Gender: A salient variable


by: Marrianne McMullen, Director of Communication and Dissemination
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Before last year’s women’s marches across the country, I felt like the country had turned its back on me and my experiences. Then I joined a 250,000-strong march where no back was turned. From the hundreds of blunt and funny signs, to the inspirational speakers and performers, to the presence of thousands of women and men all smiling at each other – everyone was facing toward women’s experiences.

In the year since, that collection of individual motivations has turned into a movement. It’s been a year at looking at hard truths and ugly stories that are driving change in a range of institutions and systems.

At Chapin Hall, we have long looked at the experiences of individuals to identify how systems need to change. We compile evidence so that it can be used to affect policies and practices that improve children’s chances for success. One body of evidence we’ve compiled is that girls face different and often additional challenges than boys.

Chapin Hall staff
Some of the Chapin Hall team at the march in Chicago 1/20/2018

So it was no surprise that many Chapin Hall staff who have contributed to this evidence attended women’s marches across the country last weekend. Once again, I headed to downtown Chicago, where I was joined by many of my colleagues, where we were joined by about 300,000 others.

Those of us who work in child welfare can see every day that discrimination and inequity limits a child’s chances to thrive. The experience of trauma, such as the many stories shared through #metoo, can also derail healthy development.

Here are just a few examples of where Chapin Hall work has shed light on the impact of gender:

  • Dr. Amy Dworsky has led research on pregnant and parenting foster youth and their unique needs and experiences. One finding was that only 44 % of female foster youth who had a child had a high school diploma or GED when they exited the system. Further, each additional child they had reduced the odds of having a high school diploma or GED by 45%.
  • In another recent study, Dr. Fred Wulczyn and his staff found that girls in foster care run away more than boys, and do so at a younger age. This provides the basis for exploring why young girls run away, the risks associated with that and whether services designed to protect girls are as effective as those designed to protect boys.
  • In our Midwest Evaluation of Adult Functioning of Former Foster youth, we found that young women at ages 23 and 24 worked fewer hours per week and were paid significantly less per hour than employed young men.

This and results from many more studies provide an evidence base for social change. At Chapin Hall we are often immersed in specifics of system change–such as how to measure improvement in outcomes in one child welfare system. But the broader agendas espoused at the women’s marches are also connected to this work.

When recording artist Janelle Monae focused on personal strength at the DC march, it’s what we would want any person struggling with trauma to hear.

march michelle

When actress Asia Argento spoke in Rome about removing the veil of shame for rape victims, and when women in Sydney and Melbourne called for reform of sexual assault laws, they were addressing trauma and appropriate systemic and cultural responses to it.

“Continue to embrace the things that make you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. You are enough,” Monae said.  “And whenever you’re feeling doubt, whenever you want to give up, you must always remember to choose freedom over fear.”

That’s the choice countless women have made this past year. It’s been a year punctuated by headlines and stories preceded by warnings for “sensitive listeners.” This year’s women’s marches moved from a broad collection of individual responses to a movement pushing for change in all of our institutions.

We are facing forward. We are looking at evidence. We are the evidence. And we’re going to use it to help girls rise.

 

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