The future of our City depends on the success of young people today. But instead of being able to focus on their aspirations, many girls and women, particularly those of color, are battling challenges rooted in gender, sex and race discrimination. Poverty, sexual violence and poor health outcomes stand squarely in the way of their success. For young women from immigrant families, these challenges are complicated by immigration status and language barriers. This has to change.
One year ago, I announced the launch of the New York City Council’s Young Women’s Initiative (YWI), a planning process that brought advocates, policy experts and young women and girls themselves together to make recommendations on how we can improve the lives of young women and girls in New York City. The result of the YWI is a set of policy and budgetary recommendations to improve the lives of young women and girls in our City. The New York City Council is also allocating $10 million over two years to commitment to YWI, a figure that is being matched by philanthropic partners. Together, $20 million will be invested in the futures of our daughters and sisters, all of whom should have the opportunity to thrive.
The urgency is as great as statistics show. Black and Latina girls and young women are 25 percent more likely to live in poverty. According to a New York Women’s Foundation’s 2015 publication, more than 40 percent of Black and Latina girls in New York City – and comparable percentages of girls from several new immigrant communities – lack access to the support they need to finish high school. In fact, eighteen percent of the women ages 16 to 24 were out of school and out of work, compared to 12 percent of young women ages 12 to 24 who are not Black or Latina.
Studies show that youth who are not connected to employment opportunities early on will have a difficult time accessing a steady job in the future and, in turn, earn less in the span of their work life. This is why the Young Women’s Initiative recommends that the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) become year-round program, reach all students who apply. YWI also recommends increasing the reach of workforce training organizations that offer hands-on training, and calls for more college counselors to help students transition to higher education.
Young women want to make healthy and smart choices about their future. Yet many don’t have ready access to information, counseling and health services to avoid teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
While unintended pregnancy among young people has declined overall in New York City, pregnancy rates among Black and Latina teens are four to seven times higher than rates among White and Asian American and Pacific Islander teens, with teen pregnancy rates highest in the Bronx. Devastating statistics also reveal that young Black women have the highest share of new HIV diagnoses among women in our City.
These critical healthcare needs must be dealt with now. YWI calls for an increase the number of School-Based Health Centers across the City’s middle schools and high schools, and to expand the scope of services those currently operating at middle schools to include confidential reproductive and sexual health care.
Young women have the right to opportunities, information and quality services. They equally have the right to a City that keeps them safe from sexual violence, prohibits discrimination in all forms and works to prevent contact with the criminal justice system. Young women should know that our City is on their side. We should be, and will be, nothing less than a City that elevates our girls.
Ms. Mark-Viverito is Speaker of the New York City Council.
To read the full YWI report, visit shewillbe.nyc.