Op-Ed

When women prosper in Miami-Dade, entire county will reap the benefits

TNS

Miami holds the proud distinction of being the only major city in the United States founded by a woman, the pioneer and visionary Julia Tuttle. Tuttle was a steadfast believer in Miami’s limitless potential, and since then, our community has consistently been a trailblazer in many areas such as commerce, trade and culture. Now, we have the opportunity be a leader in promoting the status of women and girls.

One year ago, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously passed my legislation implementing the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the county. As the first county in the country to adopt CEDAW, the ordinance directed the Miami-Dade Commission Auditor and Commission for Women to report each year on the status of women and girls in health and safety, economic development and education so that elected leaders can make sound public policy based on objective data. CEDAW allowed our county to formally track the adherence to existing policies and the progress of women in the community.

We now have the first report, prepared by the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University in conjunction with the Miami-Dade County Commission Auditor. The report found:

▪ Women in Miami-Dade are paid less than men at every level of education and across industries and occupations, making 87 cents to every dollar a man earns. At the current rate it will take more than three decades to close the gap.

▪ Economic inequality is even deeper when race and ethnicity are taken into account. Hispanic and black women earned 63 cents to the dollar of white women.

▪ Most businesses in the county are still owned by men. However, women-owned businesses grew more than men-owned businesses between 2007 and 2012, an encouraging sign that we can do more to unlock the economic potential of women.

▪ The value of contracts the county awards to women-owned businesses represents only 3.7 percent of the total value of contracts awarded.

▪ Only 32 percent of members of county boards are women. These boards are established to give residents a voice in local government, so it is alarming that most have less than one-third of women as members.

▪ Rape cases in areas under Miami-Dade police jurisdiction were up 14.4 percent in the first eight months of the year.

These findings show that fully tapping into women’s economic potential is key to improving prosperity in Miami-Dade as a whole. Consider the fact that households headed by men earn 25 percent more than women-headed households, but there are nearly three times as many families headed by a woman as families headed by men. Achieving gender-pay equity would mean lifting up the great majority of our families.

To tackle these glaring gaps, we should enforce existing policies, provide adequate resources to programs that benefit women and create policy that will simultaneously improve the economic standing of women and our community.

Furthermore, we are a small-business community, yet far fewer women own their own business. While most businesses continue to be male owned, women have accounted for a larger percentage growth in small business development, especially among businesses with paid employees. Empowering women business owners can directly translate to greater job creation and economic expansion. Local government should work with private foundations and economic development agencies to incubate more women-owned businesses in order to take advantage of this untapped resource to grow our economy.

Miami-Dade County is a major employer in the region with more than 28,000 employees. As such, we have the responsibility to model best practices, as well as to work with the private sector — especially our top employers — to achieve gender equity. With the leadership of former Commissioner Juan Zapata, we passed legislation recently to provide paid parental leave and to engage the private sector in closing the pay gap, and we can do more.

Women and families cannot flourish if we do not protect the safety of all our residents. Sexual and domestic violence disproportionately affects women and has continued to increase at the county level. Through greater support for existing victim’s assistance and violence prevention programs, we can ensure a safe county that allows women and girls to thrive to their fullest potential.

The first CEDAW report should be a catalyst for more in-depth conversation about the state of women in Miami-Dade County and policies that will ensure a more-prosperous county. Most important, I am committed to promoting the leadership of women because that is the only way to ensure long-lasting advancements on gender equity. Whether it be in government, business, philanthropy or any other sector, women in our community should be leading the way toward greater prosperity and economic growth. As a local legislator, I plan to heed the recommendations of our Commission for Women and am re-committed to doing all that I can to help unlock the full potential of our women and girls.

Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

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