The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social and Economic Justice (SRBWI), has sponsored a report titled “Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South.” SRBWI is a collective of women leaders that works with 77 counties in the rural South, many of which are the poorest in the nation. The collective has engaged the leadership of more than 2,500 women and young women from these counties. SRBWI seeks to eradicate historical race, class, cultural, religious and gender barriers faced by Southern rural Black women. Through SRBWI, women are provided with leadership training as well as hands-on experience and management and networking opportunities. The “Unequal Lives” report was based on listening sessions conducted with Black women and girls from rural counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Findings reveal that Black women, girls and children in the rural South rank low or last in every social indicator of well-being. Shirley Sherrod, RAFI board member, executive director of the Southwest Georgia Project, and one of the founders of SRBWI, provided guidance for the report and wrote the Introduction. In the Introduction to the report, she speaks of the importance of shifting the focus on poverty and economic vulnerability to encompass work that can be done “to ensure that all women, children, and families have a fair shot at success and opportunity in our society” rather than focusing on “exploitative industries that reinforce inequities or shortchange rural workers.” In an SRBWI press release Shirley Sherrod said, “We hope to shine a long overdue spotlight on the inequalities and resulting injustices Black women face on a daily basis as they work to obtain full economic security and to create a better life and future for their families.” C. Nicole Mason, author of the report and executive director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest, said in a press release that it “should be a call to philanthropists, foundations, and our government to infuse critical resources into communities to build the long-term economic security and well-being of low-income Black women, children and families in the rural South.” SRBWI reports the following key findings:
- In the rural South, more than 1 in 4 children and nearly as many women live in poverty; the poverty rate is more than double for African-Americans and Latinos compared to their white counterparts.
- In rural Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, white women were four times more likely to be employed, and Black women earned nearly one-third less than white women.
- In Clay County, Georgia, 36 percent of Black women had less than a high school diploma compared to 8 percent of white women.
- Nearly 80 percent of the 4.8 million uninsured U.S. adults who fall into the coverage gap that would be alleviated by Medicaid expansion live in the South.
- In Georgia, the teen pregnancy rate in rural counties was more than double the state rate, and the teen birth rate was at least 20 percent higher.
- Of the 19 million Americans without broadband Internet access, 14.5 million live in rural counties.
- In 2012, of the $4.8 billion philanthropic investments allocated to the South, just 5.4 percent went to programs focused on women and girls and less than 1 percent to programs focused on Black women and girls.