Months after First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the United State of Women Summit, Minnesota has become the first state in the nation to launch an initiative to improve the lives of girls and young women.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Tuesday unveiled the Young Women’s Initiative, a first-ever public-private partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, a statewide community philanthropic organization.
The Young Women’s Initiative will focus on improving opportunities for girls and women ages 12 to 24, with particular emphasis on women of color and those living outstate. It’s designed along the lines of My Brother’s Keeper, a national effort to close opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color.
A young women’s cabinet, a separate council and eight working groups will formulate an action plan to be released next April. The working groups will focus on African-Americans, African immigrants, American Indians, Asian-Americans, women with disabilities, women in greater Minnesota, Latina women and LGBT youth.
Stakeholders will measure success with a “prosperity and well-being index,” yet to be created.
The Women’s Foundation has pledged $8 million to the effort over the next six years, and Dayton said he’d like to include funding for it in the next state budget.
“We wanted every young woman in Minnesota — and every Minnesotan — to have access to equal opportunity in order to create and lead safe and prosperous lives,” said Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation. “We know that when young women do better, their communities do better and we all do better.”
Despite strides in recent decades, women still face a persistent pay gap and higher rates of poverty for female-led households.
White women make 20 percent less than white men in Minnesota, according to research by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy. The gender pay gap jumps to 26 percent for Asian-American women, 38 percent for African-American women and 43 percent for Latina women.
Women of color and American Indian women in the state have higher rates of homelessness and teen pregnancy, and have poorer health, more involvement in the juvenile justice system and a greater risk of sex trafficking.
The University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center and the YWCA St. Paul also are part of the initiative.
Kalice Allen, a 22-year-old college senior at St. Catherine University now working for the Women’s Foundation, stepped to the podium on Tuesday and explained how a few threads of opportunity woven together with her hard work changed her prospects.
Allen’s family moved from Illinois to the Twin Cities when she was a young girl. She recalls staying at a homeless shelter as her parents struggled; by her early teens, they had died and her older sister was raising her. Determined to finish high school, Allen joined the Air Force ROTC at Johnson High School in St. Paul.
She went on to become the first in her family to go to college and will graduate next spring from St. Kate’s with a public health degree. Allen, an intern at the Women’s Foundation, will help with the initiative.
“I hope I do inspire young women,” she said.