage. Currently, the living wage for one adult and one child is $26 an hour, so raising the minimum wage to $15 is crucial, Andersen says. "We need the community's help to advocate for these individuals and drive local government to set proper wages for women."

Gender equality has stalled, with women still earning 78 cents on the dollar. The numbers drop lower for African-American women, who earn only 61 cents on the dollar, and for Hispanic women, whose number dropped from 55 cents on the dollar last year to 47 cents this year.

"Also, women are not being promoted and funneled into the workplace at the same rate as men," Andersen says.

Perhaps that's why the theme for International Women's Day 2019 is #balanceforbetter. "We're stronger together, so we need to come together and have conversations about changing workplace practices and policies in order to [ensure women are] paid and progress equally," she says. Negotiating salaries from day one and then again at each yearly review is vital, she adds. "Women need to stop competing and come together. We need to find our voices and realize we're not alone."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the Women's Fund's funding history.

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