An Index for Impact: Placing our domestic violence work in context

Andrew Kolbenschlag

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on the California Women’s Well-Being Index, a new resource from the Women’s Foundation of California and the California Budget & Policy Center.

The Index draws on census data from all of California’s 58 counties to provide an interactive online database showing multiple indicators of women’s well-being, including health, personal safety, employment and earnings, economic security, and political empowerment. The findings are displayed through a map of the state’s counties.

As a representative of Blue Shield of California Foundation, I attended the presentation already aware of many of the challenges that face women in California, but with a particular focus on domestic violence.

The audience was filled with passionate people from across the state, and while it was clear that everyone was interested in improving the lives of women, it was also evident that each person in attendance was fairly “zoomed in” on what was relevant to his or her own work—whether it be housing, the wage gap, unemployment, reproductive rights, poverty, education, political participation, or domestic violence.

I found the Index to be an impressive tool for displaying and studying data on all of these issues, but also an invaluable way to illustrate how they are all connected. For instance, in Kern County, women make up just 34.6% of school board members (ranking 56th of the state’s 58 counties). This low investment in the community was alarming, but when we use the Index to look at the context, it’s actually not surprising: 22% of women in Kern County are living in poverty (52nd in the state), 53% are faced with food insecurity (57th), and the high school graduation rate for women is just 74.7% (51st). Add to that the rate of 551.2 domestic violence incidents reported per 100,000 residents (41st), and this context clearly shows that no single issue affecting women in Kern County can be addressed in a vacuum—when women’s basic needs of food, shelter, health care, and safety are not met, do we expect them to run for the local school board?

This is not meant to single out one county—in fact, browsing the Index shows that just about every county in California has some room for improvement—nor should we feel hopeless about affecting positive change in our communities. Rather, the takeaway here is that for those of us working in the field, it is easy to see these issues as isolated; but the truth is, for the people we serve, these things are all challenges of everyday life.

At the Foundation, it’s our mission to end domestic violence. And while we know DV is one of many factors affecting women’s well-being, we believe that it is an especially critical issue. That’s why we are investing in partnerships throughout the state to encourage innovative approaches to DV support and prevention. We are also working to bridge the divide between health care and DV support systems to ensure that women are getting the care they need. We are committed to this work. Approaching it with a mindfulness of all the complex challenges facing women in California and the ways in which DV is interconnected to other issues can empower us to more effectively and compassionately strive ahead toward the end of domestic violence and ultimately take one step closer to a just and equitable world. 

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