Photo credit: William Alatriste
Photo credit: William Alatriste

By Sherley Boursiquot

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined The Haitian Times through a conference call earlier this month to talk about the launching of the Young Women’s Initiative (YWI)—a group she says will counter racial and gender inequality for women and girls, between the ages of 14 through 24.

Although the Initiative is looking at young women in general, Mark-Viverito, who co-chairs the coalition, is aware of the common disparities girls and young women of color face. She admits they are “recognizing a problem” and are focusing on issues that have not been looked at “deeply.”

There are more “disparities that are unique to Latina and black women.”  For instance, she says, “Black and Latina women are more likely to live in poverty and are therefore less likely to graduate from high school.”

“In order to be able to succeed and fulfill your potential, everything starts off with an education, and we know that there is a serious achievement gap between women of color and their white counterparts,” Mark-Viverito said.

For the next six months, YWI will determine needs for programming, policy changes, data collection, and long-term research geared toward closing the gaps in outcomes experienced. The City Council is also working with young women and girls, to help lead a needs-assessment process over the next several months. According to Joanne Smith, executive director of the group Girls for Gender Equity and one of the co-chairs of YWI, these young women and girls come from a diverse background, including some from Haiti. The group can accommodate up to 40 people.

The Initiative is seeking to improve, and focus on issues in the following areas:  health, education, economic & workforce development, self-sufficiency & mobility, and anti-violence & criminal justice.

Right now,  the committee is coming together to bring different ideas and approaches to the table, Smith said, including ways to incorporate the Haitian community.

“The call of Haitian young women and Haitian organizations can be made for them to join one of the five working groups so that they can be a part of the informing process,” she said. “We are planning and dissecting the issues so that we can go to the speaker and say, ‘this is what we want.’”

YWI was inspired by the Young Men’s Initiative, launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2011 to help young black and Latino men. It was also inspired by My Brother’s Keeper, a nationwide program for boys and young men of color, launched by President Barack Obama in 2014.

The Council speaker and her colleagues realized there were no programs or initiatives helping girls and young women of color, so they decided to be the first to do so in hopes other cities would follow in their footsteps.

“A lot of systemic barriers comes from prejudice and racism,” Mark-Viverito said. “There is a lot of work we need to do for our young girls.”

To learn more about Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) or become a member please visit the website here.

Sherley Boursiquot is a Haitian journalist who graduated from Lehman College with a B.A. in Multimedia Journalism. Boursiquot lives by three principals: patience, persistence, and faith, all in which are key elements to achieving success.

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