Women still struggle with economic independence, self-esteem and providing basic needs such as food and shelter for their families, according to a recent survey by the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation.
The nonscientific survey of more than 750 women throughout the county focused on three areas: college women, Latinas and women older than 60.
Nearly all women surveyed ranked fundamental needs such as food, clothing, housing and employment as one of the top five issues facing them. Equal weight was given to education as a way to improve the lives of women locally.
Additional needs varied among the three age groups and included the need for financial management training, better access to public transportation and child care. The San Luis Obispo County’s Women’s Legacy Fund, started in 2003, offers grants to nonprofits that assist girls and women in areas such as education, health, economic independence and strengthening their overall well-being.
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In the past seven years, the program has granted $60,000 to various nonprofits assisting women.
The survey will be used to restructure how the program awards grants each year, focusing on areas determined in the survey to be of the greatest need.
In the past, donors have identified priorities that aligned with the fund’s mission, said Janice Fong Wolf, the foundation’s director of grants and programs.
Wolf said the findings will also be distributed amongst local nonprofits assisting women and to local legislators.
“We want to make sure that organizations concerned about women and girls have good information and good data,” Wolf said. “Then we can work on what can be done and create opportunities to improve their situations.”
Female students at Cuesta College and Cal Poly ranked basic needs — food, clothing, housing and employment — education, self-esteem, sexual assault and child care as the top issues that need to be addressed to improve the lives of women in San Luis Obispo County.
The majority of the 297 women surveyed, 56 percent, said that self-esteem is one of their chief concerns.
Two-thirds of the women said they were sexually active within the past year, and of those, 68 percent said they had engaged in unprotected sex.
Women over the age of 60 said basic needs, affordable child care, elderly needs, education and poverty were their top concerns locally.
The 257 women surveyed also said access to services providing affordable housing, mental health services, transportation and financial management were needed.
In all, 65 percent of the women surveyed said assistance in getting the basic needs is wanted.
Nearly 30 percent of the women surveyed said finances limited them from accessing the services they needed.
Latina women said affordable, adequate child care was the primary challenge facing them.
The 223 women who responded to the survey, both in English and Spanish, also said basic needs, education, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence rank as top issues facing Latinas.
Forty-three percent of the women said financial constraints were the largest barrier from getting the help they needed in those areas, and nearly 41 percent listed language as a barrier.
More than half of the women said they faced discrimination very often, and nearly 20 percent of those women said it had a negatively influenced their lives.
Nonprofit organizations that offer services to women and girls in San Luis Obispo County, also surveyed, noted that the recession has proved to be an obstacle in improving the lives of women.
Jan Maitzen, executive director of Community Link in Atascadero, a family resource center, said the majority of services her group provides are assistance with food, clothing, transportation and utilities. The center also helps connect clients with legal services and provide advocates at schools.
“Many people could make it before but needed occasional help; now they are significantly impacted by the economy and need even more assistance,” Maitzen said. Maitzen said that requests for help started to go up about 18 months ago and continue to climb.
Without the basic needs such as food and shelter taken care of first, the additional struggles are hard to overcome, she said.
“It is pretty hard to comprehend the future or have hope for a plan to get to a better place when you are struggling to meet the basic needs each month,” Maitzen said. Offering services that enable women to help other women is one way of moving forward, she said.
Wolf said that the Community Foundation intends to bring together the county organizations focused on helping women to discuss the survey’s findings and do just that.
“The next step is discussing how we can all collaborate and improve the network of services to strengthen the lives of women and girls,” Wolf said.
WHO WAS SURVEYED
The nonscientific survey polled 750 women in three categories — college age, seniors and Latinas — in February. Local nonprofit organizations serving women and girls were also surveyed. In all, 330 college surveys, 667 Latina surveys and 489 senior surveys were distributed countywide through various local nonprofit groups, organizations, individuals and colleges. Face-to-face interviews were also done with seniors and Latinas.
The Women’s Legacy Fund today will award $8,000 in scholarships to the following organizations to assist female youth in various educational outreach programs:
Big Brothers Big Sisters: To support girls through a school-based mentoring program pairing 30 high school and college-age mentors with elementary school students, $3,000.
Avila Beach Sea Life Center: To underwrite a one-week marine science camp for girls ages 12 to 16 years to be implemented in June 2011, $3,500.
American Association of University Women of San Luis Obispo: To provide scholarships for two girls to attend Tech Trek, an AAUW statewide science and math camp for girls, $1,500.