EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 19, 2013

Lawrence targeted for women's forum

Pay equity, immigration reform topics relevant to area women

By Sara Brown

---- — LAWRENCE — The city of Lawrence was specifically chosen to be the host location for the upcoming public forum “Raising Our Voices: Women Speak Out for Social Justice.”

The event is being held on Saturday at the Lawrence Senior Center.

The mission of the event is to bring together community leaders and agency representatives to help raise awareness regarding social issues facing women, especially Latinas in Essex County.

“I knew I wanted it to be in Lawrence,” Director of Women’s Services at YWCA of Greater Lawrence Vilma Lora said. “The issues we will be talking about the most that day are most relevant to the women who are living in this area.”

The forum is a collaboration among the ECCSW, the YWCA’s of Greater Lawrence and Newburyport, the American Association of University Women and Northern Essex Community College.

The two biggest topics of the day will be about pay equity and immigration reform.

“Women are still being paid 77 cents to the dollar men make,” Lora said. “That’s an issue a lot of women care about.”

The event will be a round table format. Panelists will discuss pay equity, prospects for legislative change and breaking through to self sufficiency in two 45-minute panel presentations, including Q&A opportunities.

“We have one of the poorest communities. Many of the women here are being underpaid,” Lora said.

Another issue of great concern for Essex County women is immigration reform said Lora.

“Immigration is such a complex issue. We have one of the highest immigration bases in the area. This affects the women of this community directly,” she said. “It’s not just Dominicans and Puerto Ricans anymore. We also have a high Cambodian and Asian community as well and a growing Haitian community too. So we have a little bit of everyone and each one of their immigration issues are different.”

There will be an info session on Pathways to Citizenship: the Current State of Immigration Reform presented by MIRA.

“There is not one clear path to citizenship as it stands and that’s the problem,” Lora said. “How you enter the country, what country you come from and what the relationship is between the Untied States and your native country greatly affects how one becomes a citizen. Everyone is different.”

Becoming a citizen can be very costly as well and some can not afford it.

“We are talking about women who are working minimum wage jobs or are the caretakers of their family. They can’t always afford it,” Lora said.

Another factor is the language barrier.

“Sometimes they can’t understand everything they have to do in order to become a citizen,” Lora said.

The event will also help register women who are eligible to vote if they decide to do so.

Lora believes the first step for women to become advocates for themselves is education.

“Education is empowerment. These types of events help women with that and teach them how to use their own voices in a powerful way,” she said.