10 April 2012

Cutting Down Barriers, and Planting Trees, in Underserved Communities

How could a collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service benefit women? The Ms. Foundation for Women is exploring this type of public-private partnership, which could help give women the support they need to develop skills that enable them to compete in male-dominated fields like forestry. This particular opportunity would couple job training in non-traditional fields for women, particularly in Mississippi’s low income communities, with wrap-around services, like childcare, provided by Ms. Foundation grantees. It’s an unconventional arrangement that could yield significant benefits for women.

The Ms. Foundation planted seeds for this type of approach, helping to put nail salon workers’ reproductive safety on the federal government’s radar screen through earlier grants to advocacy organizations. Nail salon workers, many of whom are Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and of reproductive age, face reproductive health consequences from prolonged exposure to chemicals, some known to be carcinogenic. Advocates supported through the Ms. Foundation fought hard to protect the health and safety of nail salon workers and brought government to consider “healthier solutions”.

This type of approach – in the context of worker safety, in particular – was the focus of a recent White House National Philanthropic Briefing on the Asian American Pacific Islander Community, which convened government, philanthropy and the private sector to address the unmet needs of AAPIs. Ms. Foundation Vice President of Grants and Capacity Building Pat Eng and board member Phoebe Eng took part in the gathering, which was an extension of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It was a real honor to be involved in the discussion -- Security was so tight that even breakfast foods had to show proper identification and pass clearance!

As a Chinese American and advocate for racial and gender equity, Pat helped plan the briefing’s Civil and Human Rights Breakout session, which focused on safety for AAPIs in the context of schools, workplaces, the broader community, LGBT and women. What this briefing signified for Pat was an understanding that more needs to be done to address the barriers that AAPIs face in accessing government resources and services. It’s a positive first step in bringing groups from different sectors together to help improve the quality of life for AAPIs!

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