The state’s first Women’s Summit started in Anchorage on Thursday at Alaska Pacific University.
The two-day event is directed at examining strategies to improve the lives of Alaska’s women.
Invited speakers include First Lady Sandy Parnell, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and business leaders.
In her remarks, Sandy Parnell called women “the state’s underdeveloped natural resource.”
“We are in the land of opportunity with a solid economic foundation and state initiatives promoting jobs and strong families,” Parnell said. “So, here’s the paradox, while women are making great strides in a great land, many more struggle, their potential unrealized.
“And for my part I want to speak about a particular area of devastating impact in the lives of women and girls – it’s domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse; I believe these are the greatest barriers to Alaska women achieving their potential.”
The summit was organized in part by Senator Lesil McGuire who, last year, commissioned a report on the status of women in Alaska with regard to housing, wages, mental health, domestic violence and health care.
The report revealed that on average, Alaskan women are paid less than women in the rest of the U.S., imprisoned at higher rates, and have a suicide rate that is twice the national average.
But there is good news too. The summit is also meant to highlight women’s achievements, and their success in the world of business.
Karen Hagedorn, is a production manager with Exxon Mobil. She described how her company partners with the UN Foundation to sponsor research to find out what are the most important ways to improve women’s economic productivity in different areas of the globe.
“We know that a woman’s economic status is one of the best indicators of whether her children will complete their education and will enjoy healthy, poverty-free lives,” Hagedorn said. “We know that when women are economically empowered, entire communities benefit.”
“Jobs increase women’s earnings, boost their self esteem, improve their bargaining power at home – which is very important in many cultures – and also delay early marriage and pregnancy.”
The Women’s Summit continues through Friday at Alaska Pacific University.