Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of the Commission for the Status of Women in Arkansas on Thursday at his weekly briefing that will work to eliminate barriers of women entering the labor force.
The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas will partner with this commission, and Hutchinson said it will do very important work for the state.
“They will make recommendations to myself and the General Assembly on ways to eliminate the barriers of entering the labor force and participate in the success that we all want in our life and in our careers,” he said. “It will also provide an overview of the childcare economy in our state, which I see as very important.”
Hutchinson said that the commission will focus on doing three things: study and analyze labor force participation in Arkansas by women including single mothers and the effect of the COVID pandemic; review labor force participation rates, especially in the career paths of STEM and entrepreneurship; and examine the barriers of entry into the labor force participation for Arkansas women, including single moms, on issues such as child care.
This is the fifth commission the state has had that focuses on women in Arkansas. One in 1964 that focused on the social, political and economic status of women, another for state employment laws, another in 1973 to find ways for women to become larger participants in economic and social institutions, and another one that took place in 1975 but didn’t end up presenting any results.
“In my administration, women are an essential part of our leadership team,” Hutchinson said. “I have relied upon women in the leadership positions to bring success to my administration.”
This commission will be made up of 14 members, 13 women (including Conway’s own Kim Lane) and one man. Hutchinson will appoint some of these members, but membership will also be designated by the House and the Senate. Hutchinson’s Chief of Staff Alison Williams will also serve as the chair to this commission.
“She has been a role model and continues to be a role model of leadership in the state,” Hutchinson said about Williams. “She is passionate about removing barriers to women in the workplace and ensuring their success has no limits.”
Williams said that it’s an honor to serve as the chair of this commission and points at how much Arkansas has changed since the last commission for women from almost 50 years ago.
“The last commission noted that in 1973, women’s earnings were about 60 percent those of men here in state,” she said. “Today that number is about 80 percent, a significant increase but not parity.”
The commission will have its first meeting next Tuesday, and is expected to present its final report no later than Dec. 1 of this year.
Hutchinson also announced Thursday that he will be allocating $6 million to both the Arkansas School for the Deaf and the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Of that, $4 million will go toward the construction of a new health services building for both campuses while the other $2 million will go toward replacing the water line and power grid for both campuses.
This project is scheduled to be completed by September of 2023.
Lastly, Hutchinson presented his weekly COVID-19 report where the state saw a decreases in active cases by 482, but 1,149 new cases were reported over the 24 hours prior to the briefing, bringing the total number of active COVID-19 cases in the state to 12,464.
COVID-19 released hospitalizations have gone down by 73 and those on ventilators also went down by 13; however, the state did surpass 10,000 people dying from the virus.