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Report on Utah's women outlines path to well-being

Published: Thursday, May 1 2014 7:07 p.m. MDT

As a result of the Utah Women's Well-Being Initiative, the YWCA Utah has released a report detailing wage disparities between the state's men and women and other influential aspects of life.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Women in Utah are less likely to earn a college degree and more likely to suffer abuse than men. They typically earn less money and have less representation in politics or state leadership.

But a local organization intends for all that to change.

"Our hopes are that Utah women will learn more about themselves, will lead conversations about what's most important to them and their families, and influence decisions that affect their well-being and the well-being of their families," said YWCA Utah CEO Anne Burkholder.

She said that "women's well-being is critical to the well-being of families, communities and societies."

In a report released Thursday, the YWCA Utah details results from a year's worth of study, including analysis of other data sources, that shows a need to improve many facets of women's lives.

"Many women in Utah are thriving, yet many areas for improvement remain," Burkholder said, adding that the new data "will be a powerful tool for education, advocacy and change."

Highlights of the report include strong workforce participation but a large gender wage gap for women. The gap is one of the largest in the country, as more Utah women work and more Utah men are paid higher than the national average wages. The pay gap is still present even when women achieve higher educational levels, according to the report.

Of particular concern, Burkholder said, is that nearly one in three Utah women 25 and older has some college education but no degree.

"Completing college is key to Utah women's well-being," she said, adding that a woman's education is important to their children's future education success.

The Utah Women's Well-Being Initiative began study on the issues of earnings, education, economic security, physical and emotional health and safety, and political leadership and participation a year ago.

The group, made up of influential Utah women, intends to continue a conversation about the well-being of women at meetings across the state throughout this year and eventually enact policy decisions to make Utah women's lives better.

"The YWCA believes that if women are safe and free, healthy and educated, economically secure, loved well in meaningful relationships and able to participate in and influence key decisions in public life, their own strength and well-being will strengthen their families, their communities and Utah's future," Burkholder said.

"This is what needs to happen, otherwise everything gets marginalized," said Karrie Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood Utah, who attended the public release of the information on Thursday. "People will say, 'Oh, they're just women.' But, hey, you need us."

Galloway said YWCA is the perfect organization to advocate for the well-being of women, because it is "a safe space for all women, no matter what."

"The quality of women's lives matters to us," Burkholder said.

Dr. Elizabeth Joy, a physician and director of clinical outcomes research at Intermountain Healthcare, said obesity rates among Utah women are not to be ignored.

Whereas Utah has one of the country's highest fertility rates, Joy said families and friends of pregnant women and others need to pay attention to the potential problems that obesity can bring, including gestational diabetes, which has tripled in incidence in Utah, from 1.7 percent of pregnancies to 3.7 percent.

"We need to optimize the health of women to improve the health of their unborn children," she said, adding that health care in general has an impact on communities.

Thursday's report was produced in partnership with the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C. The two organizations plan to continue their research to provide further understanding of trends and patterns in Utah women's lives over time.

"Women in Utah strengthen the state's economy and local communities in many ways," said Cynthia Hess, study director at the Washington nonprofit. "They are active in the workforce, make a difference at the polls and are more likely to have a college degree than two decades ago. However, women in Utah face a range of under-recognized challenges that need to be addressed through improved policies and programs."

"The first step in any change is awareness," YWCA Board President Collette Herrick said.

She said the new information that outlines several disparities shouldn't be looked at negatively, rather, as possibilities. "Conversations are really what change the world."

For more information, or to read the report, visit www.ywca.com or www.iwpr.org.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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