City Manager Erik Walsh speaks with women protesting gender violence outside City Council chambers Wednesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio women are beginning to close the gender gap on education, with earnings increasing, but the picture is bleaker when it comes to the number of women who remain at higher risk for rape, homicide, and murder at the hands of a male partner.

The number of women murdered by a male intimate partner has been steadily increasing in Bexar County, more than tripling between 2012 and 2017, according to a report released Wednesday. San Antonio’s incidence of rape is higher than any other major city in Texas, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics. The homicide rate for women doubled between 2015 and 2017.

As Golareh Agha, chief of informatics for San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, prepared to deliver a report on these statistics and the status of women in San Antonio to City Council on Wednesday, a dozen women protested outside council chambers. The women, representing the new Metú group focused on ending domestic violence, held signs that read “Stop abusing women now.” The group has presented a petition to draw attention to domestic violence allegations against mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse, the District 6 councilman.

The 74-page Status of Women report was meant to offer City officials a look at the major issues affecting women in San Antonio. It revealed some bright spots for girls and women in the areas of education, home ownership, and civic engagement – three of the 13 dimensions sociologist and demographer Rogelio Sáenz, a professor at the UTSA College of Public Policy, and public policy graduate student Lily Casura analyzed for the report. Read the full report here.

But the briefing also showed that the rate of violence against women is increasing each year – with dramatic consequences on their health and futures. A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found 63 percent of women who were the victims of partner violence reported that the abuse disrupted the woman’s ability to complete her education and training. Fifty-three percent reported job loss due to abuse, and 59 percent reported the abused partner harmed their credit score.

The violence statistics became the focus of much of the Council’s discussion even as council members praised the work behind it.

“What I love about this report is really just opening up the whole conversation of this institutional sexism that exists and a patriarchy system that also exists,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “We are giving out the information and letting the information speak for itself because the data is the facts and we have to be willing to work together. We [women] need to need to encourage one another.”

In November, City Council passed a resolution proposed by Viagran along with councilwomen Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Ana Sandoval (D7) that formally stated the City’s commitment to eliminating violence against women, promoting the health and safety of women, and promoting substantive economic, business, and leadership opportunities for women in San Antonio. Viagran called it a dismantling of the “patrón mentality.”

Commissioned by the City of San Antonio, the report on the Status of Women is the first issued since 2008, when researchers noted the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the community. That statistic is improving, according to the 2019 report, with the percentage of births to women younger than 20 years of age in Bexar County declining from nearly 11 percent in 2008-2012 to 7 percent in the 2013-2017 period.

To compile the report, Sáenz and Casura used census data from the American Community Survey for the 2013-2017 period and other data, including the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the City of San Antonio, and the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Dr. Golareh Agha, Chief of Informatics for Metro Health
Golareh Agha, chief of informatics for San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, briefs council members. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Progress for women, based on the 13 dimensions of the study, came in the areas of higher education and political participation, measured by voter registration and turnout, compared to men. Women had a longer life expectancy than men, and half of women in single-woman households owned their home, compared to 44 percent of single-man householders, the study found.

The percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree was 2 percent higher than men, and women age 16-24 were less likely to have dropped out of high school. But dropout percentages were highest among Hispanic/Latina women (6.5 percent).

Earnings were also up for San Antonio women. But while women’s median earnings as a percent of men’s median earnings rose from 77 percent in 2005 to 82 percent in 2017, the increase is due to men losing ground in their wages after adjusting for inflation. When it comes to other Texas cities, the median earnings of San Antonio women working full time and year-round was is $9,610 lower than that of women in Austin, $2,900 less than in Dallas, and $2,364 below Houston.

The earnings gap between men and women in San Antonio women mirrors that of the nation even as women have experienced gains in educational attainment. The report states that, according to the 2017 American Community Survey, women working full-time, year-round in the United States earned approximately 81 cents for every $1 dollar earned by men. In San Antonio, it’s 72 cents.

Researchers also found other areas where women lag behind men in San Antonio, including:

  • One in five women do not have health insurance, with 42 percent of Hispanic women not covered by health insurance.
  • The percentage of women earning degrees in STEM-related fields is 12 percent compared to men’s 30 percent.
  • The number of women murdered by a male intimate partner has been steadily increasing in Bexar County, more than tripling between 2012 and 2017.

For women of color, the challenges are even greater than for non-Hispanic white and Asian women across the 13 dimensions. They include:

  • Low levels of education (especially Latinas) and pre-K enrollment (especially Latinas)
  • Low earnings, high poverty (especially children), and high rates of women being classified as “working poor”
  • Decreased access to digital technology
  • Low levels of insurance coverage and retirement pensions among Latinas
  • High prevalence of disability
  • Low levels of homeownership among black women
  • Low levels of prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancies
  • High levels of low-weight births and infant mortality, in the case of black women
  • High deaths rates associated with liver disease and cirrhosis among Latinas
  • High rates of drug-related deaths and homicide among black women.

In most of the 13 dimensions, including education and health, San Antonio women of all races fall behind women in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Women also are significantly underrepresented on the City of San Antonio’s 81 boards and commissions and in the positions of mayor and City Council compared to those three cities. Today, 30 percent of San Antonio council members are women.

Councilman John Courage (D9) said he would be looking at ways to involve more women in his district. “There’s simply needs to be a recognition that your local government needs to be more supportive and offer more opportunities for women with their families to get on more of an equal footing with everybody else in the community,” he said.

Sandoval and Councilman Rey Saldana (D4) both expressed concern over the domestic violence statistics and the SA2020 goal of reducing that by half. “As a body, I feel somewhat remiss in having let that go by without us having a serious plan in place to reduce that number,” Sandoval said.

Though not present for the meeting, Gonzales released a statement saying she had been briefed on the report. “As of today, we know for a fact what we intuitively knew all along, the status of women in San Antonio is distressfully deficient,” she stated “We also know now that in order to fix the problem … we should concentrate our efforts on several fronts – health and well-being, economic well-being, political participation, violence, and safety.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg underscored the need for metrics and realistic measures to track progress in combatting domestic violence.

“Because I think the sad reality is we have paid more attention to infrastructure and services and we have to people’s lives. This was a great illustration of that,” he said. “We’re happy that we’ve turned the corner on that for the last couple of years, but this is one glaring area that we can do much better.”

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...