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Investing in the leadership of young women of color is a strong bet for our country’s future. Our communities will be stronger, our systems will be stronger, and our democracy will be stronger when we do so.
Because of historical and deeply-rooted inequities across systems, women and girls of color in the U.S. face unique barriers. In schools, Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and at higher rates than white boys (6%). In the justice system, girls and young women of color represent a growing share of juvenile arrests and placements. Black girls represent about 14% of our population, but constitute 32% of girls who are detained and committed. Native American girls are only 1% of our population, but 3.5% of girls who are detained and committed. And despite their driving growth in the workforce, women of color face persistent challenges to full participation in the economy. Women in general face a continuing pay gap compared to their male counterparts, but the gap is even larger for women of color. On average, Latinas in the U.S. — for example — are paid 46% less than white men and 31% less than white women. And across the country, young women of color face higher rates of teen pregnancy and maternal mortality, and greater barriers to safety and opportunity in their schools, workplaces, and communities.
Systemic barriers and inequities are real, and so is the leadership of women and girls of color.
Young women of color are dynamic leaders. They are mobilizers within their communities—innovators, gamechangers. Their lived experiences position them to drive meaningful change in policy and systems. What a world we can create for future generations if we believe in and invest in women and girls of color. In eight locations across the country, this is happening through the Young Women’s Initiative.
The Young Women’s Initiative is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar, cross-sector initiative that centers the leadership and solutions of young women of color. At the core of the Initiative are Young Women’s Advisory Councils (YWAC) comprised of young women of color working at the intersection of research, policy and advocacy, and at the cross-roads of government, community, and philanthropy, to change laws and change systems to be more equitable. YWAC members are tasked with identifying the key obstacles facing young women from their communities, and charting a path forward with community to change outcomes. Each YWAC is supported locally by one of eight participating public women’s foundations.
In Birmingham, YWAC members launched a social media campaign with hashtag #believeus to drive conversation around the sexual harassment young women of color face in their communities every day. In Western Massachusetts, young women of color testified at the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, advocating for more equitable dress codes that do not discriminate against girls of color and drive up suspension rates. In New York City, YWAC members led a participatory action research project across all five boroughs, culminating in The School Girls Deserve Report, documenting how girls and trans and gender nonconforming youth of color are pushed out of schools. In Minnesota, YWAC members proposed legislation that would create a statewide paid internship program to provide young women of color career pathways into government, business and nonprofit sectors. In Memphis, YWAC members are focused on Title IX policy, and in Washington DC, they’re advocating for programs for parenting students. In Dallas, YWAC members’ participatory grantmaking supported the development and broad distribution of multilingual brochures about menstrual hygiene to counter cultural taboos. And in Oakland, YWAC has led a series of community report-back sessions to mobilize stakeholders around the issues for young women of color in the Bay Area.
How to Get Involved
In each YWI locality, women’s foundations are following the leadership of young women of color — supporting them in convening key stakeholders, working with them to build cross-sector partnerships, and giving them the tools and resources they need to drive change. Women’s foundations will continue to invest in this work, and we invite you to do the same.
- Invest in the Young Women’s Initiative: Whether contributing to YWI locally in your city or state, or helping us build and scale the national Initiative, join us in investing dollars in young women of color and their futures.
- Join us to build powerful cross-sector partnerships: Young women of color have the solutions, but they need a broad group of stakeholders across industries and sectors to put them into play, and to change systems. Whether the private sector or the public, government or philanthropy, help us build a team of key leaders and partners that will ambitiously invest with us.