The Status of Our Girls

| November 3, 2009 | 1 Comment

Hi Chicagonistas! I’m Veronica and I’m so happy to join the Chicagonista team. I’ll be writing a monthly column focusing on feminist issues. I won’t get overly political here (for that you can jump over to my blog, Viva la Feminista), but rather bringing a feminist viewpoint to our every day lives.

The past week or two the Shriver Report has been given a lot of press. It essentially discusses how our society has and hasn’t responded to the fact that women are now 50% of the workforce. This is a huge milestone as you might guess. I’ve barely read much of the report, but the executive summary does a great job at discussing our accomplishments and the challenges women still face.

But weeks before the Shriver Report, the Women & Girls Collective Action Network released the Status of Girls in Illinois 2009 report. While both the Tribune and Sun-Times (no link to the direct story because it was archived) did stories on the report, not much else happened outside that blip of reporting. This should be disconcerting to us all.

What the report reveals is that in some areas we are doing good and in other areas we must fight for more change. A year post-Obama’s election victory the calls for change are ringing hollow for our girls. The Status of Girls in Ilinois 2009 report is remarkably brief making it a quick read. It would be easy if it didn’t weigh on my soul so heavily.

Here are some of the stats that jumped out at me:

  • In Illinois, 7.1% of girls ages 2 to 17 lack health insurance coverage of any kind.
  • Black female high school students (14.2%) in Illinois are more likely to attempt suicide than their Latina (11.9%) or White (6%) peers.
  • Chicago high school girls (13.7%) are much less likely to be current smokers than their counterparts across the state of Illinois (21.8%) and the nation (18.7%). BUT…
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (19.3%) Chicago high school girls are current marijuana users. More young women in Chicago also report having used marijuana than their peers in Illinois and across the nation as a whole.
  • 27.4% of Illinois girls, and 44.2% of Chicago girls, do not attend physical education classes.
  • The 2007 Chicago Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that among female high school students 63.5% used a condom during their last sexual intercourse; this is significantly higher than statewide and nationwide percentages.
  • During 2005, the state of Illinois paid an average of $70,827 per year to incarcerate each juvenile.

The report does not just spell out gloom and doom. It has plenty of recommendations for us, citizens and parents, to act on to improve the lives of our girls. From media literacy education to help them cut through the messages to be thin and that designer clothes make you a better person to demanding that boys and girls be taught that we should all have zero tolerance for violence in our lives, especially in our romantic lives.

The last data point I shared just boggles my mind. I can only imagine what our state would look like if we just gave parents half of that money. Studies have shown that a lot of issues at home come from the strain of economics including why teens runaway and I suspect then get into trouble with the law. $70,000 is more than most of us make in a year and we spend that on locking kids away.

I urge you to take a look at the report, read the executive summary and the full report if you can. Then see if there is anything you can do to help change things. Do you have time to mentor? Ask your school principal what the status of P.E., sex ed and anti-bullying education is in your school? Give a small donation to an organization that is working on these issues?

We don’t need to be president of our PTA or run for elected office. But we can all do our little something and bust through these challenges together.

Postscript: As someone who works on a daily basis on the status of girls and women, I do hope that someone will do a similar report on the status of our boys in Chicago. Their lives are often more violent and less valued.

Category: Featured, News & Events

About the Author ()

Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, a mom and a writer. She blogs about the intersection of feminism and motherhood at Veronica lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, their spunky daughter and doxie named Piper. You can connect with Veronica at Facebook or Twitter.

Comments (1)

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  1. As a member of the steering committee, I want to thank you for drawing attention to this report! Two weeks ago, over 90 adults and youth concerned about girls’ experiences of violence in our state came together for a session called “The Truth About Violence Against Girls.” Out of that rich discussion came the creation of a new Chicago Taskforce to focus on ending violence against girls (for more info, email As Veronica suggests, we encourage others to think about how you can use this information to improve the lives of girls in Chicago and Illinois!

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