We know Indiana women don't fare well compared with females in other states. The state ranks 49th for gender pay gap. Its maternal mortality rate is third-highest in the nation. A 2018 national health survey ranks Indiana dead last for the effect of community and environment on infant well-being.
We also know Allen County trails the state overall on important economic measures, including average wages.
What we don't know is how local women and girls, who make up 51% of Allen County's population, are faring. But a just-announced study will provide some answers, and likely some ideas for how the community can help women and girls prosper. The $70,000 study, funded through the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, is the first such effort in 45 years.
A 1974 report, undertaken by the administration of Mayor Ivan Lebamoff, revealed some startling findings about attitudes toward women and girls. A survey asked respondents whether they would feel comfortable with a female mayor – and 38% of those respondents said no. Seventy-two percent said there should not be more female firefighters. Fifty-four percent agreed that girls should “be taught how to be feminine as early as possible.”
A survey of credit and lending practices conducted as part of the original study concluded: “Overt intent would not appear to be so much the problem in this form of economic inequality as is the attitude toward women that continues to pervade our institutions, the traditional stereotype that women are supported by men – regardless of the circumstances of the lives of individual human beings which testify that old patterns are overdue for alteration to fit today's realities.”
We hope the new study, conducted by the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, will find views have changed since 1974. More important, it should find ways to support women and girls in Allen County, as the original study did in setting the groundwork for the Rape Crisis Center and the Women's Bureau.
Alison Girardot, the Community Foundation's vice president of philanthropic services, said the need for a new study emerged in discussions about establishing a women's fund, a valuable tool in other communities in marshaling resources to help women and girls reach their potential. Girardot said the discussions showed strong support for starting with research, which will be patterned after a 2005 study by the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
That report became a road map for addressing issues affecting women and children, including child care, housing, a living wage, domestic violence and financial literacy.
The Community Foundation served as host last fall for a listening tour by the Indiana Commission on Women. As we noted then, the statewide group has listened but accomplished little in improving the lives of Indiana women and girls. A local initiative is a more promising approach. The wealth of data produced from the new study will benefit existing nonprofits and public agencies in attracting grants and targeting resources.
The study aligns with the Community Foundation's new strategic plan, according to Brad Little, the foundation's president and CEO. Its focus on prosperity and well-being is aimed at helping more residents benefit in the community's growth. When the needs of 51% of residents are recognized, all residents undoubtedly will prosper.