Empowering Women and Girls of Color in New Hampshire; NHCJE Annual Meeting

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More information about the annual meeting April 30 is here: https://nhcje.org/annual-meeting

By The NH Center for Justice and Equity

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we reflect on how a multidimensional view of the Women’s Rights Movement can create a more inclusive and effective approach to empowering women and girls. Coined by the civil rights activist and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality refers to the cumulative dynamics of how various aspects of individual identity — including race, gender, class, and sexuality — interact to create unique experiences of privilege or oppression. To talk about gender equality without the lens of intersectionality is a disservice to all women.

Gender bias often starts from the moment babies are born, as their assigned sex immediately begins to shape how they are treated, what opportunities they will receive, or what expectations people have according to the dominant gender norms in their society. Therefore, initiatives that empower women and girls play a significant role in challenging the systems of inequality that persist in our societies.

In New Hampshire and across the world, many systemic inequalities remain for people of color, and these are compounded by gender inequities faced by women, girls, and marginalized genders. The impacts of these inequalities are seen across access to education, health, economic opportunities, employment, leadership, and representation. The gender pay gap is a striking example, as women in New Hampshire earn approximately 75 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2024. This gap is even wider for women of color, despite the state’s relatively high median income. Nationally,  Black and Latina women were paid 63% of what white non-Hispanic men were paid, according to data collected between 2016 and 2020 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Disparities in health outcomes also show how women of color are more affected than their White counterparts. For example, Black women are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to die from cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, lupus, and several cancers, according to a 30-year-long study from Boston University. Additionally, the CDC estimates that black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.

Changing the Narrative in Supporting Women and Girls

Even philanthropy is a tilted playing field; the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation (NHWF) found that, nationally, only 1.9% of all philanthropic funding goes directly to organizations serving women and girls — and for women and girls of color, that statistic is an abysmal 0.5%. For this reason, NHWF launched the Women and Girls of Color Fund in February 2022 to address the persistent inequities and systemic barriers within charitable organizations. The Fund augments NHWF’s existing grantmaking programs and provides low-barrier, faster turnaround grants to projects led by and serving women and girls of color in New Hampshire. 

“As the only statewide foundation focused solely on advancing equality for women and girls, we recognized the unique challenges and barriers faced by women and girls of color in their community — and that those affected by these challenges were the best positioned to lead the solutions.”

— Tanna Clews, CEO of NH Women’s Foundation

To date, this program has supported a range of initiatives dedicated to uplifting women and girls of color in New Hampshire. Among these organizations, the Manchester Community Action Coalition (MCAC) has gained support for their Women’s BIPOC Health Initiative, aiming to address specific health disparities faced by BIPOC women in the community. Through the fund, New American Scholars has been able to provide refugee students with the tools and resources to integrate successfully into their new school environments. This includes academic assistance, social support, and peer mentorship, ultimately working towards closing the achievement gap. 

Additionally, Victory Women of Vision has been supported in their efforts with a New American Women support group, creating a space for empowerment and community among immigrant and refugee women. Similarly, Hero Mama focuses on helping African women integrate and become financially independent, with funding assisting refugee women in preparing for and passing their written driver’s tests, promoting increased mobility and independence. Overcomers Refugee Services has received support to provide incentives to refugee women attending their Women’s meetings, aiming to remove barriers and encourage active participation in community life.

“Women and girls of color remain disproportionately impacted by many challenges in the Granite State, and investing in these community-based solutions is one of the best ways to advance equity and justice. Racial equity is inseparable from gender equity, and we remain committed as a funder to breaking down philanthropic barriers so that we can all thrive.”

— Tanna Clews, CEO of NH Women’s Foundation

Empowering Women and Girls to Challenge Inequality

When it comes to empowering girls, the goal is to provide them with education, resources, and support that foster self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. This work is about equipping them with the tools to navigate a world that often presents obstacles based on their gender, which can be compounded by other social categorizations such as race, class, sexuality, gender identity, or disability.

According to a 2021 report from NH Women’s Foundation, as girls enter high school and college, they are less likely to pursue STEM-related career paths – that is, in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – as well as STEM CTE opportunities, which refer to Career and Technical Education. Research reveals that enrollment in STEM courses comprised 72% boys and 28% girls, while Information Technology course enrollment saw 63% boys and 37% girls. Girls tend to be concentrated at about 90% in care-oriented CTE courses, like Health Sciences and Education.

A pivotal initiative addressing these inequalities in New Hampshire is Girls at Work. This Manchester-based non-profit aims to empower inner-city girls through building and working with power tools. The organization works with girls who come from families with financial struggles, offering scholarships to 95% of the participants. Besides after-school programming and summer camps, Girls at Work provides families with various resources such as coat drives, shoe drives, school supplies, backpacks, and groceries.

The organization’s founder, Elaine Hamel, emphasizes the importance of focusing on girls specifically due to societal challenges and stereotypes that girls face. ??Participants in the program learn how to safely use power tools, which sends a powerful message about breaking these barriers. Many girls are surprised by their capabilities and want to keep challenging themselves once they realize their potential and see what they’ve built. 

“It’s unfortunate how girls’ potential is often overlooked. When girls are given the opportunity to build and problem-solve, they become more confident and learn that they can create anything they set their minds to. The work we do is about encouraging girls to step into their power and realize they are capable of so much more than society often tells them.”

— Elaine Hamel, Founder and Executive Director of Girls at Work

Inspiring Girls to Be Strong, Smart and Bold

Another example of empowering young women in New Hampshire is Girls Inc. With a rich history dating back to the 1800s helping women entering the workforce manage their money and balance their responsibilities, Girls Inc. focuses on inspiring girls to be “strong, smart, and bold” through various programs. Their outreach program offers a nationally vetted curriculum to schools and provides after-school programs in Manchester and Nashua, along with staff who visit other after-school programs serving girls from ages 5 to 18.

With a focus on contemporary gender biases and discrimination faced by girls and women, their initiatives cover topics such as healthy living, economic literacy, media literacy, STEM education, self-defense, and advocacy work. Girls Inc. also works to ensure accessibility for girls from lower-income backgrounds. They offer a sliding fee scale and state assistance for childcare, never turning away a girl due to financial constraints. The organization also provides programming for diverse cultural backgrounds, promoting understanding and inclusivity. Recently, they initiated an affinity group within their agency to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“With the programming that we’re doing, we give them a safe pro-girl environment where they are encouraged to use their voice. We worked with this girl one summer who was terrified of talking to somebody she didn’t know. By the end of the summer, she was ordering her ice cream and participated in our career fair where she walked around to the different booths and asked some questions and she even practiced in a mock interview. It’s little things that I see as success stories – it might seem small for us, but for that girl, it was a big accomplishment.”

— Karen Billings, Director of Programming & Athletics at Girls Inc.

The organization’s hands-on approach to learning includes activities like creating budgeting scenarios for economic literacy and examining media tactics and image manipulation in commercials. This is important for girls’ development, as it is estimated that the average young woman sees 400 to 600 advertisements per day reinforcing gender stereotypes. To address the issue of gender bias in the media and offer girls a counter-narrative, the walls of Girls at Work’s space are also filled with positive, empowering messages.

Empowerment also extends beyond individual efforts to systemic change. Advocating for policies that address income inequality, racial discrimination, and gender bias is essential in creating a more equitable society for all girls and women. This includes fighting for equal pay, affordable childcare, access to healthcare, education equity, and other initiatives that level the playing field. The national hub of Girls Inc. has divisions focusing on advocacy and discussing these topics, including teen advocacy programs where participants get a chance to connect with representatives. 

By supporting organizations dedicated to the empowerment and advancement of women and girls, we can work toward a future where every individual has the opportunity to thrive regardless of their gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

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