PEMBROKE — “I want my 18 cents!”
That became the mantra of about 140 women on Wednesday when they convened at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Regional Center to discuss the status of women in Robeson County, the challenges they face and how to surmount them.
According to Linda Murphy, eastern region director for the North Carolina Council for Women, 18 cents is how much less per dollar women earn than their male counterparts in Robeson County.
The statistic was part of a report on the status of women in Robeson County compiled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research at the request of the the North Carolina Council for Women and shared Wednesday at a meeting co-sponsored by the council, the local chapter of Women AdvaNCe — called Redefining Robeson — and Southeastern Family Violence Center. The North Carolina Council for Women is part of the state Department of Administration.
Redefining Robeson was formed after a meeting of Women AdvaNCe, which works to empower women statewide.
“We were failing in a lot of areas and we were used as an example as a result,” said Enid Cummings Begay, who started Redefining Robeson with Kim Pevia, president of the Pembroke Area Chamber of Commerce, and Deborah Dimery Locklear.
According to the report, 68 percent of Robeson County women with dependent children are working. Women here are also nearly seven times more likely than men to say they must work part-time because of “child care problems or for other reasons related to family care.”
As a result, a third of Robeson County women do not have health insurance, and have a harder time getting paid leave to care for their families.
The issue is exasperated by the fact that nearly half of single-parent families in Robeson County are headed by women. Sixty-five percent of families who are living in poverty and have children under 18 are headed by a single mother. In Robeson County, the median income for such women is $16,782.
Throughout the report, Robeson County women are frequently shown to have less of whatever is being measured than their male counterparts locally and women across the state. But, according to Tara Minter, Robeson County women are improving in, and even dominating, some surprising categories.
Robeson County women with a bachelor’s degree or more earn about $3,000 more each year than men with the same education level.
“Robeson County is unique … you will not find that in any other briefing paper, even statewide,” Minter said.
While median incomes for men and women in general are lower than the state as a whole, the wage gap in Robeson County is smaller than North Carolina. Although women in Robeson County face more health issues than at the state level, women in Robeson are less likely to die from certain diseases. Teen pregancy rates, historically high in Robeson, are also down.
Eleven panelists, representing education, child care, health, poverty and economics. were asked to share some solutions to the issues highlighted by the report, including local programs.
“The power … to support one another is one of our greatest strengths and one of the solutions,” said Brenda Deese, director of Student Services for the Public Schools of Robeson County.
Most panelists said that while there is a clear need for the programs offered by their organizations, participation is low.
Deese talked about ways to boost student attendance in poor families while Rita Locklear, with Indian Education, told the group about financial aid available for students looking to attend college.
Joan Young, of the Lumbee Tribe, discussed low-cost programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club, and Jamie Flannigan, with Partnership for Children, highlighted Smart Start, which helps pay for early education.
Kay Freeman, with Eckerd Youth Alternatives, and Jinnie Lowery, of Robeson Health Care Corporation, spoke about pregnancy prevention programs and services, like residential treatment centers, for pregnant women and new mothers.
Darlene Jacobs, of the Robeson County Church and Community Center, and Finnie Oxendine, with the Department of Social Services, tackled a topic many felt was at the root of others: poverty. Jacobs said she has been seeing more single mothers take advantage of food and medical assistance provided by the center.
Jane Smith, who previously owned Century 21 in Lumberton and is running for the state Senate, spoke about entrepreneurial opportunities in realty for women while Faline Locklear Dial told the crowd how rewarding it was to start her own business, Speech in Progress.
“That’s when the conversation got really juicy because I think a lot of the women hadn’t thought about starting a small business,” Pevia said. Because of unexpected participation, Wednesday’s discussion will be continued to the next Women AdvaNCe meeting on Aug. 27 at the Lumbee Regional Development Association.
The purpose of the meeting, Begay said at its start, was for local women to get connected, informed and engaged. Elma Patterson thought her granddaughters — ages 14, 11 and 9 — should be included in that group.
“When we saw the ad in the paper I thought there was a need for them to know more. Every time I see something in the paper that could be empowering for them I always try to take them,” she said. Patterson said she most wanted her granddaughters to hear about the benefits of furthering their education. Madyson Patterson, 14, said hearing about teen pregnancy statistics was the most interesting topic of the day.
“As an educator I think it’s important for our youth to know their status, what they’re going to go through, what they need to do in order to be a productive citizen in Robeson County if they choose to stay here,” said Frances Patterson, a teacher for 31 years and another member of the Red Springs family.
For Gale McKoy Wilkins, executive director of the North Carolina Council for Women, the forum was about empowerment. Wilkins kicked off the meeting by showing those in attendance a few “power stances” that boost confidence, reduce stress and command attention.
“When women get together,” Pevia said, “watch out.”