Louisville Metro Council’s new Women’s Caucus held its inaugural meeting on Thursday.
The caucus, a first in the council’s history, is being co-chaired by Council Members Cassie Chambers Armstrong of District 8 and Paula McCraney of District 7. In addition to being bipartisan, the Women’s Caucus will be open to council members of all genders. Council Members Bill Hollander, Jecorey Arthur and Anthony Piagentini attended Thursday’s meeting.
Chambers Armstrong said the group will hear from other officials and community groups about gender equity in Louisville and issues that directly affect women and families.
“The other thing we are trying to do here is to build a network of elected officials, staff members, community members, everyone working together to lift up the voices of women, the needs of women,” Chambers Armstrong said at the start of the meeting.
Moving forward, the Women’s Caucus is expected to meet monthly. The meetings will be livestreamed on the caucus’ Facebook page.
Pandemic leaves women, the community ‘struggling’
The inaugural Women’s Caucus meeting featured presentations from the city’s Office for Women and the nonprofit Metro United Way on COVID-19’s impact on women, who comprise 52% of Louisville’s population.
Gretchen Hunt, executive administrator of the Office for Women, said domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence increased in severity and frequency during the pandemic. There has been a roughly 35% increase in 911 calls for domestic violence-related aggravated assault and intimidation in Louisville, according to police data.
“Our rate of domestic violence homicides, particularly among Black women in Louisville, is astronomical,” Hunt said. “It should cause us to really center the wellbeing of women in our community at this moment.”
The city’s Office for Women was created in 1991 in response to a high-profile murder-suicide in Louisville. The office is focused on ensuring women have the resources for self-sufficiency and self-determination.
The council members who attended the Women’s Caucus meeting also heard from Metro United Way officials, who provided data about referrals for social services through its United Community network.
Adria Johnson, the nonprofit’s president, said referrals for eviction prevention and housing mediation for women increased roughly 2000% during the pandemic, from 34 in 2019 to 935 in 2021. Emergency food referrals for women also increased from 38 in 2019 to 173 last year.
“Men also experienced an increase [in emergency food referrals], too,” Johnson said. “So we are struggling as a community.”
Mandy Simpson, chief police advisor for Metro United Way, highlighted the growing disparity between families’ child care needs and what’s available in Jefferson County.
Data presented by Metro United Way showed Kentucky had already lost 45% of its child care capacity between 2013 and 2019. Prior to the pandemic, only 30% of child care centers in Louisville were considered “high-quality,” according to state standards.
Simpson said things have only gotten worse since the pandemic began, with Louisville losing an additional 9% of its child care providers since March 2020.
“We know this is because child care had a mandated closure and everyone knew child care was not available, and because many of our families were managing [virtual learning],” she said.
Simpson said the child care gap has led to women leaving their jobs in record numbers. An analysis by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found workforce participation rates for mothers in the state dropped more sharply during the pandemic than it did for fathers, or childless men and women.
The problem is even more acute in Louisville’s “child care desert neighborhoods,” like Shawnee, Portland and southwest Jefferson County.
Louisville Metro Council is currently looking at a number of policies and initiatives to bolster the child care industry.
Council Member Chambers Armstrong has introduced an ordinance that would relax zoning restrictions that limit where child care centers can operate. Metro Council is also considering whether to spend federal COVID-19 relief money on expanding access to child care. A coalition of elected officials and community groups have called on city leaders to appropriate at least $20 million for child care needs.