MU partners with Women’s Foundation to research status of women in Missouri

Studying the status of women involves more than the ladies of Missouri, it impacts her children, entire family and her community.

MU researchers recently started a partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City to investigate the status of women in Missouri.

The goal of the research is to collect data from counties and communities across the state and provide a website with information to help develop policies that improve the lives of Missouri women and families.

“A woman’s abilities and needs change throughout her life cycle,” said Jacqueline Schumacher, policy analyst at the Truman School of Public Policy. “Understanding this dynamic creates an opportunity to develop effective policies which are informed by sound data and research. I like to call this process ‘examining data with a soul’ because it can create an effective narrative, which can inform policy initiatives.”

The foundation had already begun the inquiry and conducted focus groups around the state in July, but recently decided to commission MU’s Institute of Public Policy to take advantage of its academic resources and support.

Schumacher and IPP Director Brian Dabson led a team of graduate students in the institute to gather the data. Five faculty advisors from various MU colleges were also chosen to help narrow the foundation’s broad goal and find key indicators of the status of women across the state.

So far, Schumacher said, the research is counting employment and income, education and childcare, social and economics, health and leadership and public engagement as five key areas to be considered.

Schumacher said as the data continues to develop, varying by community, the foundation plans to act toward changes.

The researchers hope to use the data to craft an easy-to-access online portal under the direction of the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems on MU’s campus. The site would provide real-time information accessible to individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations for their use.

Schumacher said the Women’s Foundation is also known for its “action items,” a variety of policies and initiatives that help develop communities. She said an example of an action item might be seeking a federal grant for skill training connected to a specific growth goal feasible for a particular county or area.

According to an MU news release, action items for this research will be identified and publicly released on Dec. 5 in Kansas City.

Although the plan of action for the partnership remain somewhat ambiguous, the researchers regard this system as innovative and useful.

“It is exciting to be a part of a project that may lead to measurable impacts on the lives of Missouri women,” said Joan Hermsen, associate professor and chairwoman of women’s and gender studies and a faculty contributor to the research. “The Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City is innovative and forward-looking.”

Studying women’s status is not new. In fact, this research project draws from several national and statewide studies, including a study in 2011 called the “Missouri Women’s Report”.

Hermsen said the platform of this partnership is unique in its accessibility and movement.

“I am a strong believer that when we improve the lives of women, we also improve the circumstances of families and communities,” she said. “If we want stronger families and stronger communities, we can start by caring about the circumstances that women face and in the strategies we can take to reduce gender inequalities.”

Women’s Foundation President Wendy Doyle said the cooperation between the foundation and MU toward the best possible policies is exceptional.

“The Women’s Foundation really values the partnership with the University of Missouri,” she said. “We look forward to continuing the relationship past the completion of this study.”

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