When we held these focus groups, what was particularly compelling was the candor with which these women were able to tell the challenges they were having in integrating and also communicating with the city, and also where they were having good experiences. —Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck
SALT LAKE CITY — A small group of women and men gathered on the west steps of the city and county building Tuesday to hear how life could change for women in Salt Lake.
"Today is another historic day for our city," Sabina Zunguze, chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission said as she released findings on "The Status of Women" to the mayor and Salt Lake City Council.
The report is a result of a 2012 survey of 600 women in Salt Lake City, and from focus groups of women in Salt Lake City held during the past two years. The report identifies four areas of focus for city leaders as it relates to improving the lives of women: education, gaining a greater political and social voice, improving health and safety, and seeking greater economic strength.
The survey results showed Salt Lake women's greatest concern was general safety. More than 21 percent of respondents placed this as their main concern. Factors include poor street lighting, lack of available late-night public transportation and feeling dismissed by Salt Lake Police officers.
The second greatest concern, expressed by 14.1 percent of those surveyed, related to pay discrepancies between men and women in Utah. Utah has one of the greatest income gaps between men and women in the nation, according to the National Women's Law Center.
Some women, 11.5 percent, also expressed a desire for greater leadership roles in the Legislature and local government, and in business. And nearly the same number, 11.2 percent, said they would like to see more support for women's education.
"When we held these focus groups, what was particularly compelling was the candor with which these women were able to tell the challenges they were having in integrating and also communicating with the city, and also where they were having good experiences," Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck, subcommittee member for the Political and Social group said.
The report does not just show what the city looks like now, but also provides recommendations for what the city can do in the future to include the voices of women in Salt Lake, according to Chavez-Houck.
This is just the beginning of change for the city, she said, and then said she would like for women's voices to continue to be heard through surveys, focus groups and Human Rights Commission subcommittees.
The City Council and mayor have not indicated what they will do with the recommendations, she said.
Mayor Ralph Becker commended the committee for its work. He said it will be "enormously helpful" in helping the city shape future policies because it enables the City Council, that has one female council member, to see things from a woman's perspective.
"As a man, I didn't appreciate until I was really an adult and had women bring to my attention that our lens on the world is different and we need to account for that not only on our own lives and the respect that we have for the other gender in our lives but also in our policies," Becker said.
Chaves-Houck said it is difficult to quantify the state of women in Utah, particularly with the self-selection that occurs with those who choose to participate in a focus group or complete a survey.
However, she said, within the conversations she participated in, she noticed trending topics, such as safety or income disparity. The focus groups also showed her that many women were not aware of the available resources within their community.
Women helping women
Shannon Parisi, vice president of membership for the Utah chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, learned the importance of networking and community resources when she started her own chiropractic business in North Carolina.
She is one of the 24.9 percent of women in Utah who own a business, according to figures from the United States Census Bureau.
When she moved her practice to Utah, she reached out to the Salt Lake Chamber and to the National Association of Women Business Owners.
"I actually found that there was more for me here," Parisi, chiropractor and owner of Salt Lake Chiropractic.
She said she was able to take classes for women in business through the Chamber of Commerce and has been supported through the network of women she associates with through the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Parisi's experience represents what the Committee on Women is advocating for all women interested in business: a woman who is empowered, in her case through entrepreneurial work. Her connectedness to a relevant community and awareness of and use available resources assisted in her success.
The Salt Lake Human Rights Commission also recommended the city develop future policies around a United Nations initiative to eliminate discrimination against women by individuals, organizations and businesses.
To implement these policies, the commission recommended that the mayor and City Council create and fund a Committee on Women. A similar committee exists within the Human Rights Commission and has been meeting for two years. The citys committee would apply principles related to the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in local laws related to politics, education, public safety, economics, politics and social matters.
The Committee on Women would also be tasked with creating liaisons within communities who would help women become aware of available resources, help them launch businesses like Parisi's, obtain education, have their voice heard by elected officials and feel safe within their community.
"The Committee on Women would exist to ensure diligence in regards to women's issues and to bring action political will and clout to the cause of women's equality," Zunguze said.
She called on the mayor's office, City Council and Human Rights Commission to collaborate and establish a timeline for when the Committee could be created and allocate the resources necessary to do so.
Surveys questioned respondents about race, age and education level. The focus groups asked women about life in the city, challenges they face and what the city is doing well for women.
See the entire report at http://www.slcdocs.com/ODHR/SLC_Women_Report.pdf
Recommendations for Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Ralph Becker, created by the Committee on Women, a part of the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission.
Gender specific and culturally sensitive intervention efforts in pre K-12.
City-wide review of education level of women employees. Provide support and resources for women who want to get more schooling.
Coordinate with Work with higher education institutions to encourage more holistic admissions criteria.
Health and Safety
Funding for special victims detectives so sex offenses will be better investigated and prosecuted.
Improve the accessibility to qualified and sensitive women's health doctors to provide women's health, reproductive and prenatal care.
Create partnerships with local agencies and provide advertising and funding in order to create programs based on evidence to reduce violence in communities.
Identify situations that are risky for women by analyzing reports of crimes against women in Salt Lake. Use the information to further influence public policy and for public education on risk-reducing measures.
Educate low-income households of free services and crime victims of available health services.
Political and Social
Find ways to include more women as city employees and volunteers.
Make improvements for women on boards and commissions, such as support networks.7 comments on this story
Work with government and organizations to improve women's access to government.
Do more research to make a new report on the status of women in Salt Lake.
Encourage local employers to pay employees equally.
Increase the minimum wage.
Expand local employment opportunities for women.
Secure affordable, quality and convenient day or after school care.
Increase funding to help businesses owned by women and support organizations that advocate for women entrepreneurs.